Debra Kayes uses repetition of simple organic forms to explore the ways in which creatures large and small group to gain safety in numbers.
Layered and repeated elements allow individuals to act as one. By investigating patterning techniques like emergence, gang-mentality, and swarm theory she has also found interest in the benefits of biodiversity, anomaly and metamorphosis. Her approach intentionally forces herself to be perceptive and open to change, with moments of hilarity, so she can discover modification and mutation, speaking to the fluid nature of groups quickly adapting based on local information.
Both the pluses and minuses of such patterning systems are not necessarily evident at first glance in her work. One might be immediately stimulated by the bright shapes. Or one might follow the narrative of the shapes: a crowd of hands could be struggling or rallying. Layered folds of paper could be puffing up in defense or for courting. From trying to paint the same shape more than once, to an interest in emergent order and complex systems of behavior, she is fascinated by patterns. What connects her range in practice from painting to sculpture to graphic design to paper-folding is an interest in further understanding the power of the collective.
While teaching full-time at Columbia College Chicago as a lecturer, Kayes is also a teaching artist with Chicago Arts Partnership in Education (CAPE) and a digital media mentor with the Convergence Academies. She runs an online archive of multi-media surface design, Pattern+Source. Kayes is an art editor at Muzzle Magazine.