By Shu-Ju Wang
Below, Thirteen Sisters Approach the Fantasy Planet by Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley, in watercolor, acrylic, and glitter.
Not so long ago, there lived a princess in a beautiful meadow full of wondrous creatures. Chameleons, dodos, caterpillars and pugs with wings kept her company as she spun elaborate tales and staged magical plays that charmed the denizens of her kingdom.
Then one day, she packed up her bags, and moved to Portland.
Really. Only now, in Portland, she creates her fantastic theater on paper, using watercolors, acrylics, and glitter. And she really likes glitter.
Welcome to the world of Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley—a world where family pets, exotic flowers, fantastical creatures, pirates and screen legends from years past mix happily with men playing golf and elderly gardeners tending to their roses. Her art lives at the junction of the probable and improbable, kitsch and class, tacky and humorous.
To stand in front of one of her pieces is very much like walking into a grand opera, an opera elaborately staged but has no libretto nor music. Imagine a silent opera that is a visual mashup of Mozart’s Magic Flute with Puccini’s Turandot, where all manors of creatures plot, conspire, and run amok among the lotus ponds and pagodas.
Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley is a creator of tall tales, fables, and myths, very much the product of a childhood spent as the only child of back-to-the-land parents who met at UC Berkeley. She spent her early years under giant Redwoods taking goats on walks, sitting with a rooster on her lap, creating communal banana slug, newt and centipede farms, and dressing up her pet rats and making them ride the dog. And of course, she read a lot. In other words, she kept herself entertained, relied on her own inventiveness, and was immersed in nature.
From there, she went on to receive a BFA in Photography from California College of Arts & Crafts. Although, she almost immediately moved on from photography upon graduation to doing illustrations professionally and to fine art. It is perhaps inevitable that she would find photography constraining, to be limited by what is available out there in the 3D world, when she can paint and draw unfettered by such constraints.
Unlike many artists who see art as a way to investigate the self or the community they live within (the larger ‘self’), Kamala sees art as an escape from the self. Starting with what she knows so intimately well even as a child—the natural world—she mixes in her love for art of the Victorian era, Art Nouveauu, Art Deco, religious art, Japanese prints, stained glass and costume jewelry to arrive at her unique way of story telling, of escape from the ordinary. In this bizarre and beautiful world, the family dog takes his leashed human on a walk, the dodo bird lives in an ice cave, the puppy rides a caterpillar, and the hedgehog has tiny wings. And you, the viewer, are invited to create you own stories from the lush landscapes of Kamala’s imagination.
PS. Even her name hints at what you might find during a studio visit and in her art: Kamala, the Hindi word for lotus; Dolphin, one of the most storied and beloved creatures on earth; and Kingsley, from the king’s meadow.
To see more of Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley’s art, visit her website at http://www.kamaladolphinkingsley.com/. To really enter her bizarre and beautiful world, visit her studio during Portland Open Studios; she is artist number 45.
For more information about Portland Open Studios, visit https://www.portlandopenstudios.com/.
Below, a corner of Kamala’s studio with her graphics table and her collection of sketches and found objects.