Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Universe of Colors: An Interview with Artist Kelly B. Darr

I first met Kelly B. Darr gliding around her studio at 111 First St, on skates, showing some clients the different ways her painting could capture, and then return, the colors of the sun. Indeed, the artwork she held in her hands--a smaller version of what I know now as Diamonds in the Rough--had the magic of capturing the godsend sunlight and reflecting it as a multitude of colors--depending on the portion of reflective surface of the artwork--for the enjoyment of our human eyes.

I found Darr's artwork intriguing and thought-provoking, and also interactive because, as it reflects the light, it creates various forms and shapes, mysterious creatures and colors that capture and hold our attention. I returned home simply mesmerized, and decided to talk to the visual artist about her work and about all the fascinating colors she creates using her art. Here's the interview, originally published in Beyond Race Magazine.

Hope you'll enjoy the read, the colors, and Kelly B. Darr's terrific artwork.

As always, thanks for visiting,
Alina Oswald
www.alina-arts.com



"Lace," by Alina Oswald
Visual Artist Kelly B. Darr, by Alina Oswald

A Universe of Colors: An Interview with Artist Kelly B. Darr
By Alina Oswald

"If God was a color, what color would He be?" Kelly B. Darr says, reflecting on the spirituality and evolution of colors. 
The Jersey City artist's interest in colors and in art has started early in her childhood, when she was trying to put things together to create new objects.  It didn't matter if her creation had a function as long as it looked interesting.
While in first grade, math didn't make any sense to Kelly, but art did.  Drawing pictures gave the future artist an identity and a way to communicate with others.
At the beginning of sixth grade, a boy and a piece of coiled wire changed Darr's life forever.  The boy was trying to straighten the wire and while doing so, he accidentally sent it right in her face, blinding her in her left eye.  When rushed to the hospital, doctors told her that they would be able to fix her eye when she grew up and advised her to be "a good sport" and to keep a strong attitude in the meantime. 
She did and she discovered how terrifying her new world could be, because she didn't have any depth perception anymore.  She would run into walls or pour juice on the table instead of in the glass.  She would try so hard to figure out how far things were that she'd miss out on the conversations taking place around her. Many people, even those who knew about her accident, interpreted her behavior as carelessness. 
Darr struggled "to be normal" and, while doing so, she was studying hard and learning to survive with what life had offered her.  And again, art became her means of communication and expression.  
Darr attended high school at Connecticut's Norwich Academy, a funded private school that allowed lower income families to offer their children a very good education.  Norwich is still a multi-disciplinary art school offering courses in subjects like ceramics, painting, photography, jewelry and metal work. 
Living on the school campus offered Darr a safe haven to create art, to focus on her studies and on her life.  When she graduated, she won a scholarship that allowed her to continue her studies at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
Darr chose painting because of its practicality.  "I like the fact that [paintings] tuck nicely against the wall that's gonna be there anyway," Darr explains, "and they don't get in anybody's way.  [They] don't bother anybody.  I hate bothering somebody."
Her work is all about reflection, inspired by her belief that people who have imagination have an inner compass guiding them in the right direction.  Art has helped her discover her own inner compass.
Darr's first line of work displays the artist's visual interpretation of the duality of our universe: its spirituality and its science.  The paintings pertaining to this debut series show identical replicas of an image caught in time and space as they appear as a spiritual entity and also as an object of science.  For the artist, the spiritual represents the unknown we're yet to discover about our world, while the scientific spectrum offers us the tools necessary to discover these unknowns and therefore the opportunity to evolve as the spiritual beings.   
As an artist, Darr has always followed the path of discovering new colors, trying to figure out just how many of them are possible in our universe.  She started out using oil paint, which is a very romantic, very seductive and history-rich medium.  However, Darr realized that oil paint has its limitations.  No matter what technique she'd use with oil paint, Darr could not create the multitude of colors offered by the modern paint, like the car body laquer and the various reflections it offered.   
To obtain such reflections, Darr had to try alternative types of colors.  She started to experiment with the various techniques by using nail polish colors to create new ones.  She went Dollar Store hunting and bought one bottle of nail polish every time she'd have a dollar in her pocket, thus creating quite a collection: a bucket full of nail polish bottles. 
Kelly B. Darr's adventurous pursuit in inventing new colors started in 1991, after she graduated from college and moved to 111 First Street in Jersey City.  In 2004 artists were kicked out of their studios at 111, and, with them, a central piece of Jersey City's powerhouse district was forever gone.
At the time, there was hardly anything built on the Jersey shore and she felt she was in a place where she could move freely, physically and spiritually. Together with the other artists who'd made 111 their home, Kelly B. Darr would watch the Twin Towers and think of their image as being "a beautiful moment in time," one that would disappear on September 11, 2001 together with the lives of three thousand people.  This is what she calls "evanescence." 
"I never thought of myself as a patriotic person," Darr comments.  "But I was here with these people who wanted to be artists and dancers and inventors and teachers and doctors, people of all kind who wanted to do something nice and useful in this world.  I had the ability to stay here and make artwork that took me completely by surprise, because I've never [before] been able to look at a body of my artwork and ask myself 'Where has this come from?' or 'How did it come out of me?'"
When 9/11 happened, the artist was just converting from her nail polish process to experiment with a new technique-a hybrid between using technology and traditional free-style painting. She used this new technique to create works like Diamonds in the Rough, Penny Power, Infinite Light, all part of Spirit and Science series.
On the wake of September 11th, Darr carried her six-foot canvas, Diamonds in the Rough, a few blocks from her studio to Newport Centre Mall's Cosi in Jersey City, and she showed the artwork there.  To this day, she still remembers a Native American man stopping by and looking at the painting... and saying to himself "thousands of souls."  His words still give her chills and bring the artist to the same interpretation: her artwork represented thousands of souls lost in the collapse of the Twin Towers. Darr believes that people can use their own imagination to realize the importance of the 9/11 moment. 
A teacher working with the Educational Arts Team since 1993, she encourages her students to use their imagination to empower their lives. She works with kindergarten, third and fifth grade students.  She favors her fifth grade ghetto students because, "No matter how tough they want to look, if you look at them honestly, they get even with you.  "You show that you're human and that they are human, and they let [their] fears come out." 
Recently, she completed a project for Liberty State Park.  As a model, she used her favorite sculpture in the world: Lady Liberty. She spent close to one year researching the project and learning all the details about the Statue of Liberty, to capture its exact replica. Today, she wears her art project, which is a t-shirt displaying Lady Liberty and Liberty State Park stretching behind it. 
"I wanted the shirt to have a pride to it," she explains, "a pride that would last and [would] be connected to Liberty State Park in the tradition of [its] relation to the Statue."