Kelly Vivanco taps into the well of exuberant imagination and wonder we all share in our childhood and which has the habit of diminishing as we grow older. Fueled by her subconscious and the magical scenarios from her dreams, Kelly conjures up images which re-awaken our ability to drift away on sea of fantasy. Whether it is by following her protagonists on their travels through mysterious landscapes, or by imagining ourselves interacting with the curious creatures which can be found there, Vivanco never fails in re-igniting our youthful sense of adventure and awe. A true master of working with transparent acrylic glazes, Kelly builds up luminescent playgrounds of colour that radiate beautiful auras for our eyes to swim in, while transporting our minds into the realms of reverie.
Kelly was born in Redondo Beach in suburban California. She has built up an impressive CV, exhibiting her work not only in renowned New Contemporary art galleries, but also in the museum setting as well. Her work is held in collections around the world.
WOW x WOW was recently fortunate enough to get the opportunity to ask Kelly a few questions about her art practice. Find out what she had to say, in the following interview.
Hi Kelly, thanks for taking the time to join us. If you could firstly tell us a little about where you live?
I live in North County San Diego in a moderately sized city called Escondido. It’s a nice place to live with lots of natural beauty nearby and the added bonus of being within driving distance of San Diego and Los Angeles.
You are a graduate of the Laguna College of Art and Design in Laguna Beach, California. How was the experience of studying there for you and do you feel it was important in shaping the artist you are today?
It was… so long ago… but I have realized how beneficial it was to have a foundation of the basics and the time to practice traditional figure painting and drawing. I also gained experience with rendering and was able to experiment with various materials and techniques. I think there is something to be said about having skillful teachers who can mentor and push you along as well. That said, I haven’t been an active alumni. I don’t even think they know where I live!
Describe your creative process?
I tend to have a lot of different sized panels around because my lovely husband makes them for me. I pick a size/shape that I want to work on and I sketch out an idea onto the surface with vine charcoal. It’s nice because mistakes and changes wipe right off with a rag. If I’m stuck for inspiration, I will peruse my sketchbooks or my collected books and ephemera for something to get me going. From there I go over favored lines with pencil and put an acrylic wash of yellow ochre or umber or sienna over my sketch. The rest is just push and pull with shadows and highlights, washes and opaque areas of color and glazes of matte medium, sometimes with tints of color added. I’ve managed to get a technique going that I’m happy with as it is flexible and changeable, and the multiple layers add a depth and richness of color that I haven’t been able to achieve before. I keep going with the process as long as it is fun and/or absorbing for me. The finished piece gets a glossy varnish that enables the color to shine even more.
Talk to us about the themes that you like to explore in your work?
I like to explore the themes of investigation, wonder, mystery and a feeling of the intangible and enigmatic. It’s an adventure to take my subjects, or characters, into environments that are wondrous. I want the viewer to be able to accompany them on their adventures as well and to make up their own stories about what is going on.
You are represented by Thinkspace Gallery, one of the worlds leading exponents of New Contemporary Art. What are your thoughts on the New Contemporary movement and what are you hopes for its future?
I am so pleased to have worked with Thinkspace for the past nine years. They have been immensely supportive and instrumental in my own development as an artist. I see a ton of interest in the New Contemporary movement and I hope it continues to evolve so that it avoids stagnation. It was heartening to see the “New Contemporary” section of the LA Art Fair just jam packed with people, even as other parts of the fair were relatively quiet. I don’t know what that says about things, but it certainly shows that the public has a curiosity for the work being produced!
A few months ago you had a very successful solo show at Thinkspace called ‘Peculiar Tides’. Can you tell us about the work you produced for the show and give us an insight into how you go about planning one of your solo shows?
I often do not have a theme when I start work for a show. I start painting and notice what themes come up from there. For “Peculiar Tides” all the early pieces contained an element of water. Once the theme presents itself I will explore it further, maybe by doing some sketches to flesh out the worlds these characters explore. I play with visuals and feelings that work with that theme. I try to pick titles and themes that are a bit more open ended as well, so I won’t feel penned in if I want to push out one way or another when painting a new body of work.
How important do you feel the role of your subconscious is in influencing the direction of your work?
It’s very important to me. If I am overly conscious of everything I paint, I miss out on a lot of the magic. It becomes stale really quickly for me. I love painting and losing time, hours go by without me noticing because I have been so absorbed. Lots of thoughts may float through my brain but they don’t get stuck. It’s a good flow. The subconscious, when it comes to inspiration and direction, is equally important. I often don’t know where some things come from and what they mean and I like that. I tend to start a new painting with loose ideas or sketches rather than rigorously planning and squeezing the life and mystery out of a piece. There is a well of non verbal stuff being tapped and it is good to let it out and wade into that sense of wonder.
Do you ever do commissions and if so how does it compare to doing personal work?
I do take commissions and let interested parties know right up front that their request would have to be something that I would paint and that it could hang alongside my portfolio without looking out of place. If a portrait is involved I want them to know it will be in my style and not some formal, photorealistic type gig. They approached me because they like my style, so it’s usually an understood point. I would say the only difference between commissions and my regular personal work is a mist of obligation around the piece. I don’t want to let anyone down and it is so tailored to the buyer there is added pressure there. Normally I can power through the critical mind chatter to make it work. Quite a few of my more successful pieces (in my opinion) have been commissions!
You’ve stated that your dreams are a source of inspiration for you. If not too personal a question, would you please share one of your favourite dreams with us?
There is a dream that stands out where I was walking down a deserted highway and the roadbed was squishy, like it was made of cushion material. I was headed towards some sort of academy of the mind and I remember spooning some orange liquid out of a large tank and transforming it into live fish with my mind. I remember a white horse that talked to me in a matter-of-fact manner, a herd of cats running wild across the yard in the moonlight, browsing a library in a half-submerged romanesque library… There have been so many. I think mostly they remind me to not rely too much on reality for my paintings. I can make any world I want.
Are you a collector of anything and if so, how did your collection begin and does it have any effect on what you paint?
I collect old photographs and paper ephemera, art books and vintage children’s books. I would say my collections have always had a great influence on my work because, say I’m stuck, and I start flipping through my collection, I will find some things that will prompt some new sketches and new nebulas of ideas. Sometimes I will look at a person in an old photograph and get a feeling about them as a character and build up a whole visual persona around them. It helps that I have no idea of who most of these people are. Sometimes I will see some color combination in an old science textbook and get inspired as well.
Why does art matter?
Art matters because people need to create and celebrate expression and beauty and weirdness rather than get swamped in all of the terrible things in this world.
What’s next for Kelly Vivanco?
Hopefully good things! I have some group shows coming up while I cool off from my solo shows. I’m also illustrating another book. Things are always changing. Keep watching and you will see!