Viva Bang Bang

Interview [ Charles Clary ]

Brittany Taylor1 Comment
Charles Clary Paper Art

It’s 7:30 on a Wednesday night and I find myself on the square in downtown Murfreesboro. It’s chilly and the rain is misting slightly. I’m waiting outside of a restaurant, noticing the stillness and utter lack of college students that usually fill the square’s bars. As I ponder the empty streets, the man I’m meeting arrives.

Charles Clary looks like the quintessential college professor - complete with beard, glasses and newsboy cap - and he greets me enthusiastically. Clary is, in fact, a professor in the art department at the nearby Middle Tennessee State University, but we aren’t here to talk about academics or the work of his students. We’re here to discuss his personal artistic endeavors.

If you pay any attention to the Nashville art scene, you’ve probably had the pleasure of seeing his intricate paper installations in a gallery or in print or in the new Music City Center. We’re seated near the bar and we begin our candid conversation.

Cut paper art Charles Clary
Wallpaper Art Charles Clary

VBB | You’ve been working with your hand cut layered paper for several years, how do you feel your work has evolved and what are you working on now?

CC | Oh man. That’s a big question. I moved to paper in grad school, more out of necessity than anything. I was doing these very flat, kind of street art paintings on the wall and they were begging to kind of live a little bit more and not just be wall, pictorial representation of fictitious space.

I actually wanted to make that space physical. So I had an internship in Brooklyn and then I was coming home one night and I stopped at a paper store. And it all started with Martha Stewart scrapbook paper. I’m a little ashamed to admit, but she had great colors at the time, the paper was big. And then I started noticing that the knife moved like a paintbrush. And it was still focusing on this idea that music was this viral entity that we get over a period of time and then we as the viewers move it to another place and it contaminates or infests that space and so on and so forth, but it’s this really playful, bright fun kind of disease.

viral paper art

So I worked in that for a long time. And it stayed with that type of work right up until 2012, so I have two bodies of work going on: one was the installation work and one was the boxed pieces that were almost petri dish explorations of the bigger work and then both my mother and father got diagnosed with cancer in 2011. And then they both passed away in February of 2012, two weeks apart. So I didn’t make work hardly at all through that time period.

She died on February 15th and he died 2 weeks later. So it was really kind of traumatic experience but then I started coming back to my work just to kind of deal with it, it was the only thing that got my mind off of the trauma of it all. And then I started thinking about nostalgia and my childhood and how it wasn’t like most people’s childhood, like it was a really rough childhood.

My father was a pretty raging alcoholic and my mother was a functioning one. So a lot of those childhood memories didn’t exist for me, like I had to grow up way too quick. So I started thinking about nostalgia and what that means and how it fades over time and it’s not quite what we remember, so I started working in drywall and painted the drywall and beat the crap out of it with a hammer to expose holes so it looks like it’s violent kind of experience which is what my parents’ deaths were.

And then filling that void with my paper sculpture from the back so it becomes this kind of beautiful scar that eventually heals itself. Everybody carries around those kind of scars from life.

Wallpaper layered paper art

Then I started digging deeper into it and started using wallpaper on the surface of the drywall, still doing the violent openings and tearing those openings open and I just remember my childhood home being covered in kitchsy wallpaper, so I bought out a lot of stores of wallpaper - every Goodwill and thrift store that I could think of.

Again, it was kind of speaking to the environment that I grew up in and how my house was probably could’ve been condemned if somebody had come in and looked around.

Recently, I’ve moved to game board boxes and what those kind of memories are and how childish and playful they are, but for me I didn’t play those games or we didn’t have enough money to buy those games and then recently I’ve started on probably a 6 month long project where I’m going out and buying every VHS tape from my childhood that I can remember - horror films, sci-fi films, cartoons, buddy comedies all those kind of things and then each VHS box is becoming a piece, so eventually I’m going to recreate the illusion of a movie store and all of these things will be on the wooden runners along the wall and you have to take the little metal clip off the nail to say, 'Hey I want this piece." So it will be like you’re renting it, but really you’re buying it. So I'm only on 24 right now, but I have 500+ sitting in my apartment.

VHS Jurassic Park Art
VHS art


VBB | And you remember all those movies? All 500?

CC | I remember every single one. I mean, I used it kind of how people use books as an escapism, so for that hour and a half or 2 hours, I was somewhere else. I wasn’t living the life that I had to live everyday. So they were like my, I don’t want to say saviors that makes it sound weird, but they were my saving grace.

Just to have those moments where I could escape was priceless for me. And it just so happens that 15 layers of paper plus 14 layers of matboard equals the exact same size as a VHS tape, so I can just slide them into the box.


VBB | Between making art and teaching, you don’t really have time for much else, but do you have any other creative outlets or is this pretty all consuming?

CC | It’s pretty all consuming but my fiancé and I make time to go hiking and camping. We love to be outdoors, so as much as we can be outdoors we will. I like going to see music shows when I can, we’ve started going to the theater.

dry wall paper cut art
punch hole art

VBB | How do you feel about artists' collaborations with major brands? Would you ever consider doing that sort of collaboration?

CC | I would. I would. I think nowadays fine art’s a scary thing. A lot of people don’t go into the galleries because they feel like they’re not smart enough or they just don’t get it or they don’t have the fine arts background to understand the work and somebody’s going to look down upon them. And I think artist’s collaborating with some kind of marketing campaign or to produce some type of utilitarian object or to brand a company or something like that, I think it’s a smart move.


VBB | What role do you think art galleries play in today’s modern society? You mentioned that maybe people are a little intimidated by them. Has the role of the art gallery changed in the past 50 years?

CC | I think they’re a little more accepting now. I think they’re a necessary thing, especially if you’re a fine artist and you want to advance your career. I think there are ways to do it without getting gallery representation, but it’s a heck of a lot easier if you have the representation because they have an extensive client lists that only they have or people that they work with, they can promote your work on your behalf to clients or public projects, or collections or museum exhibitions.

You always get the question, "Why do they take 50% of your commission?" Well, they pay the rent, they pay the utilities, they make the flyers, they mail out all the flyers and all you have to do is show up and hang your work and be able to talk somewhat intelligently about it. They provide the opportunity and the staff to make that stuff happen, so it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship,

I don’t want to say it’s a necessary evil because I don’t think it’s an evil thing. I think a lot of galleries have a stigma behind them that make them sound pretentious or elitist but they’re not. A lot of them are just super friendly. You've got to kind of think of it like a manager almost. If you’re a movie star [you] have agents, if you’re a musician you have a manager that has your schedule set up and all that kind of stuff and gets you the gig. All you have to do is play the music and give them a cut and that’s kind of what a gallery is. I think they’re a great place for experimentation and they’re a great place to expose new talent. It can set artists on a really great path.

wallpaper fish art charles clary
cut paper art charles clary

VBB | You’re an established artist, you’re work has been acquired by private collections and shown in many galleries. What advice do you have for artists that are just starting out?

CC | Always keep it as professional as possible. Don’t make it personal and you know I hate to sound cliche, but work your ass off. And be somewhat smart with digital technology. I hate every minute of it, but I have a tumblr, I have a twitter, I have facebook, I have my professional email, I’m on all kind of art sites just for that possibility of an opportunity. I have an Instagram now. I didn’t have one until 2 months ago and it’s awesome. I didn’t realize how awesome it was. So you’ve got to be as business savvy as you are creative savvy. The difference between a good artist and a great artist is how well you can promote yourself and how much risk you’re willing to take. One thing I struggled with a lot was not being afraid of success when it happens, take advantage of it.


VBB | What do you mean?

I was always fearful of success because it would put me in the limelight and I was always a really shy kid growing up and even in grad school I was still super shy. It took me teaching to become less shy. Be ok with the success because the more confidence you have with it, the better you are going to be able to market yourself and to be able to sell your work to a gallery and say, "Hey - you should really take a chance at me and here’s why." And it’s not a bunch of umm and maybes or self-deprecation it’s, "I’ve done some really great things, I feel like I’m going to do some really great things in the next few years, I think this is going to be the start of it and I don’t care what kind of deadline you give me i’ll meet it."

It’s also work ethic, I hate saying that but it is. During the summer I’m on 8-10 hour days in the studio every day but the weekends. The best piece of advice I ever got was once you become that kind of emerging or established artist always have 2 exhibitions ready to go at any point in time. It’s not like you only have 12 pieces and [when someone approaches you] you say, "Oh well, I only have this." You’ve just shut down an opportunity immediately without even getting your foot in the door.

So I usually have 2 or 3 exhibitions on stand by, ready to go because there have been times where I’ve been in 5-6 shows all at one time and one might be a solo show and 4 or 5 might be a group show and another one will be a two person show and you have to have the work to be able to be in all those shows or you just shot yourself in the foot.

pink paper layered art

VBB | When you’re reaching out to galleries, what are you sending them?

CC | In the beginning, when I was reaching out to galleries, it was very straight to the point, like you don’t need to know about my dead parents, you don’t need to know about this, you don’t need to know about that, "Hi my name is blank, I’ve enjoyed your artists that you represent in your gallery for many years, here’s a link to my online portfolio, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to my newest body of work all the information is on my website, if you have any additional questions" and then send it. They don’t want to know your whole personal story.


VBB | That’s interesting because I feel like that would really influence your work and makes your work more interesting, so you wouldn’t tell them that up front?

CC | No, not up front because they don’t know you from Adam. It would be like walking up to a complete stranger and saying, "Hi my name is Charles, did you know my parents died two years ago?" They’d be like, “Whoa this is too much." 

It could be in your artist statement. All my information is in my statement or it’s on my website, but you don’t want to come on too strong. I look at it kind of like a date, you don’t want to come on too strong in the beginning because you don’t want to scare them away, but you also want to entice them so you want to put your best foot forward.

You also want to look at their submission policy, if they’re not taking blind submissions, don’t submit. Follow their protocol because that shows that you’ve researched that site and you’re not just blanket emailing everybody. You’re going to know the work that they show so if you're an abstract painter and you just submitted work to a figure painting gallery, well of course you’re not going to get in. And then that’s going to put a damper on your confidence level and then you're going to think, “Oh god i’m terrible." No, you just submitted to the wrong gallery. You didn’t do your research.


VBB | Do most galleries categorize themselves that way?

CC | No, but the staple artists can give it away on what type of work they show. A lot of west coast galleries show a lot of street artists or pop surrealism or some kind of reference to pop culture or graffiti or something like that. A lot of east coast galleries are a little bit more into abstraction, modernism to some extent. It just depends on the gallery. And you have to click through all the artists to find that common thread.

So it’s all about the research. You’ve really got to do your research just like with anything else to prepare yourself for success. I haven’t submitted to a gallery in a little while only because I’ve been lucky enough to have representation, but even that can be very tumultuous at times. You still have to keep as professional as possible.

layered cut paper art nashville
drywall cut paper intricate art

VBB | How do you maintain those relationships with galleries?

CC | You make sure you go to their openings if you’re in a location that’s close to them, you stay in close contact with them and you let them know if your work is changing. You always email them to say, “Hey, here’s some new work." Just a nice cordial professional relationship. You don’t want to overexpose yourself and show at the same place 5 times in one year, but generally with most galleries every two years you’ll have a solo show and then there will be intermittent group shows just so that they don’t saturate the market with your work because then the interest in your work can go straight down. It’s an interesting dance. It can be stressful sometimes.


VBB | How do feel about your collectors? Have you ever met with any of them at the galleries?

CC | I’ve met with some at the galleries. I’ve thanked some in person for purchasing a work that was in a solo show or a group show. I have a couple of really great collectors in North Carolina that have a ton of my work and I keep a constant relationship with them that’s a very friendly, cordial kind of relationship. I think I’ve only had one sour collector relationship and it happened really early on when I was in grad school. I can’t even remember his name, but it was almost like, “I’ve discovered you” kind of thing.


VBB | Like you owed him something?

CC | Yea a little bit. I ended that one pretty quick.


VBB | How do you do that? Just say, "No, you can’t buy anymore"?

CC | Or “Unfortunately, I’m going a different direction" or "I’m going to go ahead and end this relationship." You do it in a very polite, non confrontational, non bridge burning way. It’s only hapened once and it was really young in my career. I didn’t know how to deal with it either. But again, I knew to stay professional because you never know where someone is going to end up or whose ear they’re going to have later on in life. Don’t take any of it personally, no matter how much you want to, never take it personally.

horse art cut paper nashville

VBB | It seems like you’ve created a lot of work that’s very personal. Have you ever created any work that’s too personal to sell?

CC | No. I use it mostly as a process. It’s the thing that drives the work and whether the viewer gets that or not, it’s not a big deal. I can talk about it on 50 different levels. If you want to know the back story, if you want to know the personal stuff, we can talk about it all day long, but if you just want to talk about how pretty it is, that’s fine too. For me, it’s the thing that drives the work. It’s the impetus behind the work and it’s not super important that you get it just from the visual. I’m such a workaholic that once a piece is done, I’m just moving on to the next thing. It’s a compulsion now. I get down if I’m not working.


VBB | I feel like a lot of artists or creative people feel that way like, “I don’t know why I have to make this thing, but I do.”

CC | Yea, it’s just a weird thing, but I enjoy every minute of it and it never really feels like work.

wallpaper art charles clary

VBB | What have been the most pivotal moments in your career?

CC | I think there are three or four. There was the moment that I decided to take the leap into grad school. I didn't care how much I was going to go into debt. That opened up a lot of doors when I was in grad school and then because I worked so hard in grad school, I got my New York residency for 3 months. Through that residency I got to work for Pierogi Gallery in Brooklyn. Then I got to be an assistant to Joe Amrhein who owns Pierogi and he’s an artist as well so I got to be his assistant helping him paint his paintings, so that opened up all kinds of doors.

Then I got to work Miami basel for several years and it’s forged a really good friendship and relationship with that gallery and I'm not represented by them, it’s not anything like that, it’s just a really great place and a good example of how a gallery should be run.

Then, my solo show that I had at the Rymer in 2010 was a really pivotal moment for me as a Nashville artist because I had some really large scale installations, some of the biggest I've done. And the biggest installation in that got modified and is now in the Music City Center in Nashville as a permanent piece.

And when my parents passed, that took the work in a completely different direction. It took the work in a direction I don’t think it would have gone had that not happened and it was a terrible time, but the work that I’m making now which I’m really excited about would not have happened without that and it caused me to do a revaluation of my life, of who I was, who was important to me.

And then you know when I met my fiancé I think that was another pivotal moment because I think she’s a good balance of me. She’s super organized, she’s very very professional and business-like and she helps me a lot with that stuff. She’s super super supportive and is a good driving force to keep me going when I get down about stuff.

And teaching! My students keep pushing me forward. Because the better I am, the better they’ll be, so it’s this kind of nice push and pull between the two of us.


Nashville Artist Charles Clary

VBB | You mentioned in your last answer, an important moment in your Nashville artist career. You’ve been an artist in Savannah, NYC and other places. What do you think is uniquely special about being an artist in Nashville. Is there anything special about being a Nashville artist?

CC | I think there is. I think we’re at this precipice of exploding as a great kind of art hub and there are really great galleries, there are fantastic artists. I would put Nashville artists up there with NY artists any day of the week. I think we have a good collector base here, they just need to realize how great Nashville artists are. I think that the artist community in Nashville is growing, especially out near Zeitgeist and David Lusk and some of the pop up galleries that are in that area. I think that’s going to be a really great place for galleries to be.

The Avenue of the Arts on 5th is pretty fantastic and has some great innovative shows. Not just pretty things, but pretty great installations, sculptural things, immersive exhibitions and a lot of people are starting to notice that. At art crawl you’ll have 1k or more people come out just cramming the streets and it becomes an event as it should be. The arts have been big in Nashville for a while, but I think people are starting to recognize it now and I think there’s going to be a pretty great explosion of it and people are starting to notice what Nashville artists have to offer.

*All images used in this post were used with permission from the artist


Minimal Fun [ A Review of the Pennyweight Presents Elizabeth Suzann holiday event 2014 ]

Brittany TaylorComment

Nashville is not widely known for its fashion scene although that's changing with the help of designers like Elizabeth Pape who presented a preview show hosted by stylist Elise Joseph (aka Pennyweight) Thursday night at the Tinney Contemporary gallery downtown.

I've never been to a fashion show, but the idea of two well-crafted, local brands combining forces to put on an intimate event like this at one of my favorite galleries was intriguing to me, so I bought a ticket out of curiosity.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Pape

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Pape

We arrived at the gallery in the middle of the cocktail hour about 30 minutes before the show started. The cozy space was already filling up with people and it was a welcome respite from the chilly autumn night. The lights were dim except for the spotlights pointed at each of the paintings that lined the walls. Seven white cubes sat in front of the paintings, a few feet of space between each one. My friend and I spent a minute deciding whether or not the coat rack by the door that was filled with gorgeous outerwear was a DIY coat check or part of the show. We eventually added our coats to the collection and walked around the room analyzing the art as well as the crowd. We agreed that the best painting was (unfortunately) hidden behind the clothing rack but the best looking attendee is still up for debate because each guest was so stunning.

Photo Credit: Catie Beth Thomas

Photo Credit: Catie Beth Thomas

Details like the club music, the clipboard lady at the door and the interesting conversation all around us worked together to help set the mood. I waited in line for a drink behind several impossibly fashionable women and when it was finally my turn, I was delighted to find that the first drink listed on the menu was called “Spirit Quest”. Yes, please.

As I sipped my tart, blush colored drink, the lights got even lower and the guests were shooed away from the white blocks. Elizabeth and Elise stood in the corner and quietly shouted for everyone’s attention. After a minute, everyone noticed was was happening and looked toward them. Both youthful and beautiful, they thanked us for coming. We were appreciated they said. And then they joined us in the crowd.

Photo Credit: Elise Joseph

Photo Credit: Elise Joseph

The models came out one by one, each stopping for a brief moment before ascending their cubes. The models were gorgeous, tall and impeccably styled. Their hair and makeup complemented the minimal clothing perfectly. If you were wondering how to pull off wide, velvet pants or a wool crop top, these models showed you how. I tried to imagine myself in clothing with such generous cuts of fabric and I can only assume I would look like a frumpy cow. If you are tall and thin, every piece will hang beautifully, but us normals will need to employ a little creativity to make some of these pieces work for us. Even though a few pieces might be hard for the regular gal to pull off, most of the collection is very versatile and universally flattering. The neutral colors and high quality materials make these pieces utilitarian wardrobe essentials and I appreciate the expert blending of form and function. 

After a few brief moments, all of the models were perched on their dimly lit stands and that was that. The selfies resumed and people went back for more ‘Spirit Quests’. Some people continued to shop and some particularly brave people touched the clothes hanging on the models who smiled and welcomed the interaction. I, on the other hand, was out of things to do. I’d touched the fabric, I’d looked at the art, and I’d had a fancy drink.

I had assumed that there would be more of a presentation, that someone would tell me a story about each piece the model was wearing. I craved more details- What was the creative process? What were the influences? Who were these pieces designed for? I had anticipated an intimate evening from which I would leave knowing much more about the brand and feeling connected to it in some way, but I left knowing no more than I did when I arrived. The evening was beautiful and well-curated like both Elizabeth and Elise’s online brands, however, the translation into real space felt incomplete. Much like the clothing, the night felt overall, very minimal. 

Artist Feature [ Grace Eunmi Lee ]

Brittany TaylorComment
Grace Eunmi Lee Interview // Viva Bang Bang

Grace Eunmi Lee, born and raised in Seoul, Korea, is a ceramist who has been working with clay for 11 years and now lives in Ontario. Her work reflects her interest in the mundane parts of life that are unnoticed and seemingly insignificant. Large scale installations such as her 2012 work titled "Dust", are made up of minute ceramic creatures which represent the microscopic particles that comprise ordinary, ubiquitous dust. 

In addition to her installations, Grace also has a collection of small, ceramic pieces available in the excellently curated, online shop SuiteHazen and will be displaying 4 of her espresso cups in an upcoming show in Seattle. 

I'm very excited to share Grace's interview with you and hope you enjoy discovering her wonderful talent as much as I did. 

Grace Eunmi Lee Interview // Viva Bang Bang
Grace Eunmi Lee Interview // Viva Bang Bang

1. Tell us a little about your background and how you got started in ceramics.

I was enrolled in art classes throughout grade school and high school, but it was in my undergraduate studies in university when I first encountered ceramics. My major in my undergraduate studies was Craft Design. I then went on to study ceramics further in graduate school. 

2. Do you remember the first time you ever worked with clay? Did you know immediately that it was the medium you wanted to concentrate on working with?

I started in ceramic as a student in my university. I remember how I enjoyed my first ceramic class. I made a lot of dishes and cups.

I didn't know immediately that clay would be my medium of choice because I didn't want to limited myself to a particular medium as an artist. But as I created more and more out of clay I realized that it was the medium that I connected with the best.

Grace Eunmi Lee Interview // Viva Bang Bang
Grace Eunmi Lee Interview // Viva Bang Bang

3. What’s next for you and your work? Will you continue exploring microorganisms with your creatures or will you explore something else entirely?

I want to continue to develop as an installation artist. I hope to have an opportunity to have projects that would result in permanent installations. I don't see me changing my theme/concept in the near future. I still have many ideas I want to explore.

4. You’ve had exhibitions in South Korea, China and Canada. Do you have any upcoming shows in the United States?

I have an upcoming show in Seattle. It's a small cup show with international ceramic artist. I will exhibit 4 of my espresso cups.

Event Details:

Seward Park Clay Studio and KOBO Gallery Simple Cup 2014
Showcasing ceramic artists from North America and Japan 
Opening event:  Saturday, November 1, 2014

Grace Eunmi Lee Interview // Viva Bang Bang

5. What’s the best part of being an artist in Ontario?

I love the diversity in Toronto. I find the diversity helps inspire new ideas and shapes. It also allows me the privilege of sharing my art with all kinds of different audiences. It gives me the opportunity to get a good mix of feedback from different perspectives.

6. You’ve said before that you’re interested in microorganisms and that the creatures you create and use to comprise your larger compositions represent the small particles of life that are often overlooked. Do you draw inspiration from things other than the overlooked particles of life?

I get inspiration from everything around me. Whether is something I see, hear, touch, taste, or feel, it can become an inspiration.

7. How many individual creatures would you say you’ve created (approximately) in your 11 years as a ceramist?

It's hard to say as I haven't really kept count, but I'd guess over 15,000 pieces.

Grace Eunmi Lee Interview // Viva Bang Bang
Grace Eunmi Lee Interview // Viva Bang Bang

8. What other contemporary artists do you admire?


9. Who (if anyone) has had the greatest impact on your career as an artist? (It could be someone who inspired you to pursue art, someone who helped you with your first show, etc.)

Melanie Egan (Head of Craft at Harbourfront Centre) and Patrick Macaulay (Head, Visual Arts at Harbourfront Centre) have had the biggest impact on my professional career as an artist. They were the first people to recognize my talents and give me the opportunity start my career as an artist in Canada. It's through the artist in residence program at the Harbourfront Centre that I started to blossom as a professional artist. They taught me a lot during the past three years, and it's because of my experience at the Harbourfront Centre that I am where I am now.

10. Do you have ambitions outside of being an artist? A lot of people have recreational time that is separate from their work, but for creatives, that line between work and play seems to get blurred. Is creating what you do for fun or do you also have a passion for say, cooking or horseback riding?

I like craft in general, so I like to participate in activities that allow me to exercise my creativity. That can be cooking, knitting, or anything really.

11. Can you tell us more about your new line with SuiteHazen? What led to this collaboration and can we expect more product lines like this from you in the future?

I wouldn't say it's a collaboration, but certainly a great partnership. Working with SuiteHazen has provided me with a great outlet to reach out to the European market with someone who has a strong background in marketing. I hope that we can share in each other's success and help each other succeed further.

*Images via the artist's website and SuiteHazen

To read more about Grace and see more of her work visit her website here.

Want to add one of Grace's pieces to your art collection? (I did!), visit SuiteHazen.


Artist Feature [ Karen O'Neil ]

Brittany TaylorComment
Karen O'Neil Painting

If I'm honest, the idea of a still life painting does not usually excite me. Having had to draw and paint many scenes filled with cups and assorted fruit sitting on fabric as an art student, I grew a bit tired of them. But I'm here to tell you that my love for the age-old still life has been renewed! How could it not be after seeing these paintings by Karen O'Neil? The cheery colors and use of light are truly exquisite. I believe any one of these bright paintings would liven up even the dullest of rooms. 

Karen, who has been teaching at the Woodstock School of Art since 1990, leads painting workshops and offers online critiquing services for artists that cannot commit their time to a weekly class. Karen kindly shared her response to my interview questions in essay format below. I hope you enjoy reading about her life as an artist as much as I did!

Karen O'Neil lemon still life

Becoming a painter had a lot to do with nature/nurture! Several members of my family are talented visual artists. I believe there is a genetic component – in my case, at least! My Dad was very talented, although never had any formal art training. My parents valued, and nurtured talent.

When my older brother James began drawing at an early age, my parents found an artist nearby to provide him with private art lessons. James went to art school on scholarship, and is a successful painter. His work can be found here. While he was in art school, he would let me tag along on trips to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I learned a lot, and more importantly, became inspired.

Karen O'Neil Still Life Painting

Following in James footsteps, I went off to art school after high school, intent on becoming an illustrator. I loved the first foundation year of art school – drawing, drawing, and more drawing, and pulling all nighters to finish projects for 2D & 3D design. The second year proved more challenging as I entered the illustration department at what was then called the Philadelphia College of Art.

I was passionate about the drawing classes, but had a really difficult time with narrative story telling with my drawing. I found myself skipping classes and going to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where I would stand for hours in front of some small and exquisite Vuillard and Bonnard paintings. At some point before that year ended, I realized that light, color, form, and painting issues were my subject, so I came home to Massachusetts and transferred to Mass. College of Art. Fortunately, I found myself in George Nick’s painting class – which was exactly what I needed at the time. I still hear George’s voice sometimes when I’m painting – “make that darker!!” I also had the great fortune to study with Henry Hensche in Provincetown one summer. Staying with brother James, who was living in Truro at the time – I would ride my bike to the Cape School, paint colored blocks in the sandpit all day, work at Napi’s restaurant washing dishes until 2am, ride bike back to Truro......and begin early at the Cape Shool the next day! It was great discipline, and exercise. 

Karen O'Neil Interview
Karen O'Neil Still Life

After art school, I worked part time jobs – waitressing, office jobs, etc. I was always painting during the week, and my friends from art school would keep meeting, going to drawing sessions, and painting together.

I met my husband Peter at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – he had just graduated from art school. We both worked at the museum, and quickly became good friends. We were constantly at art museums, always going to New York & Washington DC. Art and life have been interwoven for us since we met. Eventually, we moved to Woodstock, NY, after participating in an artist residency program here. We both began teaching at the Woodstock School of Art. I‘ve been teaching there since 1990 – and have loved (almost) every minute of it.

Karen O'Neil
Karen O'Neil Fruit Still Life

Having to explain something to another person clarifies things for me, which has helped me in my own work tremendously. I am a hands on kind of teacher. Visual people learn in visual ways, and I do a lot of demos in my classes. I have learned so much from students, which has helped me to become a better teacher. Most of the time, painters struggle with value issues (light & dark), and color relationships, and seeing the big picture.

Orange Still Life Karen O'Neil
Still life painting Karen O'Neil

Knowing when a painting is finished is another issue painters struggle with. When you are “noodlng” a painting (making unneccasary brush strokes, etc....), that’s a sure sign that you need to stop and reflect. When you have communicated your idea, or your feeling – that’s enough. Overworking kills the freshness and spontaneity of a work. 

Karen O'Neil Viva Bang Bang
Pear still life Karen O'Neil

I feel so fortunate to be able to make a living from painting, and teaching painting. I have also seen my own work develop dramatically in the last 15 years. A lot of things seemed to start to come together, and I feel like I’m developing my own visual language. In November, I’ll have some work at Mason Fine Art’s new gallery space in Atlanta.

Karen O'Neil candy still life
green cup still life Karen O'Neil

See more of Karen's inspiring work on her website and be sure to like her facebook page! *All images are property of Karen O'Neil and used with artist's permission. 

Artist Feature [ Kate Long Stevenson ]

Brittany TaylorComment
Kate Long Stevenson

It's hard for me to describe exactly how Kate Long Stevenson's bright, gestural paintings make me feel. Happy? Giddy? Like I'll never be able to tear my eyes away and look at anything else? Surely you feel the same way?

The works created by this South Carolina-based abstract expressionist are rich and full of movement. On her website, it eloquently states that Kate, a life-long lover of music "relies mostly on classical compositions to guide her as she builds a painting, layering chords of color over energetic swirls of charcoal and paint." And oh yea, one of her paintings is in Darius Rucker's bedroom. 

In our interview, Kate shares about her process, the hardest part of being an artist, and the best way to spend 48 Hours in Charleston. 

Kate Long Stevenson
Kate Long Stevenson

When did you first know you would pursue a career as an artist?

I majored in art in college, but it wasn’t until my senior year that I really considered pursuing it as a profession, and it was a few years after that when it became a passion.  

Some artists struggle to find a style while for others it just comes naturally. Did you find your current style of painting early on or did it take some exploration and experimentation?

It took a while to find my style…I always loved abstract work, but felt compelled to paint for a seemingly conservative market.  As an artist, it’s so important to be passionate about your work, so I abandoned whatever I was doing and started experimenting, exploring, and painting for myself vs. a potential client or specific market.  Every so often I have to repeat this process to disconnect from what becomes expected.  

Kate Long Stevenson
Darius Rucker Home

Do you have a dream collaboration?

I think it would be amazing to paint the “scenery” backdrops for a beautiful ballet, a la Helen Frankenthaler  

Kate Long Stevenson

What contemporary artists do you admire?

I am a big fan of Howard Hodgkin, Alex Katz, Chuck Close

Tell us about your process. What's the journey of an idea in your head to the canvas in your studio?

First and foremost, I’m passionate about color and music.  A new piece can begin out of a color combination I admire from a catalogue or a song I liked that day.  I generally have to stick with both to remain focused during the entirety of the process, so it’s got to be interesting to me.  I like to work on large canvases, and begin sketching out the painting with charcoal while listening to loud music.  It can be anything from classical to hip hop, so long as I like that tempo and can interpret the movement onto the canvas.  Even though this initial process is pretty uninhibited, the crazy, gestural marks eventually need to evolve into a composition that makes sense to me.  I subsequently spend more time staring at a painting from ten feet away than I do up at the easel.  The application begins as very physical and immediate and segues into something much more thoughtful and deliberate.  It’s a process of creating balance, adding color, rediscovering the original marks.  An lots and lots of layers.  

Kate Long Stevenson
Kate Long Stevenson

What's the most challenging thing about being an artist?

Biggest challenge:  Having my work make sense to me.  Abstract is so subjective, and there’s a lot of “my kid could paint that” mentality.  So, it’s important to me that the elements of the painting are interesting, balanced…I don’t want it to be or look effortless.  

You've made a successful career as an artist and have been featured in numerous popular publications. What advice do you have for other aspiring creatives?

Why, thank you!  Never paint for the market.  Only paint for yourself.  If not, the work will suffer and you won’t enjoy the experience.  

Kate Long Stevenson
Kate Long Stevenson

What other creative pursuits do you have?

Other creative pursuits… Really my main one—being a mom to two adorable boys! :)   

What's your proudest moment from your artistic career?

Proudest artistic moment:  That’s always evolving.  Anywhere from having a good studio day where everything just clicks, to creating a body of work for a gallery, to hanging along side other artists I really respect, to watching my children delight in their own creative moments...

Kate Long Stevenson
Kate Long Stevenson

If someone is spending 48 hours in Charleston, what should they do/see/eat?

Oooh, GREAT question.  Lest you have a gracious Southern host, Zero George is a fabulous home-away-from home boutique hotel, and just a short walk to King Street.  Charleston Place Hotel is equally convenient and luxurious, and boasts a wonderful spa.  Be sure to pop by Bob Ellis Footwear, Hampden Clothing for women’s fashion, Sugar Snap Pea and Kids on King for children’s clothing, Worthwhile and Vieuxtemp for lovely gifts, and Dulles Designs on Church Street for the most beautiful assortment of fine papers and stationary.  Ann Long Fine Art on Broad Street is a wonderful gallery with gorgeous Realist artists and Otto Neumann monotypes, and Redux Contemporary Art Center on St. Philip Street brings cutting-edge installations to the LowCountry (and is the studio base for numerous local artists, like me!).  

I love to dine at Cru Cafe off of the Market for a delicious lunch in a quintessential Charleston Single home, or Butcher and Bee on Upper King for amazing farm-to-table specials.  The afternoon can be spent meandering through Charleston’s beautiful neighborhoods, and then perhaps a treat at Sugar Bakeshop (the mint chocolate cupcakes and ginger molasses cookies are my favorites).  Dinner. Oh, dinner.  I’m biased in stating that both FIG and The Ordinary are the finest restaurants in the city (or ever), so each night should be dedicated to them.  Stop by Victor’s Social Club for a cocktail…If your visit is over the weekend, check out the Farmer’s Market at Marion Square Saturday morning (and a very entertaining breakdancing show), and be sure to go to Husk for brunch and order their farm-to-table version of the In and Out Burger—divine!  

Kate Long Stevenson
Kate Long Stevenson

Visit Kate's website to see more of her wonderful art. 

*All images via Artist's website and used with permission