Kelly Neidig: Painting Landscape Memories

By Susan Gallacher-Turner

“I’ve painted and drawn ever since I can remember,” says Kelly Neidig. Now, when I think of my memories a lot of the details are lost, but I can remember the colors and how I felt.”

Below, Kelly Neidig at work in her studio.
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Kelly Neidig remembers drawing birds in kindergarten, and they were so good, even her mother didn’t believe she’d drawn them. After winning an art contest in first grade, Kelly devoted most of her time to art. Growing up in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, a small town west of Pittsburg, Kelly went to schools that didn’t have any art programs, but she didn’t let that stop her. “I would just stay home and draw all the time,” says Kelly. “One year, my dad got me a big box of Prisma colored pencils, which are really expensive. So I was so afraid to use them that for three years, they sat in my room on my dresser. I still have them.”

All that drawing led Kelly to a major in landscape architecture at Penn State where teachers took notice of her natural talents and skill in art. For the first two years, the majority of the work focused on things Kelly loves like drawing, perspective, and working with color but then things changed. “Then it got into computers,” Kelly says. “For the next three years, you had to be on the computer and I didn’t want to be on the computer. I wanted to work with my hands. So I switched my major to art.”

On her first day in the art department, Kelly knew she was in the right place. “Walking around the art department, I felt so happy,” explains Kelly. “I actually wanted to apply for an art major but you needed a portfolio and I didn’t know what that was. But after two years, I realized I could just transfer because I was doing an integrated degree, I was just able to play and take whatever classes I wanted. It was awesome to be taking art classes.” Kelly took a variety of art classes including figure drawing, sculpture, ceramics and book making. Even though she did take a painting class, she found the teacher too structured for her and learned best when the class was more flexible. These classes taught her more about being open to the flow of the process than trying to control the product. “I’d rather just do it and see what happens,” says Kelly. “I do that with my paintings. I don’t ever try to have a complete idea. I like to go with the things that naturally occur.”

Letting things happen naturally is a reoccurring theme in Kelly’s art and life. From college at Penn State, Kelly moved to Arizona while her boyfriend went to school, she learned about the desert landscape all around her. “I only lived there for a short time, but coming from Pennsylvania and going to this landscape that was so alien,” explains Kelly. “It was like living on the moon, you can really see how the land is formed. I love the desert. I can’t get it out of my head.” While she was there, driving around the desert seeing the clashes between farmland and urban landscapes, taught her much about the importance of having natural places left undisturbed by man.

This sense of honoring the natural sense of place stayed with her when she moved to Portland. A choice Kelly says was driven by her art, “One of the reasons we chose Portland, was because I knew there was a big art scene here. And if I’m gonna be an artist I should be somewhere where people embrace art.” Her art career started on the street where she lived, selling small paintings on Alberta Street during the Last Thursday art openings.

It grew from there one step at a time from Last Thursday street sales, to coffee shops, wine bars and ultimately a gallery show at Guardino Gallery on Alberta Street. “I just started taking all the little shows on and started selling my art, and was able to work less and less at a job and work more on my art,” says Kelly. “Finally I quit my job and I’ve been a full-time artist for two years.”

In the last two years, Kelly’s been busy painting and getting her work out to the public. “I just say yes to everything, and figure the more places my art is the more chances it’s gonna be seen by somebody so I get it out there as much as I can,” Kelly says. Her goal – to make her work accessible to everyone at every price range – has led to some very interesting opportunities. Kelly now has paintings hanging in a Westin Hotel in Cincinnati and the U. S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, as well as an upcoming show in La Conner Washington at the Museum of Northwest Art from October 10, 2009 to January 10, 2010.

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Working on the paintings for that show and others, Kelly finds her process evolves naturally, “I start with a lot of layers of drippy acrylic and see something in it. Then I go into it with thin layers of oils and then thicker layers.” As Kelly adds layer and layer of color, the feeling of landscape emerges for her connecting her memories to a sense of place. “I’m more creating a feeling of a place on the canvas using color, rather than creating a specific place or statement,” explains Kelly. “I omit a lot of detail and let the viewer put in their own ideas. I try to help people connect to their memories using color. I use color to create a feeling that helps people connect with a place through color.”

Helping people connect with the landscape or each other is another important part of Kelly’s life and art. It was a neighbor’s suggestion that helped Kelly become part of Portland Open Studios. In 2006, Kelly says, “I got accepted, went to the first workshop and didn’t know anybody. But after the event, talking about my art for two days straight to perfect strangers, I had a better understanding of what I was doing.”

Kelly enjoyed the experience so much she re-applied in 2007, got more involved working on the publicity committee with Bonnie Meltzer and at Bonnie’s suggestion became a board member and president the next year. Kelly is amazed at how much she has learned as a Portland Open Studios artist and president, yet in the three years it’s the connections and community she values the most. “Meeting all the artists in Portland open studios is definitely my favorite part,” says Kelly. “I have a really good community of other artists. And the artists who do open studios are the type of artists who are open to sharing what they do with other people.”

Kelly wants to encourage artists and art lovers to come on the tour and get more familiar with Portland Open Studios. When she first took the tour, before her first open studios weekend, she learned so much. “It was a bit overwhelming at first,” Kelly says. “But all the artists that I saw were just great. I loved seeing everybody’s art work and going into people’s spaces. As an artist, just seeing the way other people do their artwork, it always reflects their environment.”

Kelly Neidig may be president of Portland Open Studios, but she welcomes anyone’s questions about art or the tour. Kelly says, “I’ve gotten so much help from other great artists and people in my life, I just love helping other people as well.”

You can visit Kelly Neidig’s studio during Portland Open Studios Tour as well as 99 other artists all around the Portland Metro area. Tour dates are October 10, 11 and 17, 18 from 10am to 5pm. To find out when your favorite artists studio is open, buy your Tour Guide at New Seasons, Art Media and other outlets listed on the website www.portlandopenstudios.com

Listen to a podcast interview with Kelly at www.voicesoflivingcreatively.com.

Visit Kelly’s website at www.kellyneidig.com.

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