Kyle and I met a few years ago at one of my previous retail gigs. He was a customer first, then a regular and eventually became a good friend of mine. It’s been some time since we’ve kicked it, so I was stoked when he agreed to take part in our on going interview series. Keep an eye on this guy, he’s going to be doing big things in the near future.⠀
First, tell me who you are, where you're from, where you currently live and what it is you do for work.⠀
I’m Kyle McLean; Artist and Barista living in New Orleans. I grew up on the south shore of Long Island, attended college upstate and lived in New York City until March of 2018 when I absconded South.⠀
You're originally from New York but currently live in New Orleans. What led you to make the move and how has life been in the Deep South?⠀
When I left NYC I was at a real inflection point in my life, though didn’t really know it at the time. Personally and professionally I was adrift, trying to fit myself into the boxes that I saw my friends and family so happily and wantonly occupying. I wasn’t finding the joy or money necessary to offset the weird hours and jobs I was doing selling furniture and art-making, so I adjusted my reality. Life has definitely opened up since the move, I wavered on staying for the first 6 months when I really didn’t have too many friends outside of work, but have since found a big community to participate in and sustain. I think I just vibe where strangers don’t feel compelled to stay silent amongst one another.
June of last year you had your first show at Alone Time Gallery in New Orleans. For those not familiar with the show can you talk a bit about the artwork you created and the idea/process behind it?⠀
It’s funny, the first show I attended at Alone Time was one of those moments when I knew I would live here for a while, just based on conversations. I told Sheila, who runs the gallery, that I wanted to show there and sight unseen she agreed. ⠀
My body of work up until that time was pretty sparse having just moved, so I leaned on my immediate environment to dictate the aesthetic dialogue as much as my own ideas. This period ended up being a really fruitful time for my art and my personal disposition. Lots of sculpture that’s almost furniture, lamps, tools, sport-I was questioning what “use” really meant and by necessity examining what I really needed in my life. Having recently left one city for another, the way we live and the space we occupy was really on my mind as well. Riding a bike here also hits differently than in NYC-you have to move slower because of the heat and the roads and everything is dirty and old, not sterile and shiny, lots of visual stimuli. I don’t mean to say it’s all good inspiration-there is rampant homelessness, stark examples of income inequality, overt racism for sure, but there is also a culture of care and conviviality that is unmatched anywhere else I’ve been. I think being out there trying to ingratiate myself with the city and it’s people was the foremost purpose for my show, but solidifying an ethos grounded in personal, environmental and communal responsibility is certainly the longest-lasting consequence of that art-making period.
Outside of creating art I saw you recently launched Pond Coffee. Can you tell us what Pond Coffee is and how it is launching a new project during these uncertain times?⠀
Pond Coffee is a popup cafe serving out of a window in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, specifically out of Small Mart, a mostly vegan deli and restaurant that serves NYC bagels to boot. I partnered with my good friend Josh Brodey to get Pond off of the ground after we were both furloughed at our respective barista gigs due to Covid-19. What started as a visual project exploring coffee aesthetics (s/o @cafenyleta) turned into a full-service espresso cafe in a matter of weeks thanks to a ton of help from our community near and far and to the enthusiasm and guidance from Bryant at Small Mart. A friend built us a website (www.pond.coffee) to act as a virtual business card, another friend took promotional photos, another designed iterations of our logo all on their time and out of a desire to help us when we needed it. We were reluctant to launch a business now, of course, not because we were worried about the money but because we did not want to seem irresponsible to the community that we sought to serve. After a week of fits and starts, we finally got our equipment up and running and just decided to go for it. We got a ton of gloves, masks donated by our lovely patrons and lots of hand sanitizer and thus far the response has been supportive. While we have a positive disposition and outlook, we are not naive and careful to not seem blasé, the safety of our patrons is paramount and we don’t take being able to serve lightly.
Who has better coffee, New York City or New Orleans?⠀
Oh man, while I love a Happy Bones flat white as much as the next downtown loafer-donning fashionisto, coffee with a side of conversation is more my order these days and that’s a lot harder to find up there.