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When I asked Jake Kelley to walk me through how he creates his wildly energetic abstract paintings, he first notes that he has to wear a gas mask while he paints because he uses a lot of toxic epoxy resin.
Why epoxy, I ask? “Because it’s ... shiny,” he says. That incongruous pairing of toxic fumes and shiny things somehow sets the tone for our talk.
Kelley was highlighted in 2008 as one of four emerging artists at AVA’s 4 Bridges Arts Festival and he’s this year’s featured artist.
Most of his pieces start when he cuts a piece of aluminum to size, with only a vague idea of where he will take it.
“I’ll chose a first layer of color and put that down and then maybe choose a second layer of marks, and then the layers build upon themselves like a one-man chess game,” he says.
Each succeeding layer is each a reaction to the preceding layer. “Sometimes they don’t work, sometimes they do, but it’s always exciting because I’m not necessarily in control of the outcome completely,” he adds. “There’s always a nice fight going on.”
The epoxy resin comes in near the end. “If I think it’s worthy of becoming really, really shiny I’ll pour some epoxy resin on it. Then I go in and draw on top of the epoxy resin. The drawing ends up being raised because the epoxy resin is a half-inch think, crystal clear glaze. It gives it kind of a strange 3-D look.”
As an emerging artist five years ago, his work was all large-scale black and white drawings created with dry media like powdered graphite and charcoal. Now, Kelley’s canvases are full of vibrant color. For his featured artist designation this year, AVA provided a booth space free of charge and produced a fine art print of one of his canvases, called “Glitter and Drunk.” The featured piece juxtaposes an intricate topography of blue and white with looser reds and yellows and a pair of geometric arcs.
Being Found By Inspiration
Kelley credits AVA with helping him keep going as an artist. “I have two kids and a full-time job. AVA has always given me a little carrot to go for.”
He disowns the idea that artists are always inspired. “It’s more like you put in the hours and hopefully there will be moments of inspiration that will find you when you’re down in your studio,” he says. “A lot of times I just go down there to put myself in that space. A lot of times I’ll end up sweeping the floor.”
He sometimes tries to help inspiration find him by writing to-do lists for his studio work.
“They’re a little bit weird,” he says. “I can remember one said something like ‘paint trash white’ and ‘upside down deer.’”
A truckload of trash did in fact get painted and displayed at CreateHere as an installation called, yes, “White Trash.” The upside down deer never quite happened, he says, “But I am working on and will have at 4 Bridges some things that are vaguely deer-related. One of them might be upside down. I haven’t decided.”
He starts listing the shapes of aluminum canvases he will have a 4 Bridges: squares, rectangles, circles, animals, severed heads. Wait, what?
Painting on Medusa
“Lately, I’ve been cutting out shaped canvases and doing more simple compositions, because the complexity is in the shape of the canvas and not necessarily in the actual composition of the painting,” he explains.
One is a severed head of Medusa based on a Caravaggio painting that he’s really excited about. “I can’t imagine who would want that hanging in their living room, but well see,” he deadpans.