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!
I have a story to tell. I have things inside I need to express. But I censor myself. Not sure what I should say and not say. How my words will make people feel. How I will look. What people will think of me.
Worried that writing, and telling, about the tragic things, and then the ways certain people neglected me or hurt me will make me look selfish, like I’m fishing for sympathy, or like I’m exaggerating about a troubling relationship after the fact so people take my side, like I’m really the monster.
But why do I care?
It’s my story. Along with the few beautiful parts of my life, these things are a part of who I am. And I like who I am now. Despite the fact that I perpetually feel like a freak who doesn’t fit in. I could “be positive” and “move on” and “forgive” but that doesn’t heal the hurt. It’s still there, even if it’s buried down deep under new things I find to distract myself with. It’s still there.
Writing heals. Painting heals. Tell your story. The people who ignore you don’t matter. The people who react negatively fueled by their own selfishness don’t matter, the people who shame you don’t matter. Tell your story.
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.
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
The Three Graces, oil on canvas
I’m having so much fun meeting and working with the folks at the Friends Homes here in Greensboro. It’s a retirement community, based on Quaker principles, full of the coolest retired professors, artists, and authors, most still active in their crafts. As the administrator joked about me being a new resident, I thought of how nice it would be to live there.
When I was asked to do a show at Friends Homes, I was surprised at the work that was chosen. Shame on me for assuming our retired friends would want to see typical soft impressionist landscapes and simple still life paintings. After previously hearing such feedback as: “Your work is too dark; I could never sell that.” and “Oh, That’s kinda crazy…” I’m always surprised when my work is embraced.
As we curated my paintings, a few people examined my work as they walked by, some even laughed, as if they got my private jokes. (Very Cool!) When I stepped back and looked at the combination of paintings that were chosen–some darker, brooding expressionist abstracts, along with some still life paintings from my thesis work regarding Jeff’s suicide, and some lighter abstracts and still life paintings from when things started easing up–I realized this combination of works comprise a journey, through life and death and life.
I wonder why some people don’t see the light in my work; it’s always there, like when you look up at a cloudy sky and you know, you feel, the blue sky and the sunshine behind the clouds.
The opening reception for the Friends Homes show, A Luminous Pause, will be on the afternoon of Friday, October 2nd when I’ll do a short talk and present my artist statement for the show which goes like this:
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
― C.G. Jung
I make paintings–curious objects combined with abstract elements, emphasized by light and shadow. This collection represents a story of great scope, of life and death, a journey through dark grief, while looking toward the light.
Conjuring the melancholy of past desires, abandoned objects ask me to paint them shadowed by the lives of the people who loved and left them. Embodying triumph and tragedy, the objects are all that’s left of those who have gone on. They remind me of what slipped through my hands, a magnificent life no more. They are the last vestige of stories lost once voice is stilled.
Some things just make me smile and beg me to play, like wooden dolls, a vintage firetruck, and a telephone you can’t keep your hands off the dial. I paint those, too.
Navigating the chaotic currents of life, I reach for acceptance, move forward while learning to embrace the mystery of reality, the uncontrollable, the inevitable, and the joyous.
Hello? oil on canvas
Do you ever get lost in the details, with the devil, just enjoying the view,
relishing the tiny bits that before somehow went unnoticed?
How did such wonder fail to beguile you before? A passage, a moment, a tiny arcane portion of something…
These are details from some of my paintings. An artist’s eye view. See where I get lost for seemingly timeless stretches.