Kerry Smith is a Seattle-based artist who I met online. Looking at his website www.dollopism.com, I’m struck by the deep color and great texture of his works on canvas. They seem almost sculptural. He has mastered a technique that he coined called, “Dollopism.” In addition, he didn’t start painting until later in life. It was a great pleasure chatting with him. See for yourself.
MICHAEL: Hey Kerry. I love your work, especially the highly textural paintings. I guess we could say that you've sort of created a genre that you call "Dollopism." How did this come about?
KERRY: Thank you so much Michael. I appreciate your kind remarks. I must admit that I stumbled upon the technique that I named Dollopism very early in my painting career and with no idea how it would change how I spent my time. I had never considered myself artistic and couldn't draw or paint anything recognizable. In my late 40s I found myself with some extra time and a few bare walls. For some unknown reason I decided to see if I could get some paint and canvas and create something that I would be happy having on my walls. I started with bright colors and a geometric pattern for my first effort. My second and third were a more simple palette and just a few brushstrokes. And painting #4 was the first in the style that would become Dollopism.
MICHAEL: Nice! Why can’t something like that ever happen to me?
KERRY: I really don't know what prompted me to take the palette knife and start placing these pieces of paint onto canvas. All I really remember is that I had some thought of Jackson Pollock and that I was interested in some sort of controlled randomness. But when I was done with this fourth painting, I knew that I had hit upon a way to create something unique that allowed me to use one trait that I did possess. Patience.
MICHAEL: Well, there you go. I have no patience. That’s why Dollopism never happened to me. But clearly, you didn’t just stop there.
KERRY: I began experimenting with colors and paints that would keep a nice peak and before long had almost 3 dozen paintings. I entered a local art show and exposed my paintings to public view for the first time. I will tell you that it was more than a bit nerve wracking for this middle aged man who had never painted in his life to set up a table with art that was actually for sale. I received tremendously positive feedback from the other artists and from many people from the community. I ended up winning Second Place for one of my paintings and was thrilled to sell four paintings. I knew that I had found something that I really enjoyed doing and that people found interesting and unique. At that time, I was calling the art "Peaked Paint" which was a suggestion from my neighbor Wendy. The genre was born, but the name of Dollopism was to come a bit later.
MICHAEL: So, you didn't begin painting until your late 40s and you actually created your own style. Many artists search forever for a "style." What was your career prior to painting? You must have had some early exposure to art that planted a seed in you for later on. No?
KERRY: Well Michael, I haven't managed to quit my day job yet. But I do keep working on both the painting and the business side of marketing and trying to get my work out there to be seen. After graduating from Drake University I packed up my car and moved to Phoenix. I spent the next 10 years managing political campaigns and finally my own run for the Legislature in 1986. I lost by a couple thousand votes, but remain proud that I put my name in the ring and tried. Soon after that campaign, my fiancee and I decided to pack our bags and move to Seattle. She had lived here immediately after her graduation from college and wanted to move back. In Seattle I've worked in a variety of industries managing call centers and customer service teams. I've been lucky enough to work for some great companies like Alaska Airlines and the Seattle Mariners. Having large teams of employees and working with customers who aren't always very calm or happy has definitely helped me with my patience. And that in turn has helped me with the patience necessary to place many thousands of dollops of paint onto canvas.
MICHAEL: Where does the art come in?
KERRY: As a child I was lucky enough to live in a variety of locations including Chicago, Washington D.C and a year in Europe. As a family, we went to many museums and settings of cultural importance. I certainly believe this helped with an appreciation of the arts. When I was in high school, my mother started to dabble in some fabric arts and a few paintings that made use of geometric shapes and varied colors. She died over 30 years ago, but I do sometimes feel her contribution to the choices I make regarding shape and color. Our family continues to honor her memory with a small annual scholarship for an art student at Drake University. It isn't much but it does help a student to purchase materials and supplies for their senior project.
MICHAEL: You have a great story. You know, I think that so many people still buy into the stereotype that artists are eccentric people who live constantly locked away in their studios. However, it sounds like politics, people, work, travel and engagement with life in general have actually created the artist that you've become.
KERRY: I think it's the case that we all are a product of our past. I create in bright colors with significant texture because it's what my past taught my eye to appreciate. Just as collectors of one or many pieces of art accumulate pieces that please the vision that their experiences have created. I understand that I'm a bit unusual as an artist in that I didn't begin until my late 40's. But I also think that there are some benefits that came with my late start. I began painting not with any sense that I would ever sell a painting. I couldn't even dream of that! I started to satisfy my desire to create something that was pleasing to me and that I could hang in my own home. I didn't have aspirations of winning an art show, showing and selling in galleries or selling to people who had only seen an image on a website. Yet I've done all those things by sticking to my original goal of creating paintings that are pleasing to my eye. There have been a few people that I went to high school or college with who I haven't talked to in many years who have seen my paintings. After their initial shock or surprise that I am an artist several of them have gone on to say that they see the Kerry they remember in my paintings. Not only because of the colors, but because of the precision and the patience they understand went into these works. I can't paint a landscape or a portrait, but I can take a canvas, divide it into 2,304 squares that are 1/4 inch each and then blend colors to have 768 squares each of blue, red and brown. That particular painting is named Matrix and made use of my patience, precision and even the fact that I can count.
MICHAEL: While patience isn't my strong suit, I have learned that patience isn't a noun, it's a verb. No one HAS patience. We have to practice patience every day. Patience is a must for artists and writers. However, we live in a society hell bent on instant gratification. If you couple that with the fact that society has a very shallow memory, we're bound to repeat mistakes and patience goes right out the window.
KERRY: Good point Michael. I'm lucky to be able to practice my patience by sitting for hours placing small pieces of paint onto a canvas while seeing achingly slow progress. And then of course with the thick dollops I use, I generally measure drying time in weeks and months. It's a good thing that I create paintings that I want to look at because I always have them hanging for months while they dry.
MICHAEL: I love the result, but does the process ever get boring?
KERRY: There are many things that I enjoy about my particular method of painting. Some of the work is fairly mindless while I place the same color of paint into a particular area of a painting or even as the entire painting. It gives me time to think and reflect about upcoming projects, things that I wish I'd done a little bit differently in a previous painting or potential color combinations. And then I get to balance that by doing a piece with a wide assortment of colors or small patterns where I need to be constantly engaged in exactly what color goes into each spot. It keeps things interesting while I do these textured minimalist paintings.
MICHAEL: Your process is obviously very meditative. My yoga, running, writing and art collecting all have the same effects on me. I'm in the process of making these elements integrative in my life which is fantastic. I'm always trying to help people understand that this is the true function of art in our lives. Art is about so much more than hanging a painting on a wall. Art centers you and makes you whole. It happens as you're creating it and while I'm enjoying it! You live in the Seattle area. How does that particular environment influence your work?
KERRY: Seattle has a real natural beauty. The summers are gorgeous with the bluest sky you've ever seen. Paired with the surrounding water and all types of beautiful green trees and foliage there is beauty throughout the city. When you layer on the surrounding mountains you've got a multi-layered, textural vista of color. Hmm … That sounds like many of my paintings. I do find that I lean toward combinations of blue and green and I think that the views I see every day have an influence on my love of those colors. Of course there are also days like today where the sky is dark, the wind is blowing and the rain is coming down sideways. Although this is certainly the most moderate climate that I've lived in, we do have a significant amount of cloudy days with drizzle during the winter. Those days are perfect for sitting inside with a good cup of coffee and painting. I think the gray skies we have here also make me prone to pull out the bright colored paints and try to liven up my canvas and the rooms that my paintings end up in.
MICHAEL: It sounds as if you may have been influenced by other environments as well.
KERRY: As I may have mentioned, I grew up in Iowa. So in my youth I was exposed to fields of crops extending to the horizon. I recently painted a piece with multi colored stripes and asked my friends for suggestions on names. Joyce who is a friend from high school wrote that it reminded her of the fields of Iowa and the textures of the crops as they blew back and forth in the wind. I hadn't thought of that while I was painting it, but her comments struck a chord and I named the painting Heartland. I absolutely believe that my time in the Midwest and in Arizona is with me every day. And of course Seattle has a tremendously vibrant art community. There is always some sort of event or show to attend and I've met quite a few artists whose works speak to me in some way. I find there is a tremendous level of support for fellow artists. I went to a show that featured the very first artist I met here. I mentioned that I started with the intent of just painting to get some color into my own house and yet I ended up taking my work out into the public. At the very first event that I showed any work, my booth was next to Crystal Campbell who does beautiful watercolors. I had the opportunity to see that she has branched out into wonderfully textured acrylic abstracts. She painted some works that are very similar to ideas that have been floating around in my mind for upcoming projects. It was great to see her and talk with her about her new works. I attended a show of another of my favorite local artists. I met Yvonne Palermo when we were in a show together and I was immediately attracted to her strong, interesting paintings of figures. She knows what she wants to paint and gets it done. And there are so many resources and places for artists to support each other. One of my other favorite local artists is Marianne Maksirisombat. She took over an old church and now runs a Community Arts Center in the "Art Church". Marianne does interesting and colorful work on three dimensional canvases and formed steel. And of course, there are many, many more wonderful artists who help provide support here.
MICHAEL: You know, I think there are two basic ways to view art communities: local and world. Both are valid, but I tend to prefer art from an international perspective because, hey, you only live once and you may as well explore as much as you can. Once you're dead, the exploration is over. However, there's also a lot to be said about supporting one's own art community. What do you think?
KERRY: The internet has certainly made it easier to view art on a wider scale and to actually interact with the artists. I grew up with black and white TV and even in college the only computers we had access to occupied an entire room and required punch cards. I'm always amazed when I log in and see messages from artists I've met around the world. It is truly a wonderful thing to be able to visit the sites and pages of so many artists. I'm continually amazed by the talent and creativity of people and in general the amount of kindness and friendship within the artist community. I suppose I'm not alone as an artist in having a certain level of insecurity regarding how others will view my works. I know what it feels like to invest many, many hours in painting and preparing and setting up for a show to end up with zero sales. Fortunately, I also know the euphoria of having multiple people interested in a certain piece that's on display. As an artist, I hope that I can offer a word of encouragement or an idea regarding a project that supports an artist in another part of the country or the world. But I do think that the support of taking the time to go out to a show locally is more meaningful. I know how busy I am and that helps me really appreciate a fellow artist taking the time to come out to a show of mine. And then there is the support that you offer as a collector. As wonderful as it is to have someone purchase a work that they have seen hanging in a show or gallery, I have found amazing satisfaction selling a piece that has only been seen on the internet. I know that the images on the web do not do paintings true justice so when art lovers and collectors purchase something after only seeing an electronic image, that’s really very powerful support.
MICHAEL: Finally Kerry, many, if not most artists define themselves wholly as artists ... art permeates every pore of their being. I get the feeling that you see yourself as other things as well. How do you define yourself?
KERRY: That's a tough one Michael. I guess I don't spend much time thinking about how to define myself. Since I didn't start painting until my late 40s, I had already established a number of obligations before I ever considered calling myself an artist. I continue to have the family and financial obligations that I've had throughout my adult life so I don't expect I'll ever have art as my only defining characteristic. Over the past few years I've begun to define myself more and more as an artist. Until I turn the corner to be able to generate more revenue from my paintings, I'll have to remain like the actor who is waiting tables to pay the bills. I'm an artist who is managing call centers to pay the bills. I guess that I really just consider myself to be a Human. I've got my fair share of faults and insecurities, but hopefully also have some sense of compassion and generosity. I love to give paintings away and will continue to do so when it seems that someone will appreciate one. I've been playing with the concept of giving a number of paintings I have to veterans. There is a great website called Kickstarter.com and I'm working out the details of a project to help pay the shipping costs. It's not just about the creation, but also about getting the created works into the hands of someone who will appreciate them. Thank you so much for the opportunity to take part in this interview. As an artist, I certainly appreciate all that you do to expand awareness of art, artists and art collecting.
MICHAEL: Thank you Kerry. This is really been a cool chat.
To find out more about Kerry Smith and his work, check out his website, www.dollopism.com