Area artist earns recognition both near and far for her work.
The Japanese call it “wabi-sabi.”
The words refer to an appreciation for asymmetry and those imperfections found in nature and in everyday things. A crack in a vase. A rustic table crafted from wood with uneven grains. Peeling paint chips that flake from the exterior of a century-old farmhouse.
The trend can be found throughout the work of area artist Kelly Berkey, who, less than 10 years after picking up a paintbrush, has found her star rising on the local art scene and worldwide. The California native and former café owner, florist and wedding planner moved with her family to the Kansas City area from Minnesota several years ago in order to pursue a career as an artist — what better place to document the beauty of nature with her paintbrush?
“Specifically, I have chipped paint in a lot of my works — layers and layers that bring you back to that feeling of old farms,” Berkey says, sitting in the living room of her rural Kansas City home, a small constellation of her own paintings framing her face from behind her.
“In our own life, we have grown so much, we aren’t connected anymore to nature. There is a trend of going back to our roots now. It’s one of the reasons I moved here. Farmhouses with chipped paint, rolling hills, old brick buildings, bales of hay — all of that gives us a feeling of peace.”
After seeing some of Berkey’s works on Pinterest, a licensing agent connected the artist with home décor chains. Representatives from those companies liked what they saw, especially a series of paintings of rustic cottages. Those have been picked up by several big-box stores, including Hobby Lobby, Kirkland’s, and Pier 1.
Globally, Berkey has made friends with the students whom she mentors in her online art classes, as well as clients who have seen her paintings of cottages, landscapes and human figures, and asked her to share her talents and her wisdom.
“I have 600 students from all over the world who I teach online, and I’ve started teaching workshops out of my own home studio,” Berkey says. “From there, I was invited to teach in Ireland, and I’m going to Tuscany this year, where I’ll lead a yoga and art retreat.”
But for the accolades her paintings have received around the world, Berkey’s heart remains with Kansas City. Her ultimate goal, at least for now, is for her work to be picked up by a fine art gallery in the metro area. She’s already getting closer, with one of her paintings having been displayed in April at the 11th Annual Human Form in Art Show, sponsored by the Hilliard Gallery. A local chef even created a menu in Berkey’s honor for a meal at The Jacobson on the night of the show.
“One of the great things about Kansas City is
that we honor emerging artists,” Berkey notes.
Berkey, who says she was “hooked” the first time she picked up a paintbrush in 2009, studied under master artists Michelle Dunaway and Romel de la Torre, who themselves studied under master artist Richard Schmidt.
“He is the closest to our modern-day John Singer Sargent,” Berkey says. “For me, Sargent is my biggest inspiration, so I try to paint like Sargent paints.”
One of the techniques Schmidt, de la Torre, and Dunaway has passed down over the years: Using a limited color palette in order to create entirely new colors. It’s a technique that now finds its way into all of Berkey’s paintings.
“Most often, my paintings have blue in them. It’s my color,” she explains. “I’m an Aquarius, a water baby, and blue is my color. It shows up a lot in my work. Each painting, when you create your own color, it generally can’t ever be duplicated, so that makes it extremely unique.”
As for her relatively newfound recognition — well, Berkey is still getting used to that.
“It’s surreal, but I would do this regardless,” Berkey says. “If I were in a basement, and no one would ever see my work, I would still paint. Still, every time someone buys a painting, or every time I hear from an agent who lets me know that a big-box store wants 4,000 copies of one of my paintings of a silo, I just have to pinch myself. I never expected any of that. I just did my work and put it on social media. I’m honored anyone would think of me that way. I’m not used to that yet.”
None of it matters, Berkey adds, as long as her paintings speak to the people who see them.
“I want people to stop and look at my painting, and feel something,” she says. “That’s always been the goal.”
Kelly Berkey Fine Art can be found online at www.kellyberkey.com.