Kellie Lehr has an unusual background for an artist: She has a Bachelor of Science degree in International Economics from the University of Arkansas and held corporate positions for over a decade before returning to the UA to study fine and studio arts. Today, she's the curator for The Gallery at Midtown in Bentonville and shows her work at diverse art spaces like the 21C Museum Hotel and the Delta Exhibition. Her dreamy, abstract takes on nature can be seen at the Arts Center of the Ozarks until Sept. 24, and she answered some questions for What's Up! about her work and her ACO show.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about why you're drawn toward nature as inspiration for your art?
Kellie Lehr Exhibition
WHEN — 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday through Sept. 4
WHERE — Arts Center of the Ozarks Gallery, 214 S. Main St., Springdale
COST — Free
INFO — 751-5441
BONUS — An opening reception is planned for 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Aug. 15.
A. Glimpses through tree branches, reflections, shadows, the rhythm of the leaves in the wind, how a leaf shape shifts as I move past it: These are the things that capture my imagination. I run outside and walk our dog in my neighborhood, which is in a forested area. There's a Japanese word, "shinrin-yoku," which means "forest bath." It's gaining wider awareness in the US now, but it basically means to walk out in the forest as a way to calm, soothe and heal oneself. I also grew up in nature, playing outside and creating imaginary worlds in the dirt, so I think it's a kind of grounding for me.
I often juxtapose elements from nature with either manmade, technological and/or artificial elements. I'm interested in the tension and complexity that is created, which to me reflects the world we live in. Sometimes these elements are things like computer clusters or what I imagine virtual space to look like. Other times, it's electrical wires and netting or found objects.
I'm most excited about creating something that's both rooted in the real but governed by the imagination. I operate in between abstraction and recognizable form and like to give viewers an entry point while also maintaining the mystery. I don't know what a painting is going to look like when I start. It's the process of building, breaking it down, building, etc. that excites me. The elements of chance and accident are important in my work. I spend a lot of time sanding, scraping and removing paint in order to uncover bits and pieces. I like being able to see each layer all the way back to the beginning. It's a type of excavation, finding, uncovering much like what I imagine an archaeologist experiences.
Q. Why is oil your primary medium?
A. I love the transparency I can get and the slow build of layers upon layers of paint over time using oils. I also use acrylics, oil sticks and spray paint. I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of years experimenting with spraying paint. There's an ethereal quality to it that fascinates me. Many of the new paintings in my show at ACO have used acrylic (both sprayed and from a tube) to build up paintings before moving to oil for the final layers.
Q. What can we expect to see at your ACO exhibit?
A. Most of the paintings I'll be showing at ACO have been developed over the past year and a half. I have a series of five that are fairly large (48 inches by 36 inches). Also, five of the paintings in this show are brand new and have never been shown before. One is my largest painting on canvas to date at 80 inches by 40 inches.
NAN What's Up on 08/11/2019