KellyJo Shows — noun, verb — and what a perfect name for an artist!
Her 12x12’ art studio in West Kennebunk is a kaleidoscopic hive of art books, political posters, “message” teeshirts and dog portraits — plus more than 150 pairs of worn and weathered shoes hanging from the rafters. Every inch of her atelier announces Shows’ thoughts and philosophy. Grinning broadly, the Texan-born, San Francisco-nurtured, 50-something artist says, "It’s like the inside of my head.”
In the 18 years since Shows and her partner, textile designer Heather Dutton, bought their comfortable 1856 farmhouse, the artist has cemented, indeed galvanized, her reputation in the East Coast art world. Her paintings hang in the Wright Gallery in Cape Porpoise and the Candita Clayton Gallery in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Starting June 19, her “Wings, Roots, Paws & Hoofs” collection will be on display at Kennebunk’s Snug Harbor Farm.
A year ago March, a three-month showing at Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland featured 60 paintings from her “shoe series.” Her book, Portrait of an Artist, is about to hit the shelves at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. She recently opened an art co-op adjacent to her home, featuring work by her and 12 other artists.
As the saying goes….if the shoe fits, wear it. She is striding.
Shows admits, “It’s nothing but fun painting a wide variety of shoes. In between doing more serious work, I like to play a little.” Her ongoing collection, started in 2008, showcases footwear originally worn by artists Jamie Wyeth, Jackson Pollock, William Wegman and Frida Kahlo, among 150-plus others.
“My shoe portraits make people think about the person who owns and wears the shoes,” she says. “It’s not a statement about their physical appearance. Shoes speak volumes about the lives we lead. They are our connection to the earth.” To wit, Phyllis Diller’s custom-made, size 5AAA beige pumps suggest a nuance of conformity while also confirming the blatant vanity of the wild-haired comedian.
To obtain the pre-owned shoes she paints, Shows writes to an artist or celebrity and explains her project. She includes a postcard in the mailing, allowing the subject to decline (“Hell no! Please leave me alone!”) or accept (“Sounds great - they’re in the mail!”). Approximately 25% of the artists she contacts do respond. Some ask that she “get back to me in a few months.” Jamie Wyeth immediately mailed his paint-splattered blue-striped espadrilles.
Shows credits her artist grandmother for nurturing her career. “To this day, I mix colors the same way she taught me when I was seven.” She places seven colors on her palette: Windsor & Newton’s French Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson, Titanium White, Burnt Umber or Sienna, Ivory Black, Cadmium Yellow and Viridian Hue Blue. “I know exactly where they are on my palette, I don’t even have to look when I’m painting.”
KellyJo Shows openly treasures her individuality. She remembers desperately wanting a pair of white shiny men’s dress shoes, a la Pat Boone, when she was 10. (Her mother didn’t buy them and, to this day, KellyJo constantly looks for “crazy fun shoes.”) In her late teens, Shows left the Art Institute of Houston for Visual Communication to immerse herself in the San Francisco art world. She chews tobacco (Green Grizzly) and savors evenings sitting on her screen porch watching lightening bolts flash during booming thunder storms.
And as her email signature states, she “fears no art.”
“I use ‘fear no art’ on my email address for several reasons. I can’t imagine a world without art. That would be awful. I want people to try to understand and appreciate art, not be intimidated because they think they don’t understand it. Like my shoe series — I started painting shoes in 2008 and I’ll keep painting them until I die. Why? Because it’s fun. ”
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