Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Name: Danielle Kelly, artist
Education: Bachelor’s in theater and studio art, Beloit College, Wisconsin; Master of Fine Art, UNLV
Day job: Operations manager at the Neon Museum, freelance art critic for the Las Vegas Weekly
Her work: It’s difficult to pinpoint Kelly’s work. Multidimensional, spatial and always evolving, it varies from show to show — abstract, exceedingly detailed or minimal, refined or crude, serene or intense. Sometimes it’s just about the object and the viewer’s relationship to the object. Other times there is an elaborate underlying narrative. She’s an impeccable draftsman. Occasionally she incorporates performance into her work. Her sculptures and installations have included yarn, cardboard, wood and found objects. Her process is one of research and questioning. Kelly explores the idea of a collective history and strives to materialize and transform the collective emotional and psychic refuse we carry with us.
The nomadic life: Originally from St. Louis, Kelly studied at St. Louis University for two years before completing her degree at Beloit College, where she graduated one class shy of a triple major in studio art, set design and theater arts.
By then, she had spent a year studying art in Glasgow, Scotland. After college, she hit the road: Portland, Ore.; London; Denver; and back to Portland, spending her 20s exploring, reading, producing work, but not showing it, until she woke up one day and decided to engage and began working in a Portland gallery.
Getting to Vegas: Kelly arrived in Vegas in 2001, worked as a graveyard bartender at Barley’s in Henderson while staying with her mom, who had moved here from St. Louis. She planned to take a few classes at UNLV with Dave Hickey and Libby Lumpkin, then apply for school elsewhere to study critical theory and art history.
Taking the plunge: Kelly kept her artwork to herself until a meeting with Lumpkin to discuss applying for a degree that would lead to a museum career took a vastly different turn. “She said to really think about what I want to do. ‘Do you want to get up every day and read about art or do you want to get up every day and make art?’ It was a life-changing conversation. Once I gave myself the license, it became obvious.”
The process: Kelly began her MFA program as a figurative painter. “I hated it, felt really locked in. The work that I saw and was obsessed with was work that was difficult for me to understand how they got there — (Mark) Rothko, Anselm Kiefer, (Richard) Serra. When I got to grad school, I quit painting entirely, removed all color, did drawings, back to basics. I tried to let the work tell me where to go, make marks followed by marks, started thinking about process, started thinking spatially. I loved Monet, but really wanted to stand next to this slab of metal,” a Serra sculpture.
Exhibits: Solo and group shows include shows at the Las Vegas Art Museum, Trifecta Gallery, Main Gallery and Contemporary Arts Center in Las Vegas and in other cities. She’s also participated in public art projects around Las Vegas.
Next exhibit: She is collaborating with a modern dancer from Portland, Ore., for an October show at the downtown Contemporary Art Center. Kelly will make objects for an installation. Her friend will dance with them.
Neon Museum: “I feel really honored to be at the Neon Museum. This is ours, but it’s everyone’s. These signs are part of international popular culture.”
Living in Vegas: “It’s the last frontier. It’s the Wild West. You can do anything. Anything’s possible, but it’s hard because there is no infrastructure.”
Sticking around? “I love the desert. I just want to make stuff. I’m happy staying here, but I’m interested in bridging Vegas with other communities.”
Other interests: Hiking, yoga, poodles, watching “Ice Truckers” and “No Reservations,” collecting hand-held, thumb-controlled marionettes.