An Artistic Rebirth

During the most challenging time of his life, Kyle Wallack ’17 discovered his true calling.

Kyle Wallack ’17
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Sequestered in his studio apartment in New York’s East Village, Kyle Wallack ’17 felt trapped.

He was recovering from major surgery in March of 2018, during which doctors had removed about half of his left parotid gland to clear a cancerous tumor. The incision went from above his ear to the bottom of his neck.

A few days after he returned home, Wallack spotted an easel discarded in the garbage by his building. At the most difficult time of his young life, that serendipity changed everything.

“I had my friend grab the easel since I was frail and couldn’t carry it,” Wallack recalled. “Then my other buddy brought me some paints. I felt like, ‘Alright, this is what I’m supposed to do.’ For the next year and a half, I was just painting.”

Though he had learned digital design skills, from Photoshop to Illustrator, through his marketing major at Endicott, Wallack was not an artist. He had hardly ever picked up a paintbrush or other art vessel, outside of sessions drawing Pokémon with his father as a kid.

Within weeks, Wallack had amassed a cache of at least three dozen acrylic paintings of robots. While the process was subconscious at first, Wallack soon came to realize that the scar-faced robots represented him and his recovery. He soon moved on to a series of (Winnie-the-) Pooh bears, which featured gloomy facial expressions.

Kyle Wallack ’17

“The robots allowed me to express how I was feeling. In a time when I couldn’t really use the stairs or go outside, it was almost like painting friends,” Wallack explained. “They had wires coming out of their heads, hearts, and other places where I was struggling at the time. Then the Pooh bears expressed a lot of emotion on their faces. The whole process allowed me to find deeper meaning in life and gain a better understanding of myself because when you’re spending that much time alone, you get to know who you are.”

Today, lots of people know who Kyle Wallack is. He has parlayed his creativity into a fruitful career as an artist. While his first painting sold for $40 on the Madison Town Green in his Connecticut hometown, his works now range in price from $1,000 to $20,000, thanks in part to representation from Quidley & Company, which has galleries in Nantucket, Mass., and Naples, Fla.

One painting of a girl holding a saxophone above her head was hanging in Frank’s Restaurant on 4th Street in Lower Manhattan before it was stolen. (“I consider that a real compliment,” Wallack said.) Two paintings, summoned by an alert set designer, appeared in the El Alfa and Cardi B music video for “Mi Miami” in 2018. He also was commissioned to design a pair of Air Force 1 sneakers for Missy Elliot as a gift for the singer when she received the Video Vanguard Award at MTV’s Video Music Awards.

Though he primarily works in what he calls “refined graffiti,” Wallack also uses oils to produce his canvas masterpieces. With spray cans, he also has produced a series of painted bicycle sculptures that have caught the attention of art aficionados. For a time, Wallack worked out of a studio space in Chelsea, located in the basement of a large New York factory. There, he created a purple “bike of life” sculpture, featuring birds and butterflies. “It was representative of my rebirth when I started feeling good again,” he said.

While his initial muse came from within, once he got going, Wallack gained further inspiration from street artist Banksy and artist, activist, and clothing designer Shepard Fairey, among others. Perhaps as a reflection of when he was recovering and unable to do everything he desired, Wallack has worked hard to ensure that his artistic prowess is not limited to a single style. While his early work was “cartoony,” Wallack eventually moved into street art, trading his paintbrush for spray cans. His refined graffiti represents the space where fine art and street art collide.

Kyle Wallack ’17

Wallack himself represents worlds colliding. As a marketing major at Endicott, he wrote a business plan as part of an internship that helped him launch his clothing line, Washed Apparel Co. What began as an industrious student selling crew necks and T-shirts out of his house on Boyle Street in Beverly turned into a seven-year career. Washed is also what sent Wallack to New York after college, where he initially pursued a future in the fashion industry. Wallack still references the 35-page Endicott-conceived business plan and is using it to map out his next venture—another apparel company that represents his personal growth, artistic sensibilities, and style evolution over the last decade. He plans to call it “Refined.”

“Endicott allowed me to pursue entrepreneurship,” said Wallack, who now lives in Tampa, Fla., but returned to the College in the fall of 2023 to speak with business students as part of a Colin and Erika Angle Center for Entrepreneurship speaker series.

“That’s something Endicott breeds—allowing students to explore all opportunities,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing about Endicott, just encouraging you to be open to many things and supporting whatever you choose.”

Though art and entrepreneurship may seem disparate, Wallack makes little distinction between them. Of late, he has found himself contemplating the intersection of the two. “An entrepreneur is creating something they believe in that wasn’t there before,” Wallack said. He referenced great athletes like Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes as an example of an artist perfecting his craft. “There is entrepreneurship within artistry, and there is artistry within entrepreneurship,” he added. “I think those worlds are parallel, but it’s something people don’t think about.”

Both as an entrepreneur and an artist, Wallack is mission-driven. Among his goals for 2024 is to focus on one of his distinct artistic styles each month. He rang in the New Year with an emphasis on street art but transitioned in February to oil paintings.

Ironically, Wallack has found that his art evolves when he takes a step back to consider the path forward. In addition to planning for the eventual launch of Refined, Wallack is setting up a moving version of the KW Gallery, starting in Boston, with stops down the East Coast to Miami. On the personal growth side, he’s also working on patience, a skill he first honed during his year of convalescence.

On his website, a quote from Wallack prominently reads: “Here for a period of time. To create something. That will last forever.”

“It’s something I aspire to,” he said. “We’re only here for a short period of time, and I want to make something that lasts forever, something that has an impact long after I’m gone.”