Cannabist: Each piece is handmade, right? Take me through the process.
KZ: The original bird carving was used to make a mold. Then watery, runny clay is poured into the mold and swirled around so that it coats the inside, allowing the pipe to remain a hollow piece. Then you basically just let it dry all the way out, break off the mold, and glaze it. The pouring of the clay and drying process is a full-day thing, and the glazing and firing more after that. I’m currently investing in more molds, so that I can have ten birds being poured and drying at the same time instead of just one.
Cannabist: And that’s why you decided to try the Kickstarter route?
KZ: For sure. Ceramics is an expensive medium. Crowdsourcing just kept coming up as the only viable option for getting the sort of startup capital I needed to get the ball rolling.
Cannabist: Were there legal issues you ran into with this?
KZ: Before starting in on the project, I emailed Kickstarter and asked if pipes were OK. I had heard about them being banned on Etsy and wasn’t sure it wouldn’t work out for me. They sent back a list of prohibited items, including paraphernalia. I put a lot of effort into coming up with a video and a message that relayed my frustration with the lack of style and aesthetic in pipes, bongs, etc., without ever mentioning marijuana directly to see if I could get around it. I’m pretty disappointed it wasn’t approved, especially since I got legal counsel on my own along with an initial green-light from their support team. It’s all good, though. … I’m hoping to get enough support through pre-sales on my site.
Cannabist: People might know your work under the name Kinsey Hamilton. Why the name change, and why Zaïre?
KZ: My ex was not willing to let me keep his name, so I spent a lot of time thinking about the implied ownership of a name. I realized I wanted to come up with my own for a fresh start and lowercase Z’s are my favorite to write. I literally just went through name lists, writing them out until I found the one that felt right. It was Zaïre.
Cannabist: What did you want to be when you grew up?
KZ: An artist.
Cannabist: What were some of your early influences?
KZ: Art was always part of my life growing up. My father is a musician and ran a recording studio. My mother is a calligrapher, so we were always making something. To be honest, my earliest influences were my parents. They raised me to believe I could make a life doing what I love. They role modeled that from the beginning and they continue to do so successfully today.
Cannabist: Music also played a big part then too?
KZ: Definitely. It allowed me to comfortably grow up in a highly creative environment where art, music and play were paramount. My father’s work producing and playing music supported our family and we were immersed in creative communities. I think that laid a very important foundation for me, both artistically and personally.
Cannabist: Did he produce anything people would know?
KZ: He was in thick with the Christian worship music circles. If you spent very much time around evangelical churches, you probably would recognize his stuff.
Cannabist: You used to play in a band that people did know, Houses.
KZ: I am by no means a natural musician. I sang vocals, played some piano and slammed a tambourine around. It took a shit ton of whiskey to get up on that stage the first time, but once I did, it fed my inner narcissist and I had a blast. I met a lot of my dear friends and had a great time touring, recording and playing SXSW. But I really enjoyed making all the album art. It was natural for me to translate the voice of the music into something visual. There’s so much talent in Denver right now that I’ll let them figure out the melodies and I’ll just stick to painting their portraits.
Cannabist: What’s playing in the studio when you work?
KZ: Miley Cyrus. A lot of Miley. Tyler the Creator is huge for me. Karen Dalton too. I also draw a lot from listening to my friends: Kitty Crimes, Nathaniel Rateliff, Bluebook or anything Julie Davis makes.
Cannabist: You’ve been in Denver now for almost a decade, what are the changes you’ve seen over the years?
KZ: For years it seemed I found myself having these stoked conversations about the floods of people wanting to move to Denver — about the possibilities, new cool people, places and projects that it brings. Then I found myself trying to stay in my neighborhood with reasonable rent, but it seemed impossible. Luckily, our community still has landlords that are supportive of artists, and we happened upon one of those rare birds. Of course people are moving here constantly and that inevitably means more assholes. I’ve noticed way more fights and misogynistic shit in bars and clubs than years before. Denver’s still the shit, though. And legalization has been really fun to watch and support. I’d like to see the marijuana aesthetic evolve a little bit more. I hope I’m doing my part.
Cannabist: Are you here to stay?
KZ: I love my community here and feel so integrated. I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now.
Cannabist: What’s your take on the art scene in Denver?
Cannabist: Hmmm. I love a good abbreve, but I can’t say that I know this one.
KZ: It’s an old Denver thing. It stands for “Fuck it, dude.”
Cannabist: What’s next?
KZ: Plan B for my birds! And I have a show hanging until the end of October at Pablo’s Coffee on 13th. After that, I’ll have a show up at Metropolis Coffee on South Broadway for November and December.