Q & A with Kelley Johnson


I’ve been trying to get together a Q & A with Kelley Johnson for years.  His exhibits at Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis have always been high-impact and worthy of more attention.  His September 2014 show of new paintings at the Greenlease Gallery on the campus of Rockhurst University in Kansas City upped the ante aesthetically once again.  So naturally I upped the pressure on Kelley to do something for this blog.  And here it is finally.  Kelley tells us about his new paintings, his studio life and some early experiences that inform his work.

 Unless otherwise noted, all installation shots are from Kelley’s exhibit at the Greenlease Gallery.  See more of Kelley Johnson’s work at his website or at Bruno David Gallery.

I know that you moved to Miami with your family a few years ago to focus on painting full-time.  Can you tell us a little bit about your life before the move?


I grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis. My stepfather was a developer. He built subdivisions and apartment complexes. At the age of twelve I started working during summer breaks.  “40 hours a week.”  Looking back that seems like a lot but I remember it as a great experience. I started off as part of the cleanup crew. It didn’t take long before I began working with the framing crews and learning about the structural elements that go into most mid-western homes.  Typically the buildings we built were wood-framed structures and everything was “stick built” using 2 x 6’s or 2 x 12’s. Later I worked with the electrical crew and later with the finishing crews (trim, base boards etc).


I believe that this early experience had the most impact on how I think about constructing my work.  The way I think of space and structure I am sure comes from framing. Continue Reading »

Q&A with Ashley Norwood Cooper

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“Talking to Afghanistan”, 2013, oil, 30″ x 30″

Ashley Norwood Cooper is an artist I’ve known as a maker of painterly, domestic narratives.  Typically her painting mash up mundane and unsettling imagery using cutaways, shifting perspectives and an enviable bagful of painter’s tricks.  The other day, I saw an announcement for a new body of work, based on her experiences during the time her husband Shelby was deployed to Afghanistan as a U.S. Navy surgeon.  Most of the paintings show Cooper’s own hands, holding an iPad and a few choice glimpses of objects and spaces beyond.  The paintings, in her words, ” are about this correspondence which consumed me for nine months. The contrast between the thick tactility of the oil paintings and slick, temporal nature of digital media, points out how different these two forms of expression actually are. Digital images, with their speed of light convenience, are no replacement for the expressiveness of paint. Likewise, my ‘virtual husband’ was no replacement for the real thing.”  The resulting paintings are an amazing combination of thoughtful, heartfelt and original, with a little of-the-moment cultural relevance thrown in to boot (though I think “thoughtful, heartfelt and original” is the true strength of the series).

I asked Ashley about her work, her family and the resonance between the idea that painter is to her painting as spouse of deployed surgeon is to her iPad.

See the full series of “Deployment” paintings at her website.

Tell us a little about yourself (background, education, etc.):

I grew up in Greenville, SC and attended the University of Georgia. Though I was very involved with art in high school and college, I graduate with a major in Latin. I was a Latin teacher for a little while before attending graduate school at Indiana University, where I got an M.F.A. in painting.  Now I live in a very small town in central New York with my husband, three kids, and too many pets. I paint in a studio behind my house. My paintings are almost always fairly autobiographical.
I have always been interested in drawing, painting and story-telling, these elemental ways that human beings create meaning. I believe that these activities are basic to humanity and that they cannot become outmoded or be replaced by technology.

Continue Reading »

For Artists Only

“I’m painting again!”

For anyone and everyone who spent too much time grading in the last week or two.  More to come on MWC soon…

Q&A with Kathy Liao

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“The Next Step”, 2013, oil on canvas, 72″x 48″

Kathy Liao is an artist recently extracted from Seattle to life of teaching and painting in St. Joseph, MO, a small town about an hour north of Kansas City.  She kindly agreed to answer some questions about her work for us, and tells us about her recent experiences living and looking at her new home.  Kathy makes the kind of paintings, prints and drawings where generosity, curiosity and her own painterly energy are the big statement the work makes.  The kind of work where the artist is being true to something–something she or he maybe can’t quite name exactly, all of the time–and that in the end articulates a thoughtful but idiosyncratic way of being-in-the-world.  The kind of work that reminds us that deciding what to paint and how to paint is always a statement of priorities–or really values–and when the work reveals a struggle to make those decisions, we’re privy to the artist’s internal struggles, not just her technical ones.  More of her work can be seen on her website.

First question: Many of us don’t grow up with art as part of our daily life, especially many of us away from the coasts and our routes into the fine arts are circuitous.  Was that your experience?  How and when did you say, ‘I’m going to do this?’

I grew up in a family of doctors. I was not exposed to much art as a child. Both of my parents were dentists – The most artistic objects my parents presented to me were dentures, wax, and mold of strangers’ teeth. Continue Reading »


Another new acquisition–another triumph in their collection of 20th C. American art–at the Nelson Atkins, Charles White’s “Goodnight Irene”, 1952, oil on canvas, 47″x24″. More Charles White.

Titian, “Ecce Homo”


A beautiful late Titian from the St. Louis Museum of Art.  This painting taught me so much about paint.  Every inch of it telegraphs that it’s a scene made out of paint, nothing is more real or true than the paint itself and the painter using it push forth a story and a feeling.  At that same time, not a single brushstroke, smear or wipe feels stylized in any way.  I love this one so much.


Lisa Sanditz, “Color Farm”, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 70″x90″

There’s an interview with Lisa Sanditz over at Painting Is Dead. via Painter’s Table.  Here’s a great Sanditz quote to get you to head over there: “

I think the emphasis has been more of the commercialized landscape, the built environment. My interest came from growing up in the suburbs and seeing and feeling the emptiness and problems with the way that the landscape is structured through highways and streets and cars and big box stores. The first paintings I did outside of grad school were dealing with that and I’ve been dealing with that more or less over the last few years. And I think those spaces reflect a lot about how we organize ourselves and how we move around and how we value or don’t value the landscape itself.  And also exploring different ways to use landscapes as entry points to make paintings, whether that’s the desert or oceanside or expansive Midwest. Not as much urban landscape, maybe because it’s harder for me to paint buildings that don’t look totally weird, or maybe being from the Midwest and being used to more open spaces, not urban spaces.”


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