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Q&A with Keeley Rae
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Q&A with Keeley Rae

July 2024 Solo Artist Keeley Rae; Selfportrait, oil

By Julia Chance

 

Portraitist Keeley Rae tells a funny story about how she became aware of her artistic talent.

“My middle school teacher told my parents they should probably enroll me in some extra art programs because I had a real knack for it,” she recalls. “My parents like to say, ‘Before that, we never thought you were particularly skilled. We just thought your siblings were particularly bad.'”

By age 17, Rae landed some commissions, painting murals around her hometown of Vancouver, Washington. But it wasn’t until college while taking a drawing class for fun, that becoming a professional artist occurred to her. “A professor, with a reputation for being harsh, told me it would be a waste of talent not to pursue art. I decided then that it was something I should go into.”

When Rae moved east three years ago, leaving Washington State for Washington, D.C., she immersed herself in the local art scene and discovered The Art League where she became a student, then an instructor, and now a solo artist. Prismatic Motion, a series of vibrant paintings capturing people in action, is an intentional departure from the quiet stillness and muted hues that typically comprise her portraits. Folks in festive garb dance across large-scale canvasses, while various acrobats twisting, tumbling, and gliding in midair occupy smaller works. The vibe is captivating, as though you are witnessing the rush of movement in real time.

Here, the artist shares the inspiration for her exhibit, her process, and what she’s planning next.

 

 

June 2024 Solo Artist Keeley Rae conducts a drawing demo at her “Prismatic Motion” exhibition.

 

What was the first thing you created that you were particularly proud of? 

I think the first thing I created that I remember being very proud of was one of my first acrylic paintings. I’d done it for my grandpa and grandma. It was a horse and a cat. My grandpa was a horseman. My grandma always raised, cats and so I painted a picture of both to give to them for Christmas.

 

Where did you study art?

Brigham Young University (BYU)–Idaho, a small private college in Rexburg, Idaho, about an hour and a half south of Yellowstone National Park. It has a reputation for being very representational. Many of its alumni went into Western wildlife and plein air painting. BYU’s structure and rigid curriculum gave me a very strong skill set that allowed me to get a job teaching in the middle of the pandemic.

 

Is there anything you weren’t taught that you wished you were?

Like a lot of artists, I struggle with the marketing and business side of the art world. That was one thing they never really taught in school, how to find clients and how to market your work.

 

What ideas or questions drive your artwork?

The people I meet and the places I go. Many of the models in Prismatic Motion are people who I’ve met that I thought were absolutely fascinating and I loved what they do.

 

Tumble by Keeley Rae; Oil

 

What is Prismatic Motion about? 

The ongoing movement and color in life. “Prismatic” sounds better than saying colorful. [Laugh]

 

What was your inspiration for it?

There was a time when I was doing a lot of artwork that felt stale. Even if it was a fun subject—like dinosaurs having a tea party, for instance—the end result felt very stiff. I wanted to break out of that so I thought of the least still and stiff thing I could paint: gymnasts. I have a friend who is a cheerleading coach and another who’s an aerialist. You can find paintings of both of them throughout the show.

The artwork with the folkloric dancers is from when I lived in Nicaragua for a year and a half as part of a mission trip with my church. I couldn’t help but think of the color and movement of the festivals I attended there and thought they would work well with the rest of the exhibit. 

 

Rae demonstrating how she achieved her twirling self portrait.

 

Describe your process for creating your paintings.

I worked from photographs. I was able to take photos of my cheerleading coach and aerialist friends and others they work with. For my self-portraits, I set a timer on my camera to photograph me dancing. The paintings of the dancers required “stitching” together multiple photos using Photoshop to create the compositions.

 

Marimba in the night by Keeley Rae; Oil

 

What do you hope viewers glean from Prismatic Motion

I want it to feel fun like they are attending a celebration or a festival. That’s why I chose to do a few life-size pieces, so it could feel like the viewer was being immersed in the festivities.

 

Dance of the Masked Men by Keeley Rae; Oil

 

What artists, contemporary or past, inspire you? Why?

Johan Barrios, Chole Early, Adrianne Stein, and Susan Lyon for their subject matter, use of color, and value control. They’re all modern masters. What’s not to love about their work?

 

Are you currently working on anything?

When am I not working on anything?  I’m still working on portraits of friends and family, and more recently I have been sketching compositions for a series I want to do based on old poems focusing on time and the bittersweet moments of life.

 

Is there something that you are still working to achieve artistically?

I’m always trying to get better. Currently, I’m working on composition and edge quality. Edge quality is how soft or hard an edge is. It can help you create the feeling of movement or how soft or hard something is.  I broke up the edges in this series to create a feeling of movement. 

 

Vertigo by Keeley Rae; Oil

 

 

Icarus by Keeley Rae; Oil

 

Is there something that you are still working to achieve artistically?

I’m always trying to get better. Currently, I’m working on composition and edge quality. Edge quality is how soft or hard an edge is. It can help you create the feeling of movement or how soft or hard something is.  I broke up the edges in this series to create a feeling of movement. 

 

Name some items that you like to have on hand to help you create. 

Paint-covered clothes, dirty fingers, and a good audiobook. 

 

Prismatic Motion is on view through July 7. Keely Rae is teaching Basic Drawing (Adult) beginning July 17, 2024, and both Basic and Portrait Drawing during the regular school term.

 

 

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Every week we gather a variety of artist opportunities from the DC area and beyond. Find one below and apply today — good luck! Click…

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