Briefly describe the work you do.
I paint—acrylic on canvas on panel. My paintings are hard-edge geometric abstractions with some elements from light and space and color theory. I use glitter for light/color-shifts and I use color for the afterimage. The viewer can, with a glance, get what the painting is about but with a slightly extended involvement, they can get more out of it. To experience the color/light-shift, one must move around a piece, and for the afterimage, one must take the time to stare into a point on the painting for around 30 seconds and then glance at a white wall. That effect never gets old for me. It’s an apparition that appears out of nowhere, and the boldness of the colors…even though I know exactly what color it is going to be without having to stare, the way your eye can create that glow is still a novelty for me, after so many years. It surprises me how many people don’t know about it! It’s really fun to be the one to show them for the first time!
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I went on one of the early Venice Art Walks back in the mid-80’s while I was taking GE classes at Santa Monica College. I sent notes out to the artists I liked, offering my services as a studio assistant, and they called! By the time I was accepted to Otis I was working for some of my favorite artists and I turned down the offer from Otis. Because I was around the artists I had chosen for myself, I can’t say what came first, the chicken or the egg, but all of those artists I worked for have influenced me. I think all but one of the artists worked out of their home studio so the assistant becomes more than just an employee; you are part of their private lives and there’s a much deeper level of involvement.If you really want to take it back, my father did commercial real estate here and in Texas and my mother was a stay-at-home mom but if she had pursued her interests, I think she would have been a designer of some type. Terence Conran’s The House Book was our bible and she was (and still is) a prolific weaver. One day a huge loom was delivered to our house which remained in the middle of the living room until my mother moved to Topanga, where it now lives in her weaving studio along with many more looms. She was always redoing a room in our house. Cox Paints on Santa Monica Blvd. was our second home where we pored through wallpaper books (Schumacher, of course) and analyzed paints: “I’m looking for a red with a little more blue” sort of thing.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
The conceptual part can happen anywhere but once I have the idea and I have worked it out on paper, I need that studio. My process involves many coats of gesso and lots of sanding before the canvas is ready for the paint. The sanding throws dust everywhere, so I have a smaller room in my studio that is dedicated for sanding.The romantic notion of walking across my garden early in the morning with a cup of coffee and going directly to my studio was nice but with two kids and a dog, my life is messier than that. I had a studio at home and I found that the distractions and the isolation were too much to handle, plus I outgrew it. I have a studio in Inglewood now. I love my studio! It’s my sanctuary. I like the control over my space (something I do not get at home), the separation between work and home, and the convenience to galleries. I also look forward to seeing the three artists who work out of other parts of the building. I get a lot more done in that studio than I ever did at home.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Since I worked for all those artists, I can’t think of anything that is a surprise but I don’t like being my own salesperson and would like to have a gallery take that part over. For better or worse, I don’t have a computer in the studio so the business side of things suffers from deferred maintenance.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
The best time to make art is when I can do it, which is when I’m in the studio, which is when my kids are in school. Because my art career does not secure my position as breadwinner in the house (yet), I take the brunt of the running of the household and the kid-related duties. My goal is to be in the studio four days a week but often something comes up that reduces that to three and sometimes two. I used to get really upset about that but now I know it will still all be there waiting for me when I get back (unless I’m on a deadline. One weekday is reserved for errands, marketing and house/ kid/dog-related appointments. Summer, when the kids are out of school, is tough. This week I will have just one full day in the studio, but next week I will have five full days because both kids will be at sleep-away camp. I love camp! During the school year, I have a nanny two or three days a week to pick up the kids from school and give me some “long days”, which means about 10-5, and on the other days, I work from about 9:30-1:30. It’s not enough, so you can be sure when I’m in the studio, I am working! Every minute is valuable.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
There is a very linear path to what I do now but you wouldn’t know from looking. I was doing really tedious, precise “paper paintings” on canvas, with many layers of paper, getting thinner and thinner as the paper was layered on, often ending up with some shimmering gold or silver thread creating the last layer. I have been conceptualizing a sort of draped installation for a while now, to get that paper off the canvas, and I had sewn together some 5” x 5” paper squares for a mock up. There were some squares that I especially liked, set them aside and decided they needed to be painted, which is how I got to what I’m doing now. I was still going for that light/color shift in the paper pieces and I used lots of glitter paper, holographic paper and iridescent paper to get that effect. I like the chameleon-like quality of paper…it can do anything…and am always trying to figure out a way to work it back in, which is where visions of this draped paper piece still swirl in my head.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
The artists I have worked for have had a huge impact, as an influence but also the opposite, where I was aware that I had to separate their art, which I was surrounded by all day, art that was successful and selling, from the paintings I was making. I very consciously had to block out their art to develop my own “voice”.
My family has impacted me in the way that they are supportive of what I choose to do, for which I am thankful, but at the same time, their existence limits the time I can spend working, and if I could work all the time, I would. Maybe I should look at it as though they provide a healthy balance?
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Art and architecture will always be tied for first place in my heart and there are no places below that but I did try out for the LAPD once upon a time. I nearly made it to the academy except something happened in that last interview—a strange story for another time—that squashed it. I thought it would be interesting to eventually be a homicide detective but I wasn’t disappointed that I wouldn’t be going any further. The LAPD delved deep into my background, but they never asked me about elevators. I’m a claustrophobic, elevator-averse chicken!I’ve had a real estate license since 1995. After a while, I needed my own career and I could see art wasn’t going to support me at that time, so I decided real estate was a good idea because it involved architecture, though I knew, having had a father in commercial real estate, that it was also a game of numbers, and a fun one! I have been able to go through countless historically/architecturally significant houses but real estate is stressful! More than I can take with these two kids. I still have an active license and when something falls into my lap, as it still does once in a while, I have a handful of great agents that I refer things out to. A friend asked me the other day, if money were no object, what would I do, and I told her I would do what I’m doing now: I would be working in the studio, but I’d definitely invest in real estate, too.
Kelly Brumfield-Woods began her art career in Venice in the mid-1980’s, when, after a Venice Art Walk, she sent cards to the participating artists, offering her services as a studio assistant while she completed her transfer courses at Santa Monica College, studying under the late, great Jim Doolin. By the time she was accepted to Otis, she was running a full-time studio assistant business, working closely with artists such as Billy Al Bengston, Charles Christopher Hill, Frank Lloyd (in his studio and at his newly opened gallery), Mary Corse and a handful of others, and she made a decision to continue working in the professional realm rather than return to academia.
Kelly’s work was currently shown at Red Pipe Gallery, Gallery 825, Prohibition Gallery, Hale Arts in Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach Art Center.
She is in the collections of Laura & Jeffrey Langdon of Rancho Santa Fe, CA; The Akiva Family of Topanga; Barbara & Bowen McCoy of Los Angeles, CA; Nancy Catlin of Portland, Oregon; The Connor Family of Topanga, CA and more.
Originally from Santa Monica, Kelly now lives in Topanga and works from her studio in Inglewood. She is a member of Los Angeles Art Association/ Gallery 825 and Collage Artists of America.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.
Great Interview Kelly! Congrat’s on all your success.