How real are they really? Inside Kayla Witt’s paintings of California’s psychic shops

A bit of AI, a bit of photography and her folk art roots – what do the artist’s choices say about society today?

5 March 2024


Kayla Witt’s artistic journey is as much an ode to her roots as it is her traversing new terrain. Growing up as a first-generation Canadian, with a family from Czech Republic, she often found herself drawn to the visual references throughout Czech folk art, by artists such as Honza Wolf. She attributes her beginnings to her frequent alone time as a child, due to growing up as an only child with a single mother and father who was unable to take care of her due to mental illness. “My mum would leave me with pencils and paper, and I would literally not move from that spot for the whole day,” she tells us. However, the artist hadn’t taken art classes until her last year of high school, and went on to a university degree with very little formal art training. “Even now I feel like I have taught myself because both of my art degrees felt very independent,” she adds.

Throughout Kayla’s work, there is a strong – albeit eclectic – theme of spiritual shop fronts and interiors. Moving to California, during the first year of the pandemic, she found herself spending copious amounts of time on researching a variety of roadside attractions. “They are often folk art, like a big yeti sculpture off the side of the freeway or a giant hand-carved corn sculpture in a forest,” she shares. “I just started pinning my favourites onto a custom Google map and even made myself directions like ‘park here and walk two miles up this hill north-west to see a hand-carved cow that’s also a rocket and a shooting star’,” she adds.

With a love for the sense of adventure she found while exploring this art, and a desire to distract herself from the uncertainty of the time – covid and the presidential election – she found herself drawn to a psychic shop that her and her husband were driving past one day, that read: ‘past present and future’. “It sparked a long discussion,” she shares, “you know about how the health, wellness and spirituality worlds have been primed for a more conspiratorial worldview, and how that overlaps with a lot of the debates about what’s true versus fake in politics”. Over the next year, she would drive around California photographing these psychic shop fronts, also birthing a deeper familiarity with her new home.


Kayla Witt: Alignment (Copyright © Kayla Witt, 2023)

The start of Kayla’s process doesn’t only include photos of the scene in question, it comes with gathering a range of source material. “I have this archive of imagery I’ve collected over the years from the internet, as well as scans from magazines, and books” alongside some “AI and Google maps screenshots,” she tells us. After gathering everything, she creates mock-ups in Photoshop using an intuitive mix of combinations of her sources, and when it’s finished she prints it to the exact scale of the canvas. Soon creating an underpainting on the canvas – “it’s kind of like a map for myself” – where she welcomes mistakes, and treats it as a time to “get to know” the image. She then begins her multi-layered oil painting, rich with the esoteric detail and keen attention to shop-front lettering, ancient symbolism mixed with new age technology, silhouetted or pieces of a human figure, and old road signs.

After this process, Kayla says that “people are always surprised to see how the source material is often either heavily manipulated or constructed from scratch,” she tells us, “I understand it, being that the paintings are realistically rendered and often life size”. But it could also be because of the rich symbolism on her canvas, that plays on much of the language of today, societal fears, hopes, dreams and questions. Despite her paintings starting as a way to channel the realities of her new environment during a very uncertain and specific time, they don’t feel aged, or even of the past. The shop windows belong to practice that has often been viewed with an air of suspicion, distrust or accusations of full-on fraud, but somehow, what Kayla has created feels all the more real.


Kayla Witt: Concentrate and Ask Again (Copyright © Kayla Witt, 2023)


Kayla Witt: For Entertainment Purposes Only (Copyright © Kayla Witt, 2023)


Kayla Witt: The Moon Made Me Do It (Copyright © Kayla Witt, 2023)


Kayla Witt: Soulmate Psychic (Copyright © Kayla Witt, 2023)


Kayla Witt: Balance (Copyright © Kayla Witt, 2023)


Kayla Witt: Pull Up A Chair (Copyright © Kayla Witt, 2023)

Hero Header

Kayla Witt: Available for Parties (Copyright © Kayla Witt, 2023)

Share Article

About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.