• Kaylie

Interview with the Artist

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

Alysa Browne reached out to me this year as a student at Massasoit College just outside of Boston looking for an artist to answer questions for one of her classes. I was happy to help. I would have loved this project when I was in college at MassArt.

1. What inspires you?

For me, fundamentally it's all about color. I like to feel the palette of places I visit and recreate them in my paintings. I am also extremely interested in unique color combinations– basically ignoring everything art teachers have taught me about the color wheel, dreaming up the most unflattering colors to put next to one another, and challenging myself to make them work. In terms of more immediate inspirations, I'm always looking at other contemporary artists in the South End galleries or on Instagram, trying to decipher what is working for them and thinking about new techniques to try. Inspiration is everywhere and has such vast possibilities, it's elusive and at the same time not elusive, so it's difficult for me pinpoint specifics.

2. Do you have a creative process or special work habits? How often do you make art?

I can't say that I have one creative process, but I do have favorite techniques to fall back on when I'm feeling stuck or need to produce. This has proven to be a more engaging way for me to work than committing to one process each time I enter my studio. A consistent thing I do is step away from the piece(s) I'm working on for periods of time while they're being made. For this reason, a small 6x6" painting can take me months to finish, not because I intensively labored over it for months but because I started it, moved on, and then rediscovered it later with new ideas on how to continue working on it. I also have a few quirky tendencies (I'm very particular about the consistency of my titanium white, I like all my photos cropped at 5x7, things like that!) that give some rigidity to working, even though they're not necessarily important things to anyone besides me.

I make art when I'm content and feeling organized. The notion of the sometimes-tortured, emotionally driven artist is very dramatic and romantic, but it has never been true for me (with a handful of exceptions, I guess). At a guest artist lecture at MassArt, I heard Dana Frankfort say something like, "I only work when I feel like working. It is important for me not to paint if I don't feel like painting." I felt such a sense of relief when I heard her day that. I felt a little judged by some of my peers in college for spending less time in my studio than they did, but now I accept that I just work differently than them. If you're looking for a more quantitative answer: Right now I work a few days a week for a few hours each time, and even when I'm not painting I am in my office editing photos, updating my website, etc. That stuff is probably 50% of the work!

3. What is your favorite medium and why?

I prefer water-based media like acrylic paint and watercolor. I like it because it can give me immediate gratification. Since my studio is small and my aspirations are big, I sort of feel like I need to work quickly and effectively. I love how you can get any color under the sun without mixing if you wanted, though I usually wind up mixing anyway, and it's interesting to see how different types of water-based paint interact together. I use a ton of craft paint for my studies and I love to see it break down and dry with different finishes and textures. I think it adds interest and depth to the paintings. My teachers never liked me using it.

4. What do you want to convey in your work? Does it have special meaning?

I have wanted to convey a lot of different things with my work in the past, but right now I'm focused on art that both delights and sophisticates the space it's in. At the end of the day, we do hope for someone to want to buy these things (shameful as it is to admit!) and live with them in their home. It is so rewarding when a collector wants to hang your work in their home; their private space. I want the work to interest them, make them smile, allow their imaginations to take over, and be able reinvent itself with a simple rotation (these last two things help explain why I love abstract art). Every piece has special meaning to me, but I don't stay attached to them because I need to allow for the possibility that it'll discover a new special meaning with its future owner.

5. What has been your most challenging experience from graduate to full time artist?

That's an easy one. The most challenging experience from graduating art school to becoming a full time artist has been making enough money to live in the city I want to live in, while having the time and space to create (time and space being equally unavailable). I was lucky to have a full time job after college, but I had to work a ton of hours to afford my rent, and that rent was for a tiny studio apartment without any space for painting. I was caught in this "catch 22" for a long time.

6. What advice do you have for an art student?

I would make sure an art student understands that there are many avenues to making income as an artist. I spent countless hours talking to my mentors at MassArt about getting gallery representation. It was as if that was the only end game for a "serious" artist. But things have changed a lot in the past few years especially as a result of social media expanding so vastly. Now there are many ways to be seen, reach out to others, and be contacted. I don't have gallery representation and I don't feel as if I need it. I earn income in other ways, like taking commissions and doing pop-up events in retail spaces.

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© 2020 by Kaylie Abela

Alexandria, VA