On her website, Baltimore-based artist Kelly Walker says she makes her action-packed, explosively colorful abstract paintings – using a diverse array of materials, from acrylic to lacquer, car paint to spray paint, metal leaf, oil, and asphalt – because she cannot stop moving.
Born in Evansville, Indiana, in 1975, Walker does comes across as, well, hyper-energized, in person – judging by her extra-chatty, big-bespectacled persona, you might guess she’s a brand-new “Saturday Night Live” cast member before you’d say she’s the serious fine artist who shows her work at the BMA, Silo Point, and so forth, and the design talent who commands high-end clientele, collaborating with Patrick Sutton and others.
Maybe you’ve spied the pranky, pro-Kelly stickers slapped strategically around town. The random micro-message: “I Love Kelly Walker.” I’ve seen them near MICA; I’ve spotted one near Eddie’s Roland Park. The cute campaign clicked for me when I met Walker at an art show this summer at Silo point: She explained how her ex-partner, while the two were still going out, created 6,000 of these ad valentines to be fixed on newsstands and telephone poles in as many zip codes as possible.
Perhaps the rom-com-reminiscent mass stickering has had an adhesive effect. Walker’s second business Artstar, a “decorative painting work” company, specializing in popular faux painting, serving both corporate and private clientele, is busier than ever before. She’s exhibiting her artwork on a roll and talking like a superstar-in-the-making. But Walker’s people-pleasing PR efforts aren’t the whole story. Her personal work is large, confident, and captivating, and on occasion as transcendent as it is highly marketable/accessible.
While Walker admits she’d prefer to make a living later purely as a fine artist, she says she’s grateful that she can support herself completely by painting in her studio part-time and by designing numerous clients’ spaces.
I talked to her about her influences, her double life, and her favorite places to dine about our town.
Why call the design business Artstar?
When I first heard of the phrase Artstar, coined by my favorite artist Andy Warhol, I knew my chosen ideal was to be/become one. What working artist doesn’t dream of being an art star? To be a producer of seen, and hopefully respected, work, and to make a living at it, in my opinion makes an Artstar.
Which visual artists inspire you most?
Warhol, Modigliani, Basquiat, Banksy. [In Baltimore,] Laura Amussen, David Page, Molly McNulty, Kim Manfredi, Rene Trevino.
Which designers most fire your imagination?
I owe most of my more inventive finishes to Patrick Sutton [with whom I work]. He literally has pulled and channeled hundreds of decorative finishes from me in the past few years. He is incredibly creative and never fails to push me into another great concept, colorway or surface material. I like the way he thinks, and that he knows what he wants. I also love seeing how my work often orchestrates the feeling in a space. Good design is like that: you can find visual comfort in a room that is thoughtfully inspired… I work with many local designers that are equally as valuable…Elizabeth Reich and Katherine Crosby of Jenkins Baer, Charlene Lester and Lauren Jaques of Cashmere Interior, Amanda Austin, Mona Hajj to name a few.
Did you train formally as an artist?
I did not train formally as an artist. I learned by allowing myself to try, fail, and try again in the basement of my home in Hamilton. My introduction to paint as a medium came through a decorative painting apprenticeship, which allowed me to start experimenting with different types of paints and surfaces. Before decorative painting, I created diorama shadow boxes and mixed media pieces. Unlike with painting, I found myself rather unattached to the creation process, and couldn’t build the same intimate relationship with those mediums that I have achieved with paint.
How has your work changed over time?
I used to be incredibly afraid of the intimacy involved with the creative process. As I have aged and expanded my range of inspiration, I have found the medium that I click with, and it has allowed me to become confident in my work. No longer limited to a small set of artists, I now find myself drawing inspiration from interior designers, architects, and the layering and textures that they use to design and create coherent spaces. The first evolution in my creative process was moving from using more traditional means of painting to applying materials from my day’s work onto canvas — gilding techniques, oil glazing, layering of materials, polished plasters, etc. I work in series and have evolved from edgy street art to sophisticated, multi-layered, saturated colors and textures on canvas. I always have to keep creating, and my various moods transfer themselves into my work.
What do you like most about Baltimore, art-wise, food-wise, people-wise?
People-wise, I adore Baltimore’s extreme nature. This town is boiling over with talent and creative energy, and it’s awesome to be here among it! I like people-watching in Hampden, as well as at Pazo. No matter where I go, I am constantly running into people I know, which is one of the reasons that I adore this little-big town.
Just like the art, I love the food in this city. From fine dining experiences to smaller, off the beaten path establishments, there is an abundance of great food here. My favorite restaurants include Clementine, Chameleon Cafe, Miguel’s, Jack’s Bistro, Woodberry Kitchen, Thai Restaurant, Petit Louis, Food Market, Annabel Lee Tavern, Pho Dat Thanh, Pazo, and Golden West Cafe.
Art-wise, I love Goya Contemporary, Creative Alliance, Maryland Art Place, Minas, the Metro Gallery, and the Wind-Up Space.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a solo exhibition at Sascha’s 527 to be displayed in November, and filling a unit at the Ritz Carlton Residences with my work. I am also sending “Lily,” one of my paintings (see below), to the Delaware Museum of Art for a juried exhibition, and I’ll be holding another show in Silo Point next year. In the meantime, my business…supplies me with an endless range of projects that fuel my creative drive… In fall and winter I will be in Park City, Utah, working on a huge project. I recently finished Tony Foreman’s new restaurant in Roland Park and was just featured in LUXE Magazine for a beautiful residence that I worked in a few years ago.
Walker’s show “Stratachrome” is on display at Goucher’s Rosenberg Gallery until September 4. Check out more of her work below.
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