Briefly describe the work you do.
Although I identify with being a photographer (I work mostly with digital media), I try not to limit my abilities into one category for I thoroughly enjoy other mediums such as Ceramics, Painting, and Drawing. As of late, the work that I have completed for the past 5 years have been digital collages. Most of the collage works have developed into series for I appreciate the development of my concepts, and the challenge to produce more impersonations of my original subjects. Through manual and digital reworking, my work creates new narratives for the initial subject matter; these narratives usually range from being astute, elegant, tense, or playful. Outside of the narrative, color is a very important concept. I have always been one that prefers vibrancy in colors which I believe is prevalent in most of my collages. There is always a conscious thought to use bold colors that provoke the most responses amongst the viewer for each series.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I was born and raised in Chicago IL by a father who was a drummer in his own band, a mother who was a self proclaimed interior designer and floral arranger, and a host of creative brothers and sisters. Most of my siblings drew, painted, and played an instrument or all of the above! Growing up in such a household, I was always exposed to the arts. At the tender age of 4, I attempted to show my parents my skill by using Crayolas to redefine the off-white painted walls throughout our household. As a result of my artistic mischief, my parents gave me different outlets to be creative: my father began teaching me how to play the piano by the age of 5, and my mother enrolled me in dance by the age of 6 (tap, jazz, and ballet). As I grew older, I continued to explore more mediums: drawing, music (the Drums, and eventually the Clarinet), and even painting. I started with my mother: I greatly admired my mother’s skill for creating custom made furniture (which of course I really didn’t appreciate until I was older). She also took pride in adorning our living room table with her personal floral arrangements with flowers picked right from her garden. Her fabrics and floral arrangements were always elegant, and beautiful. Then I had my father: a man who was not only a talented musician, but who was also fascinated with film. Watching him compose his own music made me want to create my own masterpiece. His music always evoked some type of strong emotion, whether it was happiness, sadness, or anger. Although I experimented a lot, and some things stuck (such as dance, the piano, and drawing), I still experimented.
I knew Photography was my choice of medium when I found that every aspect intrigued me. I went from finding comfort in taking the image (by using a simple Kodak “Throw Away” camera), to wondering how does this process work? How are images developed? Which images were my favorite and why? Then I took a digital turn and learned about apertures, white balance, and shutter speeds out of curiosity. As I continued to “experiment,” I began capturing pictures that I really liked. The more I liked the outcome, the more I wanted to create.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My process definitely does not fall under the tradition notions of being in a studio. Most of my thinking is done on my commute to work, while watching a film, or even while looking through magazines and blogs. Once I conceive an idea, I quickly will jot down my idea or sketch it quickly within my sketch book or the item that is at my disposal at that time (sticky notes on my laptop, reminders through my iPhone). I don’t necessarily have a specific area in which I create the work, just the important components such as my laptop, my camera, sketchbook, etc. What really matters is my state of mind; usually the physical location is changed to reflect that energy of what it is I am working on at that moment and time.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
To be honest, I have recently accepted the fact that I am an Artist. Before, I just knew myself as a girl that liked to make things. Whether it was a charcoal drawing, or a photograph, I felt I didn’t really amount to the title of an “Artist.” Now that I have accepted that role in itself, I believe I have taken on the role of an Author. A Poet. A Storyteller. I never really anticipated the amount of engagement that develops once that concept is discovered. It honestly allows me to stay disciplined into reading contemporary theory for I truly like to stay in engaged in the current conversations going on in the art world. Since I have paid closer attention to my interests, and have investigated them fully, I have realized that I have my views. My beliefs. My theories. There is a huge chasm to cross between feeling something and describing it, and this is followed by the chasm between describing it and presenting it through incidents, action, and dialogue.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
It definitely varies for me. When I attended U of I, I spent most of my time creating work on the weekends; it was the only time I had since I was going to school full-time and also working part time at about 20 hours per week. Once I started attending graduate school at MICA, it was the opposite. I didn’t designate my weekends anymore but usually made my digital collages after my day was done. I would go to work, then go to class for a certain portion of the day, and was awake for a few hours making new collages. Now that school is no longer a factor, I juggle making art with volunteering at a non-profit organization and work. Originally, I told myself I would keep the same system of working at night once my day was complete. This proved to not work as efficiently after a year in. Now I don’t put a time on it. By allowing myself to work when I feel the most inspired, I feel my creations are more authentic. I find myself creating more in that aspect.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
When I was a teenager taking photographs, my subject matter composed of candid images of my family and friends mixed with a lot of nature/landscape shots. When I began studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I chose to do more collages and capture images of subjects where I felt I had the most control in the manipulation. As I focused on that subject matter, I grew uncomfortable photographing people for
I hardly took images that I liked. I wanted them to have more of a documentary style, images that told a story. Even though it wasn’t my preferred subject matter, I still forced myself to do it anyway. I spent time at different social events to overcome my fear which ironically was the only thing I shot when I was a young. As I grew more acquainted with this, I decided to study at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Business program which was geared specifically towards artists with specific trades. After completing the program, I grew more comfortable with my work; enough where I began my own photography business providing supportive digital media for fellow creative professionals. Through it all, I continued to do my collages which is the aspect of my work that did not change. I just continued with my desire to master a more documentary style of photography.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
One of my favorite artists is Dganit Blechner. I first saw her work on a trip to SOFA Chicago (an art fair dedicated to Sculpture, Objects, Functional Art and Design). Her prints are vivid, cheerful, and bright and result in extraordinary compositions. She has a very interesting way of using urban life to express a new perspective which is also what I aim to do with my collages. Another who really inspires me is Saul Bellow. His writings are motivational, and speak to the ability of humans to overcome their frailty and achieve greatness. My favorite quote of his is,“Art has something to do with the arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
This one is tough; I could see myself being in several occupations: Marine Biologist. Peace Corps Member. Travel blog writer. Winery Owner. Yoga Instructor. Author. Interior Designer. Art Therapist. I’m so curious about a lot of things that I would choose each profession if I could. Any role that allows me to travel and be a part of a creative process would be ideal.
Kelli Washington is a Visual Artist born and raised in Chicago, IL. Kelli recently received her MPS in the Business of Art & Design from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Prior to receiving her Master’s degree, she obtained her BFA in Photography from the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign. Much of Kelli’s work stems from her life-long fascination with collages. She remembers finding great fulfillment as a child in taking magazine clippings to create a new image. It is in that spirit that Kelli began creating collages but by using photography as a tool for experimentation while including mixed media. Currently, Kelli lives and works in the United States in Chicago. Outside of satisfying her severe case of wanderlust and creating personal projects, she also operates a photography business, DUB Photostudio, where she offers supportive digital media for creative professionals in the Chicago-land area.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.