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A Local Milwaukee Muralist: Meet Fred Kaems

Written by Hannah Mladenovich

The city of Milwaukee is filled with inspiration and beauty in all forms when it comes to artwork. Regardless of the area you are exploring, you are sure to find a mural, sculpture, or some sort of creative expression on your path. Not only is there amazing artistry, but there is a city full of extremely talented artists behind it. 

Here at ZYN, we began our quest to find a local Milwaukee artist to help make the vision of our company come to life. We are passionate about creatives and how they can truly elevate a space and take something as simple as a corporate office and make it into a work culture–a home. 

We took time to discuss with Fred Kaems, the chosen ZYN muralist, about his artistic journey and his creative process as a professional Milwaukee muralist. 

About Fred Kaems:  

Fred has been spray painting for over 20 years. His inspiration for painting came from a compilation of different artists, experiences, and artistic experiments. “When I was younger, I was painting graffiti and someone asked me to participate in an art show” says Fred, “I hadn’t even considered painting on a canvas at that point, but I had these stencils that I made and decided to use that as the core piece of my canvas–it didn’t turn out that great, but it got me thinking about doing something different.” Fred’s style has always been to find ways to make a piece more dynamic, fun, and eye-catching–so for him, it has always involved pushing the creative limit. 

In his early-20s, Fred would spend a lot of time traveling and experiencing different forms of artwork in its raw form. “I’ve always liked things that are in art galleries and museums, but there is something about seeing pieces on the street that can be the size of a person or an entire building. We didn’t really have anything like that at home–so I would go back and try to take what I learned and transfer that within my style.” Working on a canvas definitely helped Fred work with dimensions, shapes, and textures which has helped to pave the way for his mural work now. 

In 2015 Fred started to really become serious about his passions for mural work. “It was kind of just a hobby before that, but I really wanted to continue to paint and make art and that passion has allowed me to continue to grow and evolve as an artist,” says Fred. 

The Creative Process: 

For Fred, there isn’t one specific artist or series of art that has inspired him along his journey; rather, a compilation of various pieces and people that he has met along the way. For him, art is supposed to be unique and different. As he puts it, “It’s silly to think that we aren’t influenced or inspired by other people’s work, but I think it always stuck with me to incorporate my own individuality within that inspiration. For instance, if I really like someone’s color palette, I might use that palette as the inspiration for my next piece, but I won’t try to paint what they are painting.”

Fred mentions, “I get inspired by things that I’ve seen in my life, different aspects of the world that get me excited, and elements of different artists that I’ve learned from along the way.” When it comes to client work, he incorporates those same creative elements, but mentions, “I also put myself in the shoes of the client or people who will witness my artwork. Questions like, ‘how will this be viewed?’ ‘What angle will this piece be viewed from the most?’ I like to really maximize the space and use the blank canvas to my advantage.” 

Each project comes with a different “wish” or outcome. No two projects that Fred works on are the same, which is one of his favorite parts of being an artist. Fred goes on to explain “usually when I meet up with a client or business, I try to get a feel for who they are, what they are looking to bring out of a space, and any specific qualities they want out of the artwork.” From there, Fred typically sketches out two, three, four different kinds of drawings and refines using the aspects that were discussed in that initial conversation. For this specific project with ZYN, Fred incorporated a lot of patterns which he has come to really enjoy and implement often into his work. “Most of the time I have stencils, drawings, and ideas laying around from prior creative work that I use for the initial inspiration for my projects. From there, I take my base and slowly start fine-tuning it to what the client or my own inspiration is looking for.” After a drawing is selected, the mural begins its process. 

The Emotion Behind the Art: 

For many artists, their passion for art comes from having the ability to create something that is completely their own. However, for Fred, it is much deeper than that. As Fred mentions, “I quickly realized in my career that when you are out in an uncontrolled environment, you never know who you are going to come across, what is going to happen, and how every outside factor becomes a part of the painting just as much as the actual painting itself.” Fred continues, “it’s amazing the conversations I have had with people over the years that could have never happened if I wasn’t in that specific area and creating that specific piece of artwork.” When working on larger projects, Fred mentions that he will often see the same faces come and go as they continue on with their lives and routines and watch how they start to incorporate him into that routine through small conversations. “I don’t know what it is about the vulnerability of art, but I have had people share things with me that weren't super personal, but the art became the vehicle that inspired them to share things with me that one would not otherwise say to a stranger. Art has the power to change lives and it really feels good that I can play such a small role in that impact.” 

There are many younger people in the Milwaukee area and nationwide that are inspired by art but might not know their options. “When I was younger,” says Fred, “I didn’t know that I could become a muralist. So now, talking with younger people who are interested, they can better understand their passions and the opportunities available to them by simply having a conversation.” It’s very important, especially in the art community, to spread the word and share your knowledge with the people around you. “People are our future,” Fred continues, “it never hurts to keep that inspiration alive and share how others can make their passions into a career or something bigger than just a hobby.”

Supporting Local Artists: 

Milwaukee and other cities around the country are blessed with extremely talented artists and artistic supporters. Fred mentions “there are some really gifted people that exist in the art sphere, both as artists, as well as facilitators, program directors, or even just people who are interested in the arts that aren’t necessarily even creative that help to create opportunities for all sorts of different things, not only just public art.” For that reason, the art community is extremely tight knit and usually very supportive of one another and everyone’s talents. “It’s amazing how there is such a genuine willingness to help out and for the most part see others doing well” says Fred. 

A big challenge within many artistic communities is the support they receive from outside the community. Fred goes on to say, “When we, in the art world, talk about supporting artists, it means buying people’s work. This is specifically hard with fine art–everyone shows up to the show to view the art, but no one actually buys it. There are some great supporters of the arts, but I just wish there was more of an understanding that if you want to continue to see art, you have to support it. This goes for even non-visual art as well such as theater, musicals, you name it!” 

Fred continues to leave his mark across the Milwaukee area with his beautiful art pieces and murals that he has spent years growing and mastering. To continue to follow Fred along on his journey, follow him on Instagram,@fred_the_artist or visit his website  

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