2011 was a great year for mixed media artist and art teacher Heather Kelly.
Kelly was awarded second place in the Michigan Fine Arts Competition, she received her first solo show and a personal work of art was acknowledged at ArtPrize. Though she dabbled in art from a young age, taking classes at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC) and the Paint Creek Center for the Arts, the Bloomfield Village resident admits she is still growing and learning as an artist and a teacher.
Progression as an artist
For the past nine years Kelly has been teaching art at Troy High School and working on personal projects on her own time. Kelly enjoys working in a variety of mediums and can be found morphing words into images, painting canvases of buildings in Detroit or even piecing together metal items for unique jewelry pieces.
“Her work is very haunting in that she uses photography and she manipulates the images digitally to create a collage effect – almost 3-D like,” Elyse Germack, owner of Art Effect Gallery, said. “The overall effect is just extremely eye-catching; something that just makes you feel like that you are having an experience with the piece.”
Germack first came across Kelly’s work at the BBAC during the Michigan Fine Arts Competition. Germack noted Kelly’s style was creative and she asked Kelly to be a part of Art Effect’s September exhibit.
“Her work is really special; people are just so captivated by it,” Elyse Germack, owner of Art Effect gallery, said. “Her work was so well received (in September) that we offered her a solo show.”
The solo show through December at Art Effect gallery, which is located at Eastern Market in Detroit, was Kelly’s first solo show – something she said was her lifelong dream. For Art Effect, Kelly created an array of pieces representing buildings and landmarks throughout Metro Detroit including places that impacted her life growing up in Royal Oak. Some of the places included Shain Park and Cranbrook.
Influencing her artwork
Her daughter, Hannah, 2, was the inspiration for part of Kelly’s recent line of work.
After Hannah was born, Kelly suffered from postpartum depression — a slump that was difficult to pull herself out of. She struggled with being identified solely as a mother rather than an individual.
“As an artist you go through periods where you’re extremely inspired, and times that you’re not,” Kelly said. “Having a child has definitely changed the way I see things, so it’s been an inspired period so I’ve worked a lot in the past couple of years.”
To cope with her feelings she created two pieces, Twinkle which won second place in the Michigan Fine Arts Competition and Wish, which she entered into ArtPrize, an annual art competition based out of Grand Rapids.
One of the things that stuck out the most about how Kelly approached ArtPrize is that she tried to make it an interactive piece. She requested that people observing her work submit an anonymous wish, noting that she would use the text from all the wishes she received to create an art piece that would commemorate her experience at ArtPrize. After that she said she would send an electronic postcard of the completed piece to anyone participating. In addition to that, she crafted necklaces for people to have as a take away from her artwork.
“It’s very clever how she encourages people to interact with her work,” Germack said.
When she decided to enter ArtPrize, Kelly decided that if she won the grand prize ($200,000) she would donate half to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“My participation in ArtPrize changed my art-making practice from something very private, created in isolation, to something very public that involved the viewer in the process,” Kelly said. “I learned not only about myself and the artistic process, but came to realize what feels like my purpose in this world: to use my passion, my experiences, my art and my education as a way to give back.”
Though she didn’t win the competition, Kelly still plans to contribute her work to the greater good. In fact, Kelly now says that a portion of all of her future awards and sales will go to women’s and children’s charities.
Currently she is looking into raffling off one of her Detroit pieces she showcased at Art Effect and give the proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Impacting young artists
One of her former students, Deanna Lucas, credits Kelly as the reason she has decided to pursue art as a career. Lucas is a freshman at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids and says that Kelly gave her the push she needed.
“I’m going to an arts school mostly because of her – she’s the one who encouraged me,” Lucas said. “I’m really grateful for her. I don’t know where I would be right now if I didn’t have her as a teacher in high school.”
Lucas noted as a teacher that Kelly was helpful, encouraging and overall a very positive teacher. She also said she is proud to see her former teacher exhibiting her work outside of the classroom.
“I really like her work,” Lucas said. “When you look at something she created you can tell that she made it – she has her own style.”
Kelly is still impacting the lives of many of her current students as well, something that is even better when she can take real life experience into the classroom, she said. One of her students’ most recent projects involved them manipulating miniature images in Photoshop to create a large, unrelated image. She took her own experience from ArtPrize and used the competition aspect to spur interest in the classroom and in the school at large.
In fact, Kelly had her students hang their artwork in the hallway next to slips of paper that had a website address which gave other students at Troy High School the opportunity to log online and vote for the artwork they thought was best. The idea came from the fact that with ArtPrize, unlike other art shows Kelly had been in before, the public was able to vote and aid the jury process. The winning students in her class received iTunes gift cards.
“I’m trying to open them up to the idea that the art world is shifting from being less separate, less of a museum or gallery experience, and show that the art world is reaching out to the public and trying to engage them,” Kelly said.