An “insideout” look at Particia Kelly

 (Andrew Lidwell)

(Andrew Lidwell)

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3/25/09

So I’m looking at your paintings here… and I’ve never heard of either of these before.  Egg tempera and gesso panel?

 

“I make all my own paint, you see.  I make all my own gesso.  I studied in Italy years ago, and I lived in a place not far from sienna, so I saw lots of the Italian paintings. They were all done in egg tempera, and it’s really a technique that’s very, very ancient. It was used in ancient Egypt, and then the Byzantinain iconographers used it, and then it went across to Italy. With the invention of oil painting in the northern renaissance it fell out of favor.  It’s basically egg yolk mixed with water, and then you add pigments – pigments being the raw materials like raw natural herbs or ground minerals – and I prefer to work with it because it gives me much more control over my colors and my textures”

 

So everything is natural, pretty much?

 

“Yes, even the gesso base.  The base I make from rabbit skin glue – so if you’re a vegan you just can’t use this technique – mixed up with marble dust and some white pigment like titanium.  It’s tricky because it’s all-natural, it’s organic, so it responds very much to the environment. It’s never the same twice.”

 

“I work on wood because wood is solid.  It’s not flexible like canvas – gesso is brittle because of the marble dust and so you need something that’s not very flexible like wood. I put maybe about eight or nine coats of gesso on each panel. You heat it up, and then you brush it on, then you wait until it’s almost dry and then you put the next layer on, and it’s one layer on top of another on top of another.  It’s an absorbent ground, and egg tempera is a water-based medium, so because I have so many different layers of paint there’s a lot of water involved. The natural gesso is absorbent and so it doesn’t crack. You can’t use oil or an acrylic ground because it’s too slick and it wouldn’t adhere, it would just slide off the surface.”

 

What about egg tempera is different from paining with oil or other paint?

 

“Oil paint has a sort of a lusciousness that egg tempera doesn’t have, but egg tempera has is a much more, I’m much more aware of the individuality of the pigments.  It’s not homogenized. It’s not like paint in a tube where all the pigments are ground to pretty much the same consistency. Tempera, they’re all ground to different possible sizes, you get a much more refractive surface, the colors are more luminous, they have a more crystalline quality – that’s what egg tempera is famous for.”

 

Does the tempera force you to change the way you paint?

 

“I have to slow right down. In art school they always want you to paint big paintings with oil and be very gestural, heroic. And suddenly with tempera, it really obliged me to slow down and take a much more contemplative approach to my work, and patience as well, it’s very much a discipline, it’s not really suited for a terribly large scale.”

 

Do you think the f
act that the medium forced you to slow down helped your artistic skills develop or look at your work in a way you might not have before?

 

“I think it really, by slowing me down, it gave me the opportunity to create a different sort of relationship to the images I was working with. It gave me the opportunity to allow space for other images, which I might have ignored had I been working with oil paint.  I find oil paint is very seductive, because you can move it around endlessly, you know, it takes a lot of time to dry, whereas tempera dries immediately and you don’t really have a chance to cover up what’s gone on before. You get this whole sort of layer upon layer that you can really see into and it becomes such a rich visual archive. Whereas with oil I move it around, scrape it off, and I found with oil painting that I used to get kind of anxious, simply because I was able to change my mind very often. I was almost second guessing my intuition and making a little bit of a mess, really, and being stuck with great big canvasses.  I found with egg tempera it suited my personality a little bit more, although I didn’t realize that to begin with.  I think by quieting down and discovering a whole other relationship to images that it has ultimately been a great resource for me.”

 

Do many other painters you know of use egg tempera?

 

“Egg tempera was kind of rediscovered in America at the time of FDR, when he got the artists out into public heart.  It’s cheap – it’s much cheaper than oil paint – and if you’re very graphically inclined you can work in the renaissance way, which is underdrawing your image, then toning it, then coloring on top of that.  I kind of work in a different way, which is maybe more directly involved with heightened color.  But there are certainly more people who are interested in egg tempera now.”

 

How were your works selected to be in the gallery here at Skyline?

 

“The curator, Paul Brindenbaugh, I think wanted to present works by women that had a sort of a shared interest in nature.  The show was first put up on International Women’s Day, and it also coincided with the Women on Writing conference. I think he wanted a very feminine presence, and a feminine orientation in interpreting nature. He saw my work, and he invited me to participate.  It’s been a wonderful experience, and I‘ve very much enjoyed it.

 

How do you feel your work pertains to the “nature insideout” theme? The medium itself is natural, but as far as the images go, was there a direct correlation to that theme?

 

“I think he [Brindenbaugh] was interested in how different we all are. I talk about nature in my work, but I suppose it’s all contingent on how you interpret nature. My statement is very simple – when I look into nature something looks back to me, and that something is the subject of my work.  Mostly we have our own individual associations to nature and I wanted to open up my work and not close it down by overlaying it with heavy concepts.”

 

How do you approach your painting process?

 

“My studio is out in the country – it’s a shack – and I’m surrounded by trees and little creatures, and over the years certain forms or patterns recur.  I start out literally with a blank white surface, which I’ve applied and then sanded and polished.  And it becomes a reflective surface, almost like a mirror, and in a funny sort of way, it’s almost like I’m looking into this mirror, and seeing what I can see in this mirror, and catching the image itself on this luminous shiny surface.”

 

 

Look for more on “nature insideout” in upcoming editions of The Skyline View!