I’ve been slowly working on the element of these trees lately. I had the tree on the right first, then the background, and then I decided I wanted the tree to have a buddy. Today I printed the first batch of both of them. I’m also dreaming of a different background —- maybe daytime with clouds and birds. I’ve done a single, finished image for so long that I’ve really enjoyed playing around with blocks in different ways lately. I got a book about the three generations of Yoshida printmakers, and they often used the same blocks for both a day and a night scene. I’ve been thinking about ways to open up my own process and use blocks in a variety of ways. These are likely for my show at Walter Anderson Museum of Art in 2022. You never know for sure until you get all the work together and see what makes the cut, but I’m feeling encouraged about these.
I’m excited to be refocusing on my prints in January after the bustle of holiday commissions. My show at WAMA will hang one year from now, and I’m glad to have something happy and positive to work towards through this dark winter. I’m hoping there can be a party to celebrate by then, since it will be a huge moment in my career. This one is moving slowly. I’d set it aside back in the summer, unsure how I felt about it. I’ve been thinning it out and balancing it while working SLOWLY on the trees, and today I wanted to see where I was with it, even though there are still trees to go. I have sunshine on my east facing work table in the mornings to help me see the delicate edges and bits of cutting. In the afternoons (for winter warmth, anyway), I take a walk. I took a couple of days of pure vacation, then I started easing back into sorting through prints and getting my head back in this work, but I’m still giving myself some time off in the afternoon to recover from December. Afternoons are also good for printing, since I don’t need the super bright light. So this is what January will look like for me, and I could do a lot worse.
Y'all!! Huge news! I'm going to have a solo exhibition at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art! Anderson is one of my main art heroes, and his museum is holy ground for me. I've been visiting for years just to drink in his work. I've been lobbying for this since last spring (and the curator Mattie Codling has kindly continued to look at the work I've been sending), and I finally got the ok. I've been longing for a substantive show to work towards again. The best work I do is for a specific place with a theme that resonates, and when I have time to create from scratch for a show. This show will be January to August 2022, so two years from right now. I'm delighted to have time to make my best work for it, and I'm also glad not to have it flash past too quickly in a stressful rush.
Mattie put me tentatively on the schedule at the end of January, but I had to wait for committee approval to be able to announce it. Four days after talking to her, I found the new press. It will greatly expand the size of the prints I'm able to do, and all of this coming together just felt meant to be. You can see below my old print bed with my maximum sized old print sitting in the new press bed, for comparison. I'm thrilled to be able to grow just as I work for this deeply special exhibition.
I’ve never known that much about abstract painting, and I’m generally drawn to more figurative work, but I’ve been looking forward to getting enough space from show season and crazy family stuff to get over to Dixon to see this exhibition. It’s a stunning one. I’ve been twice this week and could even be tempted to go back another time before it closes on Sunday. Rothko is my absolute favorite of the abstract painters, but I had fallen deeply for a Helen Frankenthaler painting in Omaha a few months ago, and there’s a less totally stunning but still lovely one in this show. There’s also a gorgeous de Kooning, and I loved the second show of just Dzubas paintings (an artist I wasn’t previously familiar with) collected by a local businessman. It was a stunning retrospective of four decades of his work, and a number of them sang to me. I loved seeing the progression too. My only quibble with the main abstract show was that it was only one painting per artist. I really like being able to see two or three of the same artist, compare them together, get more of a feel for the body of work. Their survey of women artists earlier this year (with many less famous names — I was already somewhat familiar with a number of the abstract painters) was even more disorienting that way. I wanted to see more than just one. It’s almost jarring to move artists with every painting and have no compare and contrast ability. But that’s a small complaint about a stellar show overall.
I went back the second time with every colored pencil I own to try to capture a little of the texture of the Rothko, and the Stamos had also been calling my name. I did one small sketch of each. The de Kooning was too intricate for me to take on that day, and I didn’t have any of the right colors for the Dzubas pieces I liked best. With watercolors I can mix anything, but pencils just are what you have. The last two pieces are both by Dzubas.
I just hung all these for this weekend’s Open Studio, but it occurs to me that some of you might be too far away (or too busy) to make it to midtown Memphis just now. Here is the batch of small edible still lifes that are available this holiday season. The two oils have deep gallery sides and are ready to hang, and all the watercolors and gouaches are framed and ready to go. The oils are 8” square, and the others are in the 10-12” range. $225 each. It’s fun to see them hanging up all in a group in my hallway, but I’d be happy for anyone who wants to give the present of an eternal eclair or perfect avocado to take one home.
It’s been show season, and this weekend is the final one for me for the holidays, and always my favorite. If you’re around Memphis, please come out on Saturday or Sunday (the 14th & 15th) from 12-5 both days at 1780 Autumn in Midtown. As always, I’ll be joined by Melissa Bridgman and her gorgeous pottery. I recently hung up all my finished oils from the last year or so to look at and invite folks in to see. It’s fun to see them all together, dressed up and ready so to speak. I’m hoping to find an out of the house showing for them at some point, but Open Studio visitors will get a sneak peek.
I also have several recent prints and one set of brand new ones for this show. After my Daily Pleasures still life show this fall, I took the cherries image on the “choose joy” plate (one of Melissa’s!) and made a print. The show had been all paintings, but I really liked the image and wanted to play with it graphically as well. It’s a single plate, but I’ve been hand rolling different color combinations on it. Each one is a little bit different, and it’s been fun to play with them. Come see us if you’re able, and if you’re not, I’ve also been shipping prints off in a good quantity, and there’s plenty of time to get them before Christmas if you’d like to give some original artwork. My online store is at https://squareup.com/market/martha-kelly-art. I’m selling what’s left of the still life gouaches and oils too. I haven’t added them all individually, but if you’re interested, I’ll be happy to put up any that are in demand as needed. See the bottom photo for a sample of them. Give an eternal eclair or macarons with no calories!
My partner was digging around on YouTube and found this video of me talking about My Own Places, the landscape exhibition I had at Dixon Gallery and Gardens in 2015. They invited me as a current landscape artist to do a solo show as a complement to their Southern Impressionism exhibit. It was the highlight of my career so far, and it was fun to revisit talking about the way I paint and carve prints and how those two media differ from each other. And how keeping a sketchbook has radically broadened the work that I do.
This project had an enormous personal impact on me when the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, inspired by the beauty and artwork of the St. John’s Bible, decided to commission artwork to illustrate the denomination’s new Book of Common Worship. I was lucky enough to be the artist to receive that commission, and it has been easily the most important project of my career.
The St. John’s Bible pages are huge. Far larger than I had pictured. They had a number of the painted pages, and (fascinating for me) they also had the collage mock ups that the artists did before beginning in on that actual vellum. The exhibition also included some Medieval French illuminated psalters.
Standing in that room with that long line of Biblical artwork made me feel enormously privileged to be a part of that line of artists through centuries who have interpreted and illustrated the Bible. The book I illustrated will never get the museum attention that the enormous St. John’s project has, but it is in use nationally and beyond for the next 25 or 30 years. I am deeply grateful to have been a part of it.
No photographs were allowed in the exhibition, which I was sad about. I would love to share the collages alongside the finished pages. It was a fascinating journey. But my partner kindly surprised me at the end with the Book of Psalms from the gift shop. I’m thrilled to have a small piece of it to bring home and to remember standing in that space that spanned time, belonging to a long line of artists who contributed to this ongoing work of retelling and interpreting the word. The Book of Common Worship was limited in colors, which suited my printmaking focus, so it has a very different feel. But here are a few photos of my illustrations alongside the St. John's Bible.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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