To Preach His Own

Kjel Alkire, 31, believes in God and goes to church. But don't make any assumptions. Alkire’s art performances promote a healthy, challenging conversation about Christianity, supported by art that sports a zany sense of humor and a dose of religion — including lists of sins that you can nail onto a Jesus doll or candy machines filled with pill capsules, each containing a strip from a Bible page. He works in a studio located in the thick of the Grand Avenue scene and is one of the featured artists this month at eye lounge.

Reverend Rodeo. So, I’ve been preaching sermons as fine art out of this character who, most of the time, is named Reverend Roughstock. I have this thing for rodeo.

Girls and God. I was raised in the East Valley as a Protestant, just generic Episcopal and Lutheran. And in high school, I was like a nerdy church guy — active in the youth group. Because there were cute girls there . . . Then it was, like, “Oh, this is significant for me — somehow this makes sense.”

Bible-thumping. So, I was studying the stuff at Bible classes, and I studied Greek and Latin — pretty traditional theology education — studying to become a preacher or a pastor. Then I realized that was pretty lame and, having worked at churches through those years, I increasingly thought, “I’m part of this and I like this, but my role in this is not that role and I’m making art about this and I’m interested in other people who are making art about this, so I should just be doing that more.”

Are you there, God? I think that I’ve maybe not believed in God but been pretty sure that God believed in me in those times. I don’t ever make work that’s not religious. I’m wired this way. I think that when I finally came to terms with that, then I was, like, “Okay, then let’s make this the center of the work. Well, then let’s invent a preacher.” If I’m going to make drawings about the Bible I might as well, like, get up and preach about it.

Saturday of stigmata and sangria. Another [performance] sermon was me making sangria in a pulpit. Sometimes, I write them more along the lines of a Fluxus score. So, it’s an action that has directions to it — things that I want to do, things that I want to say. And so it starts out with me taking five shots of tequila. So, I was standing across the street at the pizzeria, and then I downed five shots of tequila out of my truck and then I walked across the street and went to the gallery. I preached a sermon about how my best friend [Jesus] died yesterday and it's Saturday, and so I cut my hand with a knife as I’m cutting the lime for the sangria.

Get shredded. So that’s the Bible [cut into strips] rolled into pill capsules one at a time. It actually was really a bizarre thing. I put it through a book guillotine. I was thinking a lot about “Bible as book” and how to deconstruct the text and sample the text so that you’re just getting soundbites. Because that’s how I feel people deal with the Bible. They don’t deal with it as a whole narrative. Yeah, cutting it was a really weird thing.

Use your words. I can throw words around like ecclesiastical and homiletic and hermeneutic and that’s part of the jargon that’s floating around in my head about this work. I am interested in the act of preaching, like oral preaching. I think that it’s a really interesting, powerful thing that’s part of our culture that has its own aesthetic that’s performative. It’s sort of visual in a weird way.

Art for heaven’s sake. I was the guy that drew on his pants and wrote crazy folk songs in high school and, you know, thought that Rush was really cool 25 years after. I was the kid who was mowing the yard and would see this new sprout off the ash tree and think that it was beautiful and that it was meaningful and that somehow the presence of God was embedded in that. Maybe I started to think that I was an artist when I stopped praying with words.

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Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi