Kelly Reemtsen: a feminist woman who happens to make art

Article en Français sur French Quarter Magazine

In the recent context of the #metoo movement and revived debate about gender equality, the artwork of LA based artist Kelly Reemtsen is more relevant than ever.

Her recent painting “RESISTER”, in which she played with the French word “Resist” and RE-SISTER struck me. It reminded me the engraving made in the stone of Aigues-Mortes by the French Protestant Marie Durand (1711-1776) who spent 37 years in prison because of her faith. Different times, different reasons but a same powerful word.

resister Marie DurandKelly Reemtsen

We met at Art Miami, where Kelly Reemtsen’s paintings were exhibited, both by Detroit based David Klein Gallery and London based Lyndsey Ingram Gallery.

If her painting style, using thick impasto, has been influenced by Californian artist Wayne Thiebaud, Kelly Reemtsen has created her unique universe. Her signature is her bright and colorful paintings of women (always cut at the shoulders), fashionably dressed, on high heels, holding construction tools or climbing on a ladder. She creates striking contrasts between a very feminine look and a powerful attitude. She is also a talented sculptor and she loves working on fine art prints for the challenge they represent.

Her work, which could seems at first glance girly carries a more profound message about women empowerment. Indeed Kelly Reemtsen and her “army of women” remind us that women can do about anything… but that there is still a lot to be done in term of gender equality as the recent events have highlighted. Her series of women on ladders or chairs addresses the subject of social climbing and glass ceiling, which still often exist. Kelly Reemtsen was kind enough to share about her vision, her latest works, her next projects and her dreams.

Kelly Reemtsen

I read in a previous interview that your inspiration came from an ad in a magazine from the 50s with a woman and a hose with the question “Can women water the garden?” Is this where your series come from?

Yes. There was even another ad even sadder: It was a woman seated on a bed in a depressed attitude and the title was “single and thirty?” I guess it resonated because I was in that position!

Your work, about women empowerment, seems to be exactly capturing our times in the context of the recent campaign #metoo which has encouraged women to speak out. What do you think about this evolution?

I guess there is an evolution but there is still a lot to achieve. For example, when some people ask the victims why they did not speak out earlier, when we all know why. If I get started on the subject I get fired up!

Do you consider yourself a feminist artist? Yes. Well I’m a feminist woman who happens to make art. My paintings are biographical and yet anonymous so every woman can see herself in them. A collector of mine told me that her husband says, “It’s you” when he sees their painting. And it’s not just one dialogue; it’s numerous women who see themselves. I’ve been thinking about all the women who posed for me all along these years. Thanks to them. I have been painting an army of women!

What do you like the most in your work?

It’s the action. I like doing things. This is not very different from when I was a kid; I just have a bigger room! My favorite thing is to be doing Prints. I love the technical part of it. Painting is more relaxing for me. With prints, you don’t know until the end what the result is going to be like. I just came back from London where I worked for one month with fine art printer Advanced Graphics. We worked with 13 to 15 layers and it was a great experience. The result is very gratifying.

Kelly Reemtsen When you started to work as an artist, did you have a vision of your path?

No. I studied Fashion design in LA. One day, I was at my parents and I saw in the LA Time and ad titled “art career” with a phone number. I called and it happened to be in a publishing company. I met a lot of people and that’s how it started. I was thinking more about learning than about a career and indeed I learned a lot about etching and silk screening. I was very enthusiast and I think it showed. Then I got lucky.

Did you have any mentors? Yes, it’s Francie Kelley, she’s an art dealer and I worked with her in my 20s. I worked as an assistant in her gallery for 10 years. She showed me how to do the right thing in business. I guess a lot was common sense and mostly she taught me about ethics.

You have achieved a lot: you have artistic recognition, collectors. Many artists would like to be in your position. Do you still have dreams to reach?

Yes I still have many dreams! Firstly I would like to work more with printers who are accessible by invitation only. Crown Point Press, based in San Francisco, and which are present at Art Basel Miami have invited me; I would like to do more of that! I would also like to get into a museum.

Do you think that the fact that women are underrepresented in the art world and that some actions are taken to change this, will create opportunities for women artists? I’d like to use this quote from Gloria Steinem (feminist journalist and writer – editor’s note.) “The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.” I think right now we are in the piss off situation. I’ve dealt with many men and most of them are good guys… but some might not know right now how to manage things. But yes, I guess in the end things will change.

And what is your next project? I am working on the fallen woman: the risks we take, the fact of falling and getting back up.

Painting by Kelly Reemtsen

Upcoming shows:

  • February 15 Art Palm Springs
  • June 8            Galleri Oxholm, Copenhagen, DK solo exhibition
  • June 21          Albertz Benda, Chelsea, NY   solo exhibition
  • September    Lyndsey Ingram London, 2-person print show with Will Cotton

To know more and follow Kelly Reemtsen


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