Ask local artists and musicians to name a peer whose work they admire and you’ll often hear the name Kelly Keith. The 30-year-old native of Mauldin, S.C., studied painting and art history at Winthrop University. In addition to her paintings, she designs album covers for musicians like Dan Sartain (with whom she toured Europe this year selling concert posters) and Charlotte’s Jon Lindsay. Keith spoke to the Observer at Common Market one Sunday morning recently before heading to Montgomery, Ala. to work on a space-themed mural for a local business there. Courtney Devores
Q. How did you get into painting as a kid? I watched a lot of Bob Ross (Ross hosted “The Joy of Painting” for more than a decade on PBS.) I imitated Bob Ross, painted with him. I was looking at one of my paintings recently and there are still techniques I learned from Bob Ross in my work. He was as awesome as Mister Rogers or Kermit.
Q. When did you notice your style developing? I’m still developing it. I still don’t feel like I’ve reached a point where I can say Kelly Keith, the artist. It’s kind of like handwriting. As long as you’re doing something the signature is yours. Maybe two or three years after I graduated college I started finding my own voice and visual vocabulary. I started growing up and figuring out who I was, getting more comfortable and unapologetic about who I am. The art as a result is more fluid and I’ve got a lot more confidence in my mark making and composition and imagery.
Q. What’s your process? Typically I get a vision. I write it down, and if I love it I have to execute it immediately or it’ll leave me. I usually start with this bright red color. I think that’s one of the things that separates me from others – this under-paint that’s electric. I paint on top of that. That’s killing my eyes, but I won’t have it any other way now. I usually incorporate a lot of my friends into my figurative paintings. They’re characters in these visions I have. I don’t always paint from life. I set up a scene and document it with a photograph.
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Q. Is there a certain setting you work in? I just put like a Hawkwind record on and go down to my studio and knock it out in four or five hours. I have to do it really quickly. If I keep working and reworking the same painting they tend to get overdeveloped.
Q. What inspires you? I use a lot of imagery from children’s books. I go to the used bookstore and flip through old Childcraft books and books from the ’60s and ’70s. I study a lot of painters work I like. I like Eric Fischl, Wayne Thiebaud, Alice Neel, and old science-fiction magazines and paperbacks.