Kristi Kohut’s art philosophy is quite simple: there are no rules. Using bold brights, shiny crystalline touches, mixed mediums, and unexpected materials, Kohut creates special pieces that radiate joy, all from the studio she established on the North Shore in 2014. Fast forward to today, and Kohut has collaborated with brands like Anthropologie and One Kings Lane; hosted pop-ups at Art Basel and in the Hamptons; currently has a waiting list for her originals and commissions through 2020; and her business is now well within the seven figures. Did we mention her recent installation at the grand opening of the famed Hudson Yards in New York? All of which, of course, shatters the myth of the starving artist.
But before she was the impressive entrepreneur she is now, Kohut worked as an art director in advertising on big campaigns for big brands. When her son was born, she decided to leave the world of advertising and create her own world, focusing on art. Instead of being restricted by what she feels is a one-sided gallery-system, Kohut bucked the norm at the time and began to think about her work as a brand, using the skills she’d learned in the advertising business and finding inspiration in the stories of other female designers, such as Tory Burch. With an entrepreneurial spirit, she opened her studio and began bringing her work to the world online.
“So much of the art world is behind closed doors or within intimidating galleries, and it’s part of my mission to break down the barriers that separate collectors and artists. Together we can figure out what collecting means, not just in the grand scheme of things, but to them, personally,” says Kohut. “Because collecting art is nothing if not deeply personal. I love connecting one-on-one with collectors, so I started selling my art online and began sharing my story on Instagram. In one click, we could begin a dialogue, which could eventually lead to them owning an original and becoming a part of my collector family, which is really exciting!”
Kohut believes the traditional gallery model is shifting, as artists begin to sell directly to consumers and as the younger generations discover fine art. The direct-to-consumer approach was not only personally fulfilling for Kohut, but it was also a strategic decision to prove that fine art could be sold and scaled online. Her pieces now sell within minutes of being shared on Instagram or on her website, and the value of her work has increased 25 percent every year since 2014.
“I like to think I’m reinventing the way we interact with art,” says Kohut. “I know art can be expensive, and sometimes the investment just isn’t manageable. I want to help people own my work in whatever way they choose, whether it’s through the purchase of a $10,000 original or a print that they may ask me to personally embellish for them.”
So, she expanded, of course, and launched a collection of home décor and accessories, transforming her signature art into textile patterns, prints, pillows, wall coverings, rugs, poufs, trays, and more.
Kohut realizes that all of this is much bigger than her and as part of this philosophy, Kohut has woven giving back into the fabric of her business, whether that’s by mentoring younger artists or by financially supporting causes close to her heart. One such cause is FEED projects, with 1 percent of her profits going to FEED to help combat hunger and to the charities they support.
“I believe food is a fundamental right and a building block for everything else in life,” explains Kohut. “Each individual effort really does add up to create change and to make the world a bit better, together.”
Kohut finds inspiration from color, nature, and fashion. She loves butterflies, flowers, and bugs and considers nature the best artist. From childhood, hues flashed to her like a spark: the red strawberries in the garden hanging toward green grass, the blue of a summer sky against a ripple of darker blue water, or a shiny ROYGBIV beetle on top of matte textured bark. To Kohut, every glance is a rainbow, drawing her in and fueling her energy.
In recent mixed-media, Kohut includes a floral Gucci scarf that was inspired by a Botticelli painting and originally made for Grace Kelly, combined with nature-inspired references like glitter and actual elements from nature: butterflies and flowers. She’s naturally drawn to the work of fashion houses, like Gucci, Mary Katrantzou, and Alexander McQueen, and other artists, like Ashley Longshore and Logan Ledford, whose works she personally collects.
“It’s easier today than ever before to start collecting because of the internet and social media,” says Kohut. “Follow different artists on Instagram, start a Pinterest board with works you like and that speak to you. When you step back and look at all of it as a whole, you’ll get a sense of what you like and are drawn to.”
Fans of Kohut love her ever-popular 3D Bloom series and her crystal-coated Symphonic Atlas work.
“Art is so subjective, and that’s what makes it fun,” says Kohut. “It’s like matchmaking. One can justify art as an investment but, ultimately, if it doesn’t give you that ‘I just have to have it’ feeling, it’s not worth it.”
Kohut’s success shows there is no one-size-fits-all solution to artistry—for her, fine art and digital commerce go hand-in-hand. She’s happy being an outlier—or, more aptly, an artlier.
For more information, visit kristikohut.studio.