Why am I such a misfit?
Too timid for the cool kids; too weird for the mainstream. Wondering where my work truely fits in.
Perhaps I don’t let myself say what is fighting to come out, programmed to censor myself, preoccupied with what others will think and say, struggling against some expected confines of what a woman my age should be (whatever the fuck that is) that I absorbed along the way. Worried about embarrassing my sons with my subject matter (But they’ve told me they don’t care if I paint dolls with vaginas!)
Scarred and scared from the manipulation and betrayal of a most recent relationship (But I kicked his ass out! I was triumphant! But the damage remains.) Semi-paralyzed with anxiety, doubt, insecurity… Fuck that! I’ve got “bells” too! I’m gonna put on my happy clown face and paint them!
This painting, Miss Kitty and the Not So Cheerful Cherub, is currently in an exhibit in the gallery at Friends Homes Guilford, here in Greensboro, NC called “Our Brush With Tales – An Interactive Exhibit with Five Artists and Two Storytellers.” At the opening the storytellers preformed the stories they created inspired by, or in response to, the displayed paintings.
When I submitted this painting for the show I wondered what the storytellers would see. It was interesting to hear the stories that were told around my painting. But it was almost as if the act of storytelling, the performance, was more important than the story or the actual narrative of the artwork itself.
(You can come up with your own story, if you like, before you read on!)
One story was told from the point of view of the objects: about a bad kitty who harassed all of the objects or characters. The clown, troll, stuffed toy, and cherub were all carefully described along with the hideous acts that were perpetrated on them by the mean kitty. The books on the shelf were described in detail, including a recited poem from the pages of The Cheerful Cherub, as if the storyteller actually opened the book and read it.
The other story was about a reminiscing mother who comes home after dropping her son off at college. She walks into the son’s bedroom and sees the shelf, just as it was left by her son as a child, and describes these sweet, cliché memories of his childhood. And I thought, really? Does that really look like a shelf that would be in a child’s room?
I wondered what the storytellers really got from my painting – if their initial impressions differed from their presented stories, if their stories were censored in any way, or if they were so puzzled by my painting that they had to invent just semi-related stories.
The exhibit includes printed versions of the stories that were told along with the artists’ own statements about their particular painting.
Here’s what my painting is about…
I survived Jeff’s death. We were planning to be married. The morning I found him hanging peacefully, finally free of pain, my whole world was shattered. But I understood. I accepted. That didn’t make it hurt any less. I grieved. And I painted.
I fell in love with Jeff’s things the day I met him, his belongings an extension of who he was. We both had an affinity for old, sometimes obsolete items. He taught me to appreciate things as we found them – usually worn and covered with dust, loved and left behind.
After Jeff’s death, I continued to cherish his things. I looked to them for answers, for comfort. I continued to collect things in his absence. I combined these things to tell our story – various still life scenarios in oil paint like this one: an abandoned stuffed toy sits on a shelf next to his books, daisies wilt in a sunny yellow vase, little troll and clown smile as if remembering a happy time, a silly cherub plays with a noose on his ankle, and a moth hovers briefly, visiting.
On Saturday mornings together we would go scouting to rescue vintage and antique treasures from yard sales and estate sales. These things surrounded us in our studio and in our home. Many would find their way into Jeff’s artwork. Now they find their way into mine.
One day Jeff said, “This is gonna change your life!” and he placed in my palm a small packet of golden watch hands.
He saw me struggle with time, how time taunted me, or rather, how I allowed it to taunt me. He helped me see how to disregard it, to just let things be. I was working on reconstructing time according to my own inclinations toward it, not how it’s typically imposed on us.
I realized that I’d been collecting old clocks. I’m drawn to them – the beauty of the design, the mystery of time that they hold. I wonder what was happening when the hands stopped moving on that particular timepiece.
These concepts of reality and time, you can construct them, stretch them, mold them, into what suits you. And when someone mentions “the real world” or thinks you’re not in it, they have no clue…
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.
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 delighted that one of my works was chosen for the Greenville Museum of Art Biennial Juried Exhibition. I hadn’t been there before so I didn’t know what to expect but I shipped my painting on ahead to be included in the show. The opening reception was on a Friday, of course, so I braved the tedious Friday afternoon traffic and headed over to Greenville in my little blue car.
The opening reception was great, classy, with free wine and musicians providing a jazzy backdrop for the visual art being enjoyed by the many viewers. I was proud that my work was included. And sock monkey was beaming from his place on the wall!
The Greenville Museum of Art is a great museum, located in a gorgeous classic revival home, which houses a fascinating permanent collection and interesting exhibitions. The building is as interesting to explore as the art. And I really like the curator, a fellow Guilford College alum, who does a fantastic job!
My painting also made it on the front cover of their spring newsletter!
After the reception I had a yummy dinner with friends at a great little Thai restaurant down the street and the next morning journeyed over to the Dickson Avenue Antique Market. Two stories of antique and vintage goodies kept us entertained for a while. I found some cool things which made their way into the installation of my solo show the month after (which I’ll write about next.)
And…I just discovered this video shot at the museum. Sock monkey got himself in…
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