It is said that all artists are, throughout the length of their careers, basically painting the same painting over and over again. Kelli has been painting about human strength and weakness for over thirty years.
Her themes of love, sin, politics, and redemption are repeated in paintings with titles such as “The Three Graces”, “Who Invited the Fascists”, and “The Reluctant Anarchist”. Kelli is ever curious about what makes us human, and reminds us about what makes us animal. I met Kelli while finishing an art degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Both young painters, she was a few years my senior, thus done with schooling and figuring how to manage a life in the arts.
With little money, neither of us had proper studios, but I learned from Kelli that it did not matter so much where you painted as long as you did it. She was always disciplined, painting or drawing more days than not, putting in at least four hours in her “studio” (read: closet) most days. She always made sure to find the time to get that much better, all while working a regular job to make sure she also got to eat.
Getting to know Kelli, I discovered she grew up in Madison, stayed on to receive a BFA in painting, then moved to New York City for a few years before returning to Madison, which is when I met her. For someone who has stayed so close to home, she has an endless curiosity of the world around her and is able to find inspiration in the familiar, draw drama from the ordinary, and see things that most of us overlook in our everyday lives.
Kelli brings the world to her through reading voraciously. Books are in piles around her home, and by looking at the varied titles we get some insight into her influences. The books in her home range from: history books about Nazis, true crime, Buddhist tradition, biographies, philosophy, natural science, and of course the dictionary. While staying well-read she manages to remain down to earth as ever; reading poetry after cheering on the Packers in football.
I’ve heard Kelli refer to herself as a frustrated writer or poet, and her paintings are poetic dramas played out in two dimensions, theatrical in their ability to create tension and narrative, while making the personal universal. The figures in her allegories often don elaborate costumes, surrounded by lush environments, beautiful patterns and vivid color. Sometimes we get to live vicariously through these characters, attending fantasy parties, drinking too many martinis, smoking forbidden cigarettes, and all manner of poor decision making. These parties and other such tableaus seduce us into their world, making it hard to look away even when the topics might be challenging.
Anthropomorphism is one of her favorite devices to expose our animal nature. Innocents are rabbit prey to the devious fox predators, the clever are crows while the boorish become just that. Villains will be attired in as beautiful of costumes as the heroines and heroes of these dramas. The flatness of the panels that Kelli paints upon will often be reiterated with flat patterns and shallow depth of field that lends itself to the sense you are viewing a performance and the background is a stage set.
I’ve known Kelli for about as long as she’s been a painter, and during that time the steady stream of work coming from her studio has been both impressive, and at times hard to grasp. Even when she had two young children at home, she still managed to produce a notable amount of work. I’ve never known her to have a dry spell or creative block. Given her influence is the entire world this is not surprising. This book has been a wonderful chance to reflect on her career so far, and has made me even more excited about where she will take her art in the years to come.
Owner, Art Director
Abel Contemporary Gallery