I’ve known and been inspired by Kelli since middle school, and was lucky enough to eventually convince her to be my friend (thanks, Livejournal, teenage angst, shitty mom’s, etc.). Getting her to join the Boo Forever Collective was practically a no-brainer, especially given our work together to create our one-of-a-kind Brelli Frompkin’s pieces. To get a closer look into her artwork, I asked her a few questions, to which she answered with the intimacy you could only expect from people who have known each other through childhood and into adulthood. Read her replies below, and be sure to check out more of her work at mintfresca.com.
How did growing up in Park City/ Utah influence your artwork?
Growing up in Park City was a privilege and a blessing. As an isolated bubble, it provided quiet space to paint and daydream ~7,500 feet above sea level in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the West: mountain-desert woodlands, wetlands full of cawking birds, and snowy afternoons both rural and urban.
I learned to paint as quickly as the light changed in an effort to capture Park City’s mutable atmosphere. I embrace my expressionistic, painterly style. If I work too long on a piece, sometimes I end up ruining it. I’ve learned to let things go earlier than planned because I like the mid-points more than the final product. I like to think people are able to recognize my line work because of both my process and style, and that my art is a direct expression of my spirit.
Park City reminds me of the beauty of nature, the freedom of youth, and the bliss that comes from chasing joy, but I have both loving and painful memories from growing up there. My childhood in winter paradise was full of dramatics, yelling, isolation, sometimes kid-led chaos that exploded our house into piles of furniture, appliance-box forts, and endless mountains of toys, the ones our mother bought for us in place of showing warmth, kindness or affection.
After seeing Hereditary, I mentally connected dots that Park City is obviously a horror movie town. It’ll forever remind me of the escapism, neglect, and white-supremacist patriarchy widely present in settler colonies like Park City. Now I wonder if growing up in a literal horror movie town had some direct translation into my fascination with death, the occult, social violence, darkness, ghosts, magic, murder, mystery? Or if it’s just a Pluto in Scorpio kind of thing?
Regardless, any of the sentiments in my art that reflect the feeling of home, or disenfranchisement from feeling at ‘home,’ come directly from the privilege of growing up in the wealthy “socialist democratic republic” of Park City, Utah.
What medium do you feel most drawn to and why?
I dabble in many, I’m not sure one calls me more than others...I’ve always loved painting: acrylic is convenient, accessible, easy to clean up; oil has a nicer feel to it while painting; egg tempera is smelly, impractical, difficult, but so satisfying to pull off. It's creamy and indulgent, slow to dry, movable, flexible. I love texture— pen and marker provide the most control for small details, but it’s fun to experiment with paint brushes, palette knives, varying textured materials and paint viscosities.
The limitations from different media provide new challenges to overcome. I recently started playing around with digital art on the iPad, and it was surprising to me how much I had to start drawing practice over from the beginning, with line styles, then shapes, then texture, then color.
The options to create digitally are so much more limitless I think in some ways than creating in reality—for example, being able to correct mistakes or practice without wasting materials. There are so many ways to play with digital tools that it can be overwhelming sometimes to think about, but I’ve always had a hard time with focusing on just one thing at a time.
“Kellen Frankentompkinstein” is a self portrait—how do you feel that illustration encompasses your presence, and how did you decide what to include in it?
Growing up, I often felt like a monster (I still do sometimes), like a cobbled together, disheveled mess. I was created and feared by my maker, my mother. One time while gardening in the yard, I accidentally hit my little baby brother in the face with a huge shovel. I was probably 8 and he was 3, and I was digging a hole for a bigger plant with an adult-sized pointed metal shovel. I closed my eyes, straining like a fool to lift, right as little-toddler-brother stuck his face over the opening of the hole.
I hit him square between his eyeballs. My mom rushed him away, toward the van, off to the clinic, yelling back at me, ‘What kind of monster are you?’ It always stuck with me afterwards. I ran away crying, to hide. When my mom and brother got back from the doctor, my brother had 9 waxy black stitches between his eyebrows. I felt horrible, and I wondered if my little brother was going to be afraid of me for the rest of my life, the same way my mom was. “I'm your little monster, mom, this is who you created, your destructive little demon learning to love herself,” I didn’t say.
Kellen Frankentompkinstein depicts how I see myself. Even though I know these feelings are born of an emotional childhood that’s long since gone, I still often feel and see myself as a dysmorphic monster, like I’ve corner-copia’d (a bad pun, sorry, like a cornucopia) my way back into a cave, or a corner, on display for gawking. I surround myself with a spilled mess and distracting wallpaper, I haven’t taken time to harvest the fruit in front of me. A family heirloom, my grandma’s begonia, sits behind my hastily thrown together, tangled body, a wild mockery on display in a private corner of a public room. I take up all this space, and I feel awkward as hell doing it. The plant is blocked because my existence suffocates and destroys the life and growth my ancestors manifested for me in this lifetime.
How does painting/ drawing/ etc. express the messages you’re trying to put out—and what are those messages? (especially thinking of “And Still the Heart”, but you can talk about any piece)
The messages I hope to express in my work are around:
Allowing art to move you to heal,
Eating a snack is a spiritual act,
Honoring all aspects of the self to return to divinity
“And still the heart,” was inspired by one of my favorite paintings by my mom, it hangs in my living room. It’s very Matisse-heavy in style, but less formalized or complete. A woman sits sleeping at a table, surrounded by plants, oranges rolling on the table. There’s a large abstract vase that camouflages her round body, the perspective lines are off and bizarre. Everything about the painting; the moment of rest and stillness; the color palette, incomplete linework and bizarre perspective; feel bold and daring to me. I loved my mom’s art, however weird or experimental. The relationship we had was healthiest when it was channeled through art. In that space, we could create, encourage and support each other.
In my piece, I wanted to capture the serenity that comes from rest because I think it’s important to honor our need for rest, and to allow art to create space to recover from whatever ails us. By including folded laundry, one of my greater adult nemeses, the sentiment feels like rest post-accomplishment. Have you ever taken a nap after checking off everything on your to do list? My favorite feeling in the world is when there’s no place to go, nothing to do, and nobody to see. Taking care of myself, self-care as a form of self-discipline (to quote the Trap Witch), is an exercise I’ve had to learn and develop as an adult.
What kind of music influences your work?
I love to make art while listening to instrumental experimental music, like a lot of your playlists are amazing for meditative sketching. I love Tokimonsta and Susumu Yokota, but anything with a solid rhythm that I can tap into, like Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem, also works well. Sometimes I obsessively listen to Dolly Parton for months at a time.
Some of the best music to make art to is hip hop, period. I love Missy Elliot and Bby Mutha, but I also obsessively listened to Beyoncé’s Lemonade when it came out. The self-affirmations in hip hop, as well as the radical resistance that comes from the mere existence of black women or femmes in USA, is inspiring and worth uplifting. I love feminine and queer artists who, in the most colorful and expressive ways possible, disrupt the traditional white male creative canons.
What sort of visuals influence your work?
My most obvious influence is probably Paul Gauguin, but I’d also include Matisse, Mary Cassatt, Marc Chagall, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele. I love post-impressionist, post-colonial artists. Contemporary loves of late include Polly Nor’s monsters, as well as Kliu Wong’s visceral violence in neon. I can’t get enough of simple lines + colors of Japanese printmaking and woodblock art, particularly the Shin-hanga period style. Lily Yeh, urban alchemist installation artist, is one of my personal favorites because she integrates the importance of design and art into communal spaces where transformational healing is deeply needed to move forward after traumatic pasts.
What else influences your work—food, television, literature, etc?
I’m moved by fruit, plants, some vegetables, organic shapes, experimental or expressive color palettes, light play and texture development.
I love to sit and watch the light change as the sun moves across the sky. I’ve never been able to depict the airiness of light and atmosphere the way I’d like to because I have a hard time restricting myself when it comes to color. I’m learning to experiment more with pastels for variety, as well as black and white textured linework. My most recent Plein Air paintings for the Block Urban Plein Air project are good examples of how I let color overwhelm atmosphere, regardless of perspective depth in the scene.
Other influences would definitely include my friends, as well as nature, space, the earth. My dreams are a constant inspiration for my artwork, as well as music and poetry. I enjoy trying visualize the emotions behind language.
Many of my pieces have been inspired by lines of poems, including popular favorites like Pablo Neruda’s Oda a la Alcachofa (Ode to the Artichoke), and lesser known voices like Jeffrey McDaniel, whose work I was obsessed with as a teenager. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ magical realism. Horror movies, monsters, ghouls and ghosts. Comics, specifically Calvin + Hobbes.
What would you say to your 15 year old self if you had the chance to time travel and give her advice?
Follow your joy. Don’t let anything come in between you, self-love, and what brings you absolute joy. Use art to express whatever feels bigger or darker than words will allow. Don’t fear your darkness, your shadows, your destruction. You are worthy and loveable just as you are, monster or not.
I wish I could tell my younger self to focus on my passions instead of trying to be everything that people around me wanted me to be. It’s so easy for me to absorb the ideas and experiences of people around me, I wish I had dedicated time to loving myself earlier, sooner. I wish I could say to follow your joy, not let boys, bad friends or toxic love distract me from knowing myself. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to feel anxiety and put yourself out there anyway. Don’t give up on your art, your creativity or yourself. You are worthy, valued and loveable.
What would you like to say to your future self?
Look how far you’ve come.
I think it’s important to look back in order to assess our growth. It’s just as easy for me to dwell on the past as it is for me to stay stuck in the perpetual present and ruminate on the what-ifs of the future. Instead of over-thinking, my therapist is having me focus on things that are important and try to forget the rest. He had me list and draw circles around everything I care about vs everything I have the ability to control. The things I can’t do anything about, I’m trying to worry less about. I’m trying to start fewer fights and be more graceful. I’m trying to express my rage in healthy outlets, and not at people or things that don’t deserve to experience the immensity of the kind of rage women can carry.
I’m learning to love myself in all my roundness and rage, and I think that’s a self-improvement journey worth celebrating privately. I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got. I’ve learned a lot about myself, survived external circumstances I couldn’t control, and learned tools necessary to move through memories that weight on me and tie me to the past.
I hope my future self is full of bliss, joy and confidence. I hope she embraces change and challenges. I hope art and writing fulfill future Kelli and become my main source of income. I hope my art moves people to get in touch with the natural divinity within them. I hope they learn that no external source can take away the divinity within you. By learning to be with and make space for all versions of ourselves, even the monster ones, the hurt and hurtful selves, the impatient and unpolished selves, we make space to observe and integrate into the most whole versions of ourselves. And lastly, I hope I can teach people that eating snacks is often a spiritual act, so take comfort in your sustenance and allow yourself to move forward into your best future self.