by Shauna Grissett, photos by Candra George
COVER ARTIST KENT WALSH is the living, breathing manifestation of her abstract paintings: enthusiastic, vivid, exuberant, passionate, energetic … bold. The petite blonde has anything but a dainty artistic talent, and her large-scale canvases display an expert command over color, artistry and composition. The Alabama native was born in Birmingham, raised in Mobile and now resides in Point Clear, Alabama, where she has lived for the past 14 years.
Walsh explains the origins of her love of art and paint: “I started painting when I was very young; my grandmother gave me my first set of oils when I was 5. I always took art in school as well as private lessons. However, I didn’t start doing abstract painting until about 20 years ago. Growing up, I painted flowers, fields and landscapes, still lifes and portraits. First, I went to Mary Baldwin College, where they had an absolutely wonderful art department, and then I transferred to the University of Alabama and continued my work there. Back then, abstract art wasn’t part of the curriculum. I learned the basics and received a strong foundation in realism and color studies. I learned how to mix my own paint with primary and secondary colors, which I think is so important. Now, you can buy all of these beautiful paint colors that are already mixed—lavenders, chartreuses and metallics—but I still mix my own paints, which I think is one of my strengths.”
After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in studio art, Walsh moved to San Francisco, then lived in Houston, but eventually made her way back home to Mobile. She started painting professionally by happenstance, explaining, “About 25 years ago, I donated some paintings, and they sold. So, after that, things snowballed, and I began painting professionally. I also teach classes and give workshops out of my studio in Point Clear; I travel to other cities to teach, as well.”
Walsh is clearly devoted to her students and to teaching what she loves. “Most people want to take classes in abstract expressionism, and they think it’s going to be easy. I teach a regular abstract class once a week, here in Point Clear. My students tell me, ‘I can do that!’ But then they get frustrated, because it’s not as easy as it looks. We have a really good time, but we work really hard. I’ll set out a still life for my students, but I never make it a pretty one. I want them to look at the lines, at the shapes and at the negative shapes and not just look at the still life … at the bowl of fruit. I ask my students to really push themselves, and by the end of the day, everyone is exhausted. They’re ready to ‘throw in the brush!’” Walsh laughs as she talks fondly about her classes.
When it comes to abstract expressionism, unfortunately the old “my five-year-old could do that” adage still lives on, and Walsh fights this inaccurate perception. “I try to convince people that realism is so much simpler—at least for me it is. Because you’re not pulling the whole thing out of your insides, out of your mind and your emotions. To be a good abstract expressionist painter is hard. I paint mostly abstract paintings, although occasionally I’ll paint something representational. ‘Abstract’ can be anything from abstracting realism, such as a tree that is out of focus but still recognizable—like my landscapes—to a tree being non-objective and completely unrecognizable. My landscape paintings are more recognizable or representational. They are about a mood, a feeling or an atmosphere rather than trying to paint a leaf or the water. When I look at a tree or look under a tree, at how the sun shines through the branches, I don’t see the details of the leaves of the tree; instead, I see the patterns they form and the negative shapes. And I try to remember that when I go back to my studio.”
As Walsh talks about her work, the word “integrity” comes up again and again. “The most important thing to me is the integrity of my art and of the design. If you don’t do the work and put in the time, where’s the integrity? Where’s the sincerity and strength of the work? If there’s one criticism of my art, it’s that I don’t have a consistent body of work that looks alike. But I just can’t be redundant. I’m constantly evolving, and my process is different every time. I refuse to restrict myself to one style. I continue to learn by pushing myself to knock down boundaries. And I like to stay away from gimmicks, like gold leaf and just pasting things on the canvas, layers of modeling paste. When struggling with a composition, it’s tempting to over embellish using metal leaf, pastes and texture materials, but it only makes the work look crafty. My layers are built up from paint because I like to have a history underneath that you can see through—lots of line, lots of scraping.”
What is Walsh trying to express through her art? “My works are not timid. I push myself to express what I want to say and make sure it comes through. Whether the color is exciting or not exciting—whatever I intend to show. Or a balanced composition. If you don’t have composition, you don’t have anything. I like contrast, all kinds of different lines—broken and straight lines and hard and soft edges. And there’s a lot of movement in my work, so much so that sometimes I’m out of breath when I’m finished!”
The exact emotional reaction of observers of Walsh’s work may be unpredictable, but certainly, collectors and viewers alike will be left breathless by her remarkable paintings.
Walsh’s paintings are mixed media, mostly acrylic or oil with charcoal, oil pastel and various other media. Her canvases are large, typically 3’ x 3’ or 4’ x 4’. Her work can be found locally at The French Mix by Jennifer Dicerbo Interiors in Covington, Louisiana. In addition, her work can be seen through her website, kentwalshartist.com, or by calling 251-929-2576 or 251-605-2297. Walsh offers classes and workshops out of her studio in Point Clear, Alabama, or call to make arrangements in a different city or location.