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The inscription on William Shakespeare’s grave at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-on-Avon reads: “Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, to digg the dust encloased heare. Blese be ye man yt spares thes stones, and curst be he yt moves my bones.”

The likeness of George Washington chiseled in marble by Houdon – and standing in the Capitol Rotunda in Richmond, Virginia – was to originally carry the words of James Madison, praising the first U.S. President for “[giving] the World an immortal example/Of true Glory.”

And years from now, archivists and historians of vinyl sculpture will ruminate on how the engraving that might have accompanied Kevin Gosselin’s “Dead” bust of Frank Kozik could very well have stated: “Stop Whining, Start Designing.”

Gosselin asked Kozik himself to inscribe those very words on several items during a signing the artist did at a KidRobot store in Miami circa 2008.

“Back [then] I was a graphic designer really hating my job,” Gosselin recalls. “I felt I just wasn’t doing the right thing with myself.”

Gosselin thought that that particular message, in Kozik’s own handwriting, would be the directive that would “inspire [him] to create.”

It worked. Since that meeting, Gosselin has traded in the fonts and typography of his marketing job for the sci-fi- and fantasy-inspired drawings of his own choosing. There are also, of course, the custom figures he creates out of resin, vinyl, and clay for a growing list of collectors.

The characters and figurines coming out of his studio now include mythological warriors, tiki-like totems, benevolent beasts, creatures sprouting tree limbs, and paint-brush-wielding pups. The latter sculpture comes complete with an easel holding the portrait of a human couple the canine has immortalized on canvas. Out of all the creatures inhabiting Gosselin’s fantasy world, this four-pawed artist probably best displays one of the strongest – and most surprising – influences on his art: the paintings of Norman Rockwell.

Gosselin notes that Rockwell’s paintings are technically masterful, but what he finds most attractive is the iconic artist’s storytelling ability. “Each one of his paintings is in a fully fleshed-out world that one can walk into with their mind and feel a sense of belonging.” Originally from New England himself, Gosselin adds that Rockwell’s paintings “depict my upbringing.”

“I strive for detail, and I always remember a quote from Rockwell: ‘If a picture wasn’t going very well, I’d put a puppy dog in it, always a mongrel, you know, never one of the full-bred puppies. And then I’d put a bandage on its foot … .’ And I love that kind of storytelling where all the little details really make up a piece,” Gosselin says.

The canine artist’s overalls, the paintbrush in its back pocket, the shrug of the pup’s posture, even the identity of the couple in the portrait all invite speculation just as they succeed in creating a memorable tableau from a universe of Gosselin’s own making.

“Most of my pieces have fallen into a realm of fantasy where I’d like to think they all live,” he says. “The Dead Kozik bust doesn’t exist there.”

Being a father of two young girls, he adds, “I think artists are responsible for influencing the world they live in, so I generally choose to keep things PG.” He admits that he has an occasional need to satisfy his love of “darker images,” and when he was asked to participate in a show honoring Kozik at San Francisco’s 1 AM gallery, he seized the opportunity.

“I like Frank’s work a lot, but  while it doesn’t align with mine, I love his busts.” Honoring Kozik with a “dead bust,” just as Kozik himself had sculpted “Dead Che” and “Dead Elvis,” was, to Gosselin, “an easy way for me to stay within my sensibilities while still honoring his. The reason I went with a dead version is because I think the dead versions are simply cooler looking.”

“Dead Kozik,” which is sold in a box designed by the living namesake of the work, has brought Gosselin full circle, back to the inscription he asked Kozik to sign on another boxed vinyl toy years ago, when he was first starting his sculpting career: The Kozik bust is Gosselin’s first work of art to go from commissioned one-off into full-scale production.

“It is a weird sort of synchronicity that here I am, six years later, and my first production toy is ‘Dead Kozik.’” As for its potential to have a lasting impact on other parts of his life, Gosselin goes back to his roles as an artist and as a father, and the influence his work might have on his youngest audience. “When my daughters grow up and smoke when they’re teens and blame it on ‘Dead Kozik,’” he muses, “then I’ll truly hate myself.”

—Steven Gdula

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