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Art & Life with Lisa Kesler

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Kesler.

Lisa, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I’ve been a full-time artist for almost thirty years. I am a painter and printmaker and I have a BFA in painting from the University of Illinois and an MFA in illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design. I made the decision to become an artist when several of my drawings and paintings won awards at the Scholastic Art Competition when I was in high school. One of my paintings won the Best of Show award and was placed in the front window of our most prominent downtown department store. I was only eighteen and had never known an artist or had any idea about how artists made a living but I decided I wanted to be one. So I chose painting as my major at the University of Illinois the following year.

I struggled in school a little bit because nearly all of the other students were from Chicago and the suburbs and I grew up on an Illinois farm. Even though I was attending our local university, I felt like an outsider most of the time. But I persevered and earned my degree and set out to “make my fortune”. I knew I should probably move to a larger city and my brother had just taken a job in Phoenix, so I decided to move there. I loaded all of my possessions into my old Mercury Comet and strapped my bike to the back and drove from Illinois to Phoenix via the old Rt. 66 path with $300 in my pocket. Joplin, Tulsa, Amarillo, Gallup, Flagstaff, and then Phoenix.

My first job out of college was creating window displays at one of the department stores in Phoenix. I went on to have a series of miscellaneous retail jobs but was eventually hired at Phoenix Art Press to work in the “watercolor room”. Phoenix Art Press was a unique sort of business in downtown Phoenix in the 80s. They hired staff artists to create original etchings, silkscreen prints and monoprints which they sold to designers and high end furniture stores. My job was to hand paint the etchings. As their business grew they started offering other types of art including sculpture and paintings. So I was promoted and began creating original paintings for their clients. Working on site with about a dozen other artists was a valuable experience for me. We fed off the creativity of each other and there was a wealth of resources at our disposal – printing presses, inks, paint, paper, and anything else we needed. We made very little money but we were exposed to the commercial and corporate markets for art which established the direction my career would take from that point forward.

I left that company after about four years and have worked as a self-employed studio artist ever since. My paintings continue to be chosen for commercial and public environments like hotels, medical facilities, and office buildings. My prints, however, are usually purchased by individuals for their homes or to give as gifts. I also enjoy working on custom commissioned paintings and prints for my clients, which makes up a significant portion of my business.

My studio time is split between my painting and my linoleum block and letterpress printing.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
My paintings are acrylic, usually abstract. I approach the compositions in a very intuitive way, letting them evolve as I work on them. The only part of my abstract paintings that I plan ahead is the size. While I’m painting, I mostly think about the interplay of colors, the direction of the marks, and try to find different ways to apply the paint. I like to work on large canvases most of the time, at least 3′ or 4′ in length or width.

My prints are much smaller by nature. And they are seldom abstract. I usually portray simple images with interesting textures or patterns. I find that subjects from the plant and animal world lend themselves well to the linocut process. The carving marks are organic and bring the image to life.

During the course of my career I’ve worked in different styles and mediums but there lots of common elements that seems to always be prominent in my work. I have a keen interest in repeating patterns and the rhythm and movement they bring to a composition. I am also very aware of the role that texture plays in my art, whether it is the actual texture of the surface or the implied texture of the marks.

Sometimes I am able to bring both aspects of my studio business, the painting and the printmaking, together in the same piece of art. Many of my recent paintings combine these two mediums. I create a textured background painting and then layer abstract linocut images on top of it by collaging them to the surface. The result has a unique character that I haven’t been able to achieve any other way.

Another unexpected use of my linoleum block prints was a recent mural I was asked to design for the new Lodgic Everyday Community co-working space in Champaign, Illinois recently. I created six linoleum block prints that were 24″ x 18″ each. Then I scanned them and joined them into one long horizontal image in Photoshop. That image will be reproduced on vinyl and installed in the interior to create an 8′ x 35′ wall mural later this summer.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
I have an online shop on my website and also a list of other galleries and shops that carry my work. There is also a section that lists any upcoming art shows and art fairs where I will be exhibiting. You can also see updates from my studio on my Facebook and Instagram pages.

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