Tangled up in blue: Artist Chelsea Kavanagh discusses ‘Pigments’ exhibit

Tangled up in blue: Artist Chelsea Kavanagh discusses ‘Pigments’ exhibit

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Local artist Chelsea Kavanagh was never particularly interested in the color blue. That is, until her friend sent her a mysterious package from Morocco. Kavanagh opened it to find a treasure trove of knick-knacks, a reed hat called a Sheshia worn in the northern parts of Morocco, incense and several bags full of bright blue paint—still in its powder form. 

After stepping away from her new acquisitions for a while, Kavanagh began toying with the idea of exhibiting paintings made with her pigments at Shift Kitchen & Bar. Owner and pastry chef Dara Wong agreed and Kavanagh got to work.

Ahead of the exhibit at Shift, titled simply Pigments, Flagstaff Live! staff writer Svea Conrad sat down with Kavanagh to learn more about the show and its artist.

Flag Live!: What was the inspiration behind Pigments?Tell me a little bit about where the idea came from.

Chelsea Kavanagh: The idea came serendipitously. My friend Rebecca shipped me a box of goodies from Chefchaouen, Morocco, and in there were five bags of vibrant powdered pigments. I had never dabbled with making my own paints but they were beautiful and special. I knew I had to do something with them, I just didn't know what it would be at the time, so they went into my "pile of potential." The idea came to me while I was sitting at Rendezvous one evening this winter. I have been friends with Dara for a few years and have been completely blown away by her and Shift's trajectory in the Flagstaff food scene. Shift had yet to be involved in the art scene of Flagstaff, so I wanted to see if she would be interested in the idea of showcasing a local artist on the walls there. [The idea was] Shift is blue, I have to make these pieces blue and I have to use the pigments. 

What shades of blue are the pigments?

The colors of the powdered pigment are cobalt, cornflower, teal, purple and ochre, and they are vivid. Like, so vivid I don't think I will ever not mix my own paints from pigments again.

What medium do you typically work in?

I mostly work with acrylic paint, micron pen, on live-edge locally sourced wood. I sometimes work in just micron pen and watercolor on paper.

What is it that you like about blue? In what ways does the color challenge you?

I don't specifically like blue, and if I'm being honest my favorite color is black, but it just really worked for the show at Shift. And because Chefchaouen is known as the Blue Pearl of Morocco. How could I not do an all-blue show? Most of my paintings are very vibrant, and these pigments were amazing. I was mixing the first batch of it up on this stark white tempered glass palette and was just blown away by how intensely blue it was.

What is a piece that sticks out to you in this show and why?

My favorite piece from this show has to be of the Rif Mountains. They are located outside of Chefchaouen and they're craggy and totally work with my style. And it's on a beautiful piece of eucalyptus.

Talk to me a little bit about your style. Why add the geometrical and line details to landscapes?

It just happened one day, and I haven't been able to draw normally since. I was on a road trip around the western part of the country with my best friend around seven years ago. We were sitting in a friend's back yard in Jackson, Wyoming, and I took a photo of the view of the Tetons. We got home a few weeks later and I just started seeing all these facets of the mountain when I looked at the photo, and started drawing it out with a straight-edge. All these triangles began to appear. Then I did the line-work inside all of the triangles. And there it was, this geometric landscape. I started off just drawing them on paper with Sharpies. Then I went to painting them on canvas, and I hated how the canvas would give—I couldn't get the meticulous line work I wanted. So then I started painting them on wood about five years ago.

Tell me a little bit about your artistic process—both for Pigments and in general. Where do you work, and how often are you able to just sit down and paint? What do you draw inspiration from?

I live in this tiny two-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend and dog, and there are piles of wood interspersed throughout it in their various stages of life—completely raw, sanded, painted, with line work. I mostly work on the pieces on the couch with them in my lap while listening to records or watching television. I don't really have any formal education for painting aside from the art class or two I took in college, so normal ways of painting like at an easel standing is bizarre to me. And I definitely couldn't do my line work any other way then on my lap because I like to get my face about two to six inches away from the surface. I'm weird.

Anything else you’d like to mention about this show?

At most of my shows I try to bring in a benefit to conservation or awareness. I've partnered with Sierra Club for a show of mine called Keep a year or so ago. I donate to a lot of the silent auctions benefiting local organizations. I'm trying to do my part with what "soapbox" I have. At the opening of the show, Feb. 16th, Shift will have a signature cocktail, "The Australian," and a portion of its sales will go to help Animals Australia with their efforts to help animals affected by the bushfires. With every purchase of this cocktail you will also be entered in to a drawing for an original piece of mine.

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