What do Kamala Dolphin Kingsley and Andrea McFarland have in common? As artists, their subject matter, style and use of medium are quite different. In age they are a generation apart. Yet they both share a love of nature, gardening, and the mysterious, darker side of things. They are also both artists who spent their formative years as back-to-the-landers in the same tiny coastal town before coming to live and work in Portland. As friends and as participants in Portland Open Studios this year, they decided to interview each other.
Andrea interviews Kamala:
A: Your work is highly detailed and layered. Can you talk about your media and what techniques you use to achieve this unique style?
K: I use watercolor, acrylic, glitter, sequins, rhinestones, and gold leaf, layered over one another in many passes to get at the look I’m after. I do a lot of dropping water and salt and alcohol onto the wet paint as well, to get the bleeding and crystallized crunchy aged effects.
A: You often include seemingly unrelated or incongruous things in your pieces, such as flamingos and artichokes or a glamorous woman and a toad. What is it that determines your choice of objects in your pieces? Are you driven more by the symbolic, the emotional, the sense of shape and texture, or…?
K: As a kid I obsessively made collages and I think this led to what I make now – a sometimes random mishmash of things, that end up working out together through much finessing. Sometimes it’s planned out in my mind beforehand; sometimes it’s not at all and I just toss things in there like some made up salad, curious to see the result. I’m also sometimes inspired by outsider, ‘uneducated’, psychedelic, or children’s art. I find allowing the painting to reveal its meaning after creation to be more interesting than having it all figured out beforehand.
A: You use a lot of shading, sepia tones and black silhouettes. Is this a visual or mood preference?
K: Since I was a small child, I’ve always been drawn to the more moody, darker, what some would call ‘creepy’ things. Bright happy and ‘normal’ always bored me. I’m usually aiming for a moody, mysterious, dense yet quiet vibe. I try to create a sepia look to make the paintings appear older, like they could be from 100 years ago. Ancient looking things feel soothing to me. My tendency to outline things in black might have come from watching my mom lead her detailed stained glass windows when I was young.
A: You are an avid gardener, and your garden includes many interesting arrangements of found objects. How does this relate to your artistic life?
K: Same thing with the collage-y mishmash of my art… I love to arrange my thrift store knick knacks into setups that work in certain areas of the garden. I think this might come partially from my childhood interest in miniature dioramas and Natural History Museum-type tableaux. I like scenes that look kind of real, kind of fake and I love seeing what happens when you put different plants next to one another.
A: You started creating art at a young age. When did you first know that you were going to be an artist?
K: I always drew: I was the kid in school doodling in the back of class. But I finally knew that I really wanted to pursue art “for real” when I failed the math part of my Marine Biology courses in college. I realized that I couldn’t hack that part of it, and I remember thinking “OK, I guess I need to switch to art.”
A: What is the biggest challenge for you as an artist?
K: Making art. Hah! I’m a horrible procrastinator and getting worse. Once I get started it’s good, but getting started on a painting is usually really hard for me. I have a tendency to work in the garden rather than on my art.
A: What part of the artistic process do you enjoy the most?
K: Selling art to a happy home is pretty good. When I make a painting for someone and they love it and put it on their wall to look at forever, that’s a good feeling.
Kamala interviews Andrea:
K: What is your medium?
A: I work in dry pastel on sandpaper. People think of pastels as a sort of oily crayon, but dry pastels are more like chalk only with very strong pigmentation. What I love about this medium is that you can get a very smooth texture with blended colors, or a rough textured look with no brush strokes. The almost pure pigments give it an intense, velvety color.
K: You started doing art full time when you were older than many artists are when they start. Do you think this has any effect on the work you do, and if so, what?
A: I did draw a lot as a child, and I took one college course in drawing. But at that age it was all about getting it done and seeing the result. I think I was more impatient then, and my preconceptions and opinions were stronger. As an older person, I think I am more relaxed, with a less intense need for control. Because I’m still new to the process, it holds a lot of excitement for me, but I can let the drawing take me where it wants to go instead of having to drive it consciously. Also, I think that having slightly blurry middle aged vision actually helps me to see color and composition without getting lost in fussy details.
K: You’ve been a musician for a long time. How does this interact with your visual art? Any overlap, a similar vibe you’re trying to convey or a particular story you’re trying to tell with each medium?
A: I play Irish music on the fiddle. I think the paradox that I try to grasp in both music and art is the coexistence of joy and sorrow, how they not only blend in our lives on a long term basis, but how we can be aware of them both in our hearts at precisely the same moment. There is a strange joy contained in our longing itself, an imagining of other worlds, perhaps, mingled with the aching sweetness of ephemeral life. The tunes I try to play are melodically like rippling water, skillful blends of light and darkness. I find it interesting that since I started to do visual arts, my ability to hear the music has improved.
K: You’re an avid gardener; does this love of plants and garden design influence your visual art and if so, how?
A: For many years I was a back to the land hippie, and had a huge garden where I spent most of my day growing food for the family and the local farmers market. I developed a sort of lust for unusual shapes, leaf colors and flowers, but I also think my experience with gardening taught me to be minutely aware of color and shape without thinking about it.
K: You do a lot of scenes of the Columbia Gorge – why?
A: Because it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world! People come from all over the planet to see it; I can’t believe there are Portlanders who never do. When I first moved from a rural environment to Portland, I was depressed until I discovered the gorge. It is my church and doctor combined. There are very few of my problems that a hike up to Angel’s Rest can’t fix. I want more people to be aware of the gorge and to inspire them to explore it, enjoy and protect it.
K: In your art, I see a lot of use of water, and of drama, heavy skies, a portentious feeling – is this on purpose, or do you think you’re just naturally drawn to such things
A: Well, the easy answer is that there is no shortage of clouds here where we live. But this question makes me think of my childhood. My dad was an avid photographer, and taught me a bit about it. He had a special lens filter he had to make the clouds look more dramatic. I thought this was a thrilling, magical thing. I guess I do love the mystery contained in water and rainclouds. I think some people find the infinite hugeness and power of nature to be threatening, but I find it comforting. I’m glad to have my minuscule problems put in perspective, and to be reminded that I’m a very small part of something so astounding and incomprehensible.