Some artists come to their trade as philosophers and thinkers who develop ideas with styles adapted from historical precedents. Some artists opt for the aesthetic life because it manifests their sensibilities; their cells are happy. For some people, though, the process of becoming an artist is utterly organic; they look to creativity to articulate some ineffable aspect of life. Art is their compulsion and they can''t avoid it.
That''s the case for Pacific Grove artist Charlsie Kelly. Art has woven itself into her life like weft threads coursing in and out of childhood events, happy and sad occurrences, and the different cards that life has dealt her. She has practiced her art when good fortune rained down upon her; she has painted when hardship raised its unsavory head. During such times, art has come to her and she has gone to art.
A solo show of Kelly''s recent paintings, opening Friday at the Pacific Grove Art Center, presents an opportunity to view her ruminations and flights of fancy, work that, according to Kelly, "keeps me continually entertained. It takes me away from the ugliness and commonplace, and elevates everything beyond ordinary conception."
Kelly''s compulsion to paint began when she was five years old. A whimsical picture of a lady with flowers which she called "The Tulip Has Opened at Last" was submitted to a children''s art contest at the San Francisco Chronicle. She won money, a ribbon, notice, and the printer''s plates for that day''s edition of the newspaper.
She took art classes at Pasadena High School, continuing her studies at the Art Center of Pasadena. As a young adult, Kelly had to make a living and, so, she unleashed her creative energies on a series of jobs requiring it: interior design, architectural consultant, and a fabric store that catered to quilters. Making art at home after the day''s work-and after her two kids were asleep-became a source of refuge. It also helped her deal with grave personal loss and a series of medical crises.
"For me, art is a personal entertainment," Kelly says. "It''s my travel and leisure. In the past it was always on the back burner, and it''s only recently, with my children in college, that I''ve been able to pursue it the way I''ve wanted."
Looking at Kelly''s watercolors reveals a skewed view of the world, rife with irony, puns, and word play. One might never guess the roller coaster of experiences that have marked her life. Maintaining a sense of humor has kept her insulated from events that might have gotten the best of someone else.
"My son said once, Mom, you''re so out there, you could paint sea monkeys. I thought about that and here''s the result," says Kelly, pointing to a painting of five chimps riding a submarine bicycle built for five, each sporting a shark fin hat that breaks the surface-ominously for anyone who happens to be swimming nearby, humorously for viewers.
One day, the artist heard a man comment about a woman passerby, and she made it the basis for a painting. He called the brunette a raven-haired beauty; the artist painted an attractive woman with a small flock of ravens on her head.
When carpal tunnel syndrome made her bread-and-butter work as a florist impossible, even after surgery, Workman''s Comp retrained her. Kelly recounts; "They asked me what I wanted to do. I thought about getting more formal training in painting, but the possibilities for earning a living that way made me nervous. At the time I was reading a chick-flick kind of murder mystery, and I thought, Why not? So I told them I wanted to be a private eye."
Working as a private investigator more than paid the bills, but it was emotionally draining. "I''ve seen such terrible things! At night, I retreat into my art just for some balance. I''d rather paint something pretty and nice rather than the battered woman I took to the shelter that day."
Surprisingly, Kelly found that her art and work could meld. "Stake-outs are really boring. Hours and hours watching a house or apartment. I''d sketch or even paint while sitting there in the car. My kids even bought me a small loom, so I''d make long bolts of fabric while waiting for bad guys."
Today, Kelly has scaled back her P.I. work in order to paint more, working on a series about trailer parks titled "Livin'' in Aluminum." Her paintings have won awards at various juried shows throughout the state, and one garnered a third place ribbon at the California State Fair. Art and life continue to interweave.
"Years ago I discovered the County Fair circuit and I fell in love with corn dogs, handmade quilts, 4H and the livestock barns. There was just something so down home and comfortable, everyone was happy. Now, I want to travel to each county fair in the state and document through painting the essence of what I see."
With her skewed view and whimsical sense of humor, Kelly might just weave into her future pictures the unique subculture of the county fair-carnies, wild rides and visitors straight from Americana.
"An Unhindered Mind," watercolors by Charlsie Kelly, opens Friday with a reception at the Pacific Grove Art Center.