Gallery Stroll: KAYO Sailing into Uncharted Waters – December 2007

In boxing terminology, a “KO” stands for a knock-out in which one boxer “knocks-out” another for the win. It’s no small wonder, then, why owner Kenny Oiwa Riches thought that it would be a perfect name for his gallery. Playing off the phonetic sounds of “KO” and his own name, the Kayo Gallery has been knocking-out the other galleries in town by providing the final blow to an otherwise oversaturated market of fine art prints, romantic landscapes and Norman Rockwell-esque scenery.

The Kayo Gallery opened in the early months of 2005. Unlike other galleries, the Kayo focuses on contemporary art and emerging local Utah artists. When Kenny opened his gallery he felt that none of them encompased the niche he was ready to fill. “I didn’t feel that there were enough galleries showing emerging artists and definitely not any I wanted to show in myself,” says Kenny. The artists who have shown in the Kayo list like a best-of-the-best in current Utah art: Cein Watson, Sri Whipple, Camilla Taylor, Trent Call, Xkot Toxsik, Lenka Konopasek, etc. Not only has the Kayo brought these artists together on one wall, it has also fostered a sense of community around them.

Kayo moved from its first location at nobrow coffee, taking a short hiatus and finally ending up between Frosty Darling and Red Light Books on Broadway. Kayo’s final move, however, won’t be a physical one but an owner switch. Starting January 1st, local artist Shilo Jackson will be taking over the proud fight Kenny has fought for so long as he takes his hat out of the ring.

Kenny had been looking for an option that would keep the gallery alive, but would also allow him the freedom to move on to new things. Shilo’s always been an enthusiastic member of the arts community, participating in Poor Yorrick’s open studios and the contributing to the Women’s Art Center. She was ready for another contingency and making the transition to gallery owner/operator was a wonderful and fortuitous opportunity. “I’m completely excited about taking on the Kayo Gallery and furthering contemporary art in Salt Lake. I have great admiration and respect for what Kenny has done,” says Jackson. “He had a specific vision for what he wanted Kayo to be and I think he’s done an astounding job of bringing incredible artists to light. I plan to work closely with him in the transition and future endeavors.”

When Kenny first started Kayo on 315 East and 300 South he was full of hope and optimism for the future of Utah art. At the time, he was concurrently running The Avenues Frame Shop and starting the now defunct art zine Art Speak. The frame shop funded the gallery until it got underway and the zine, with difficulty getting advertising, coordinating an all volunteer staff and generally getting its feet off the ground, stopped publishing after a few months. From the beginning, Kayo has been Kenny’s prized project.

Kenny’s original vision for Kayo was two-fold: to create an art gallery like those in bigger cities that wasn’t trying to stack piles of art on top of each other and to maintain a clean, minimalist space with white walls to hang art and give people a chance to walk the room, step back and contemplate. Essentially Kenny wanted to “open a very progressive gallery in a conservative place.”

The Kayo’s last show, appropriately enough Kenny’s first solo show, is entitled Six Sinking Ships and I’m Gone. Six Sinking Ships is not only Kenny’s last hurrah but his getting back in touch with an integral part of himself that he lost during the past several years running two good businesses: painting. “Once I started the gallery, painting slowed down … except for commission pieces,” says Kenny. “ Getting back into it now, I am trying to rehash so many things that have come up over the last four years.” The paintings are painted with oil with photos imposed on the canvas. “All the photographs are from antique shops,” explains Kenny. “I collect them when I travel. I have a theory that photographs help you to remember and forget things. If you go to Disneyland and have a photo taken, that’s the image you relate to the trip. You see that photo so many times the rest of the experience fades away. I remember my adventures by the photos I found of other people along my journeys.” The ships in the show represent, like the Titanic at the time of its sinking, the unexpected and the feeling that its time for Kenny to move on.

Shilo knows it will be a big job to keep the kind of growth that Kenny has sustained but she is hopeful that people will remember the Kayo for its wonderful energy and professional showing space and keep applying for shows. “My goal is to continue what Kenny has started and foster emerging artists. I also hope to turn people into art collectors,” says Shilo. “It seems people think original art is out of reach. I plan on changing that notion by stocking the gallery with affordable piece in addition to having featured artists show on a monthly basis.”

Though Kenny has many adventures and travels ahead of him with his desire, drive and passion for life this is not the last word from KO Riches. For now at least we have the photos to help us remember the trip Kenny has taken us on. Six Sinking Ships and I’m Gone will open December 7th for the Holiday/Fashion Stroll with live local musicians Mushman and Lord Mandrake. The Kayo Gallery is located on 177 East Broadway.