In 2016 I was the proud recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council and the partnering arts councils of the Regional Artist Project Grant Program. After researching, purchasing and practicing with materials–various mediums and varnishes, and brushes, I decided on a project that would separately show the results of each medium used: linseed oil, walnut oil, stand oil, dammar varnish….blah blah blah…paint terms that only an art geek like me would get excited about…
I decided to produce seven paintings in seven days. It was also serendipitous that I had that week off from my job so I could focus on painting only! Needless to say, I was absolutely in heaven.
I played with the idea of being more open and obvious about the narrative. The paintings were about Jeff, my fiancé who chose to leave this world through suicide. I’ve often debated about how obvious I should make that in my work. The objects, colors, and numbers of things in my paintings are almost always significant, intentional. But should I come right out and say/show Jeff’s name or his likeness? Also, I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to paint a realistic portrait of him, despite his death having occurred over four and a half years ago now.
And then this little troll morphed into Jeff before my eyes. And I found myself smiling as I painted this one!
Halfway though the week I went to see The Women of Abstract Expressionism show. It was fucking fantastic, standing in the midst of these wonderful works by Joan Mitchell, Elaine de Kooning, etc. I wanted to stay there, step into the canvases, into their worlds. But more about that in a future post. Anyway, I was excited to paint some expressionist works again and decided to make the last two of the seven abstract.
Here are the finished #7in7 which I will probably end up working on more–more layers in the abstracts, more colors in the shadows of the still life, more brown in that moth, more frayed threads sticking out of the bare spot below the bear’s eye…..
Fabulous easel and supplies made possible with support of the North Carolina Arts Council and the partnering arts councils of the Regional Artist Project Grant Program. Have I mentioned I am a grateful recipient!
Sometimes you feel that dark dreadful something in your gut eating away at your insides, scratching to get out, threatening to scream…
Maybe it’s just Friday.
I’m working on this painting, well, not at the moment. Right now I’m drinking a chai tea late and scrolling through Facebook and shaking my head after reading about the artist who’s being sued and threatened with violence for putting out a hilarious painting of a nude that resembles Trump. Like censorship will make America great again! Jeeeez.
Anyway, the other day I posted this in-process photo of my painting and apparently some people thought it was an actual photo, not a shot of a painting. Funny and interesting. There’s this debate among some that realism is boring, that abstract and abstracted works are the “real” art. Although photo realism, when a photo is reproduced inch by inch, as if by a machine, tends to lack soul or some kind of magic, I believe that a painting done in a realist style can have soul, magic, and feeling infused in it.
For years prior to falling in love with still life painting, I painted in an abstract expressionist way, striving to capture and convey energy and emotion, wonder, depth… Imagine my surprise when my professor admired my self-taught technique and suggested that I approach my still life paintings with an abstract expressionist mindset. I loved this idea; I’d been struggling with whether to define myself as an abstract or realist painter and whether my work previously held merit compared to the work done as an art major under the tutelage of a professional.
Why do we have to be either an abstract painter OR a realist painter? Why do we have to have labels at all? The truly great artists that came before us were skilled in a myriad of techniques. Look at Da Vinci, Picasso, and especially Gerhard Richter to illustrate how an artist can be versatile and extremely skilled in multiple techniques. Remember when knowledge and skill was valued, admired, and rewarded, when people would employ an artist to create something most people couldn’t make, something that took years of education, study, and practice to accomplish.
Now almost anyone who slops some paint on a store-bought canvas can call themselves an “artist” and label it “fine art.” As if I could call myself a lawyer or a doctor and practice those professions just because I declared myself as such. The public requires a degree and years of education and experience to practice professions. But when it comes to art they have no expectations and therefore do not value art and the idea that it should be a paid profession. The public’s idea/definition of an artist has changed. When they think artist, they think emotional, a bit crazy, impractical, not someone who can do the job precisely and with skill.
I do believe that emerging artists must recognize themselves as artists, recognize that they possess some inherit predisposition toward making art, and believe that they are artists before they can present themselves to the world as such. But it doesn’t stop there, a true artist continues to learn and work to refine and improve technique, to hone observational skills, to learn about history and art and the people who made it before us and how that affected the world and the definitions of art.
But if yer gonna slop some paint on a store-bought canvas and call it art, that’s not to say it might not be amazing! I still believe in the magic of what can happen on the canvas, what can be created out of inhibition, enthusiasm. I appreciate what this kind of work brings to the world; it’s just plain fun! (Cmon…I’m not that much of an art-snob.)
When you get the call to create, before you have the knowledge, education, confidence, etc. to create the images that are within you, you have to play! And when that play is combined with education, repetitive practice, hard work, failure, success…it all comes together to create, dare I say, a true artist.
The challenge is to create with all that skill and knowledge without losing the fun, the spontaneity–to approach still life painting with the mindset of an abstract expressionist.
I still believe in magic, I do.
I’m sitting here at Delurk, the artist-run gallery in Winston-Salem, NC working my Sunday afternoon shift. As I look at this painting of mine hanging on the off-white brick wall, bathed in warm light, I think about how it came to be.
I was at a place where I was unsure of my palette, and what textures I wanted to paint next. I was in the studio on a warm spring morning, just messing around with paint, when Jeff walked in, on his way back in from having a cigarette out on the loading doc, cradling something in his hands. He held it out to me and said, “Look what I brought you…!”
I peered into his outstretched hands. It was a moth, with soft powdery wings of various browns and beiges, slow, on the verge of death, too tired to fly away. I gasped at the beauty of it. He gingerly set it on my table next to my easel, patiently waiting while it stepped off his fingers and onto the edge of a book.
I was mesmerized; It was gorgeous! I studied the lines, the colors, the textures–warm beige fading into dark dark browns and dots of soft powdery white. I stepped up to my easel and palette and began mixing the colors I saw on the moth. I applied them to the canvas, smoothing and blending, and scraping off at times.
The next morning the moth was dead and gone when we arrived at the studio but I continued working on the painting that was inspired by this beautiful, magical creature and the wonderful man who brought it to me.
“I think it’s done,” Jeff declared a couple weeks later when I stepped back to evaluate my work.
It was May of 2012. It was the last painting I did before Jeff’s death.
That spring and summer I saw more moths than I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was like they came to visit me silently in our studio, sent there magically somehow by Jeff to let me know that everything was going to be all right.
My latest show opened on Friday, March 4th during Winston-Salem Art District’s monthly gallery hop. Delurk Gallery became the temporary home for some of my most beloved objects.
My paintings (still life and abstracts) were combined with installations, recreating familiar moments in a grandparent’s home–like playing on a knit quilt the floor as a child, viewing vintage and antique items arranged in an heirloom glass door shelf, or the surreal scenario of self as a clown in front of a dressing table.
The items brought the viewer back to a familiar past; the paintings activated their imaginations. A group of young men stood around, intently examining each one of my paintings and discussing them, sharing what stories were conjured in their minds when they looked at my work.
A couple of women commented on my painting of a clown toy, asking if the bells on his pants were strategically placed by me–they were amused by what the placement made them think of. They thought it was playful and fun.
I was delighted by the number of people who looked and smiled, reminiscing. Many read my statement, nodding unselfconsciously, and connecting with my sentiment. People were loving my work and asking who the artist was, eager to meet me, ask questions, and share their reactions. It was overwhelmingly positive. I felt like a star!
I was highly influenced by the work of abstract expressionists such as Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler, Arshile Gorky, de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and particularly Hans Hofmann. Hofmann’s no-nonsense lifestyle (He was very focused and devoted to his work and his teaching, dedicated to his wife, and not clutched in the grips of addiction and alcoholism–He was one of the lucky ones.) proves that you don’t have to be a tortured and troubled soul in order to create excellent work.
Although my work did not look directly like Hofmann’s, I was greatly influenced in the way that I allowed the energy to flow through my paintings and worked to guide it with compelling composition, my work was much darker than Hofmann’s–literally and metaphorically.
I collected books about Hofmann and spent hours admiring his work, mesmerized in front of his paintings in museums, and studying his philosophies on the making of a picture. I imagined how wonderful it would have been learning from Hofmann, studying in his Provincetown studio, being one of the attentive students watching him demonstrate technique in one of the black and white photos that immortalize him.
Very shortly after I met Jeff (my late fiancé and utter soul mate) he wanted to introduce me to one of his most cherished friends. This woman was an accomplished abstract painter and Jeff thought we’d have a lot in common. And, of course, we did. We were kindred spirits with similar painting styles and ways of existing in this world. As it turns out, she studied under a woman who studied directly under Hans Hofmann! Fate, kizmet, the universe showing you that you’re doing exactly what you were made to be doing, all that jazz…I discovered a direct line from my most admired inspiration, or it discovered me. It felt magical!
Previously I painted strictly abstract works directed by emotion and energy, my desire to touch a magical place, or to intentionally bring light into my world. Now I have a profound affinity for things–preserving them, allowing them to tell us their stories; they find their way into dramatic still life pictures. I incorporate abstract elements into my still life works at times and still paint purely abstract works at other times.
“Before returning to college, Kelly had a self taught career as an abstract painter and worked and exhibited her paintings in several downtown Greensboro settings. These paintings are powerful and energetic and about light and darkness. One of her challenges as a painter is to incorporate the energy of her abstract paintings into her still life paintings. Since her graduation with a BFA in Painting from Guilford, she has continued to paint in a similar vein to her thesis but with more humor and invention.”
–Adele Wayman, H. Curt and Patricia S. Hege Professor of Art, Emeritus