Artists Profile: Kevin Chadwick Sept/Oct 2016

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Title: Fine Artist/Illustrator | Age: 59

What are your early memories of art?
I was quite a rambunctious child growing up. I remember someone handing me a Dr. Seuss book and asking me to copy what I saw. After working for a while, I looked and saw green eggs and ham on my paper. At that moment, I found what came easily to me and what I loved to do.

My parents then learned to put art supplies in front of me to keep me calm, focused and, hopefully, out of trouble. Years later in church where I would fidget and had a hard time behaving, I remember my father giving me a piece of paper and a pencil before the sermon and asking me to draw a person in our row.

Then in 5th grade, an English teacher asked me to draw on the chalk board for a lesson she was giving and that she would pay me for it. Pay me? Even back then I thought to myself, “Hey, I can get paid for this!” It was the beginning of my freelance career I guess.
Describe your formal study of art.

I studied art and illustration at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. The first year was a bit of everything from painting the human figure, fashion illustration, photography and even hand calligraphy. The second year was more focused on design and illustration techniques. I’d say that my time there prepared me in two important ways. First was how to design and layout an illustration to fit the page. I found out early the importance of good design, and illustration was a bit more than just producing pretty pictures. The second and more important lesson was learning how to work within a tight deadline.

A funny story was when I was illustrating for a children’s book publisher outside of Dublin, Ireland. The cover art was completed, and being pre-computer, it was mailed to Dublin via FedEx. Turns out the truck was hijacked outside of Dublin and emptied along with my art. Once I received the news, I had two days to recreate it and send it off again.

Describe your first job out of art school.
I was hired directly out of school, and I moved to Columbus, Ohio, where I worked for Federal Glass Company. Federal Glass produced glassware for the top national food chains such as Burger King and McDonalds and other major clients such as Hallmark Cards and American Greetings. I have fond memories of drawing the characters of Holly Hobbie, Ziggy, the Hamburgler, along with the usual flowers and mod designs you saw in the late 1970s. Before I left I even began to illustrate some ideas for a new movie coming out called “Star Wars.” I guess, like in my earlier Dr. Seuss days, what this job reinforced and taught me was the ability to think and work freely in different styles and mediums as needed—a talent that would help me greatly through the years.

What type of work did you do as an illustrator?
Using a phone book and the bus in Washington, D.C., I would set up appointments, show my work and, to my surprise, walk out with an illustration assignment.

At first I concentrated on political magazines and, being in Washington, D.C., there were plenty to choose from. I would return home to Columbus, do the assignment and return looking for more. It did not take long before I packed my bags and headed east. Early on I met a wonderful illustrator who illustrated amazing theater posters. Wanting to break into that field, I contacted a local printing company and asked if they wanted a free illustrated promotional poster. They immediately said yes. I then went to the Folger Shakespeare Theater and asked them the same question, and they also said yes. With everything in place and at no cost, I illustrated my first theater poster. Once it was printed, I took to all the theaters in town saying, “Look, I illustrate theater posters!” That one poster paid off well—I enjoyed more than a dozen years of working in the theater world illustrating posters and show logos for the Shakespeare Theater, Arena Stage, the Kennedy Center and many others around town.

Through the years my work and clientele varied and was never boring. Early on I used an airbrush and for years wore a mask and air tank. When scratchboard was in vogue I moved into that technique for work in spot illustrations. One year it may of been corporate logos, another more Washington Post editorial illustrations. I designed and illustrated PBS season posters, book covers, coloring books and for two years I produced political caricatures for The Weekly Standard magazine. I would receive a call each Wednesday and would send the work in by Friday morning. I never knew what was coming in.

What did you enjoy about illustrating?
In a word, everything. Even back then I looked at illustration as art. Art is an illustration for the plain fact that it embellishes someone’s written word. The fact that I could take someone’s thoughts and words and a blank piece of paper and create an image that they approved of was very exciting to me.

How did you arrive in Lynchburg?
With family in both Charlottesville and Lynchburg, my partner Wanda and I were making the trek to and from Lynchburg often, and the more I visited the more I loved the city. Wanda grew up here and had been gone for more than 30 years. But after watching the city grow for a few years, we decided that it was time to finally make the move. After some searching, we purchased an 1898 home on Diamond Hill and are slowly restoring it back to its former grandeur.

What are your thoughts on the culture of the Hill City?
During the years we watched Lynchburg, we were once driving through a neighborhood here in town looking at homes. Curious to know what it would be like to live on the street, we stopped a couple of women walking and asked for their thoughts. One of the ladies said to follow her home and talk about it more with her and her husband. When we arrived at their home, we met her husband, Ted Batt (Director of Visual Arts at the Academy Center of the Arts). Ted introduced us to the Academy (and to the building project) and gave me my first show in 2015. The Academy has become a bit of a second home to me now where I find wonderfully dedicated people and much inspiration in their monthly art shows, talks and classes. I donate art to their galas and often volunteer my help when I can.
Tell us about your first show at the Academy.

It usually takes years to be able to book your first show at the Academy. There is a long waiting list of artists along with other yearly national shows and scheduled exhibitions. In February 2015, Ted asked if I wanted a show in May [of that year]. I swallowed and with a smile said “SURE!” This is where my deadline mode kicked in and by that May we hung just over 30 paintings. Being new to town, I thought I would first paint a series of Lynchburg scenes that people would possibly like. I love the architecture of Lynchburg and the first thing I noticed driving through town were all the church steeples. They reminded me of the scenes of French painters from the 19th century.

I scoured shops for antique frames and produced works to fit them, wanting the show to have an old established feel to it. Techniques varied from impressionistic oil works to tighter Edward Hopper–looking paintings, portraits and still lives.
My studio then was in the Allied Arts Building on the 5th floor. I was working fast and whatever image came to me I would try and capture on canvas. I had one unsold portrait already completed before I moved to town, and I thought I would perhaps paint a second. These two African American portraits became the most talked about works in the show with one selling during the show.

You really found your niche with that type of portrait. What’s the background story?
In past years I vacationed a bit in the Caribbean and had photographs of people I saw tucked away in drawers waiting for the right inspiration. When I see a photo or an image I like, I instantly see the completed painting in my mind. I photographed a lady laughing and had the image laying around for years. Every time I would run across it, it would make me smile. So one day I sat down and painted her, titling the piece “The Joke.”

Receiving numerous compliments on this work both at the Academy and online, I thought perhaps I may have found a new direction. I was intrigued and challenged, painting the darker skin tones using grey, lavender and blues. I also experimented and found I liked the look of leaving portions of the painting unfinished, showing the base color that I rub into the canvas with a rag. In my earlier illustration days, I always seemed to over-finish the entire work with detail so I wanted to loosen up a bit when I worked on canvas. Overall, I was very pleased with the new look and feel of the completed works. Since then, I’ve branched out a bit more, painting the women and figures placed in a more abstract, heavily-layered patterned background. I enjoy this look and will continue to experiment with this series to see where it leads me.

What recognition have you received for your work?
I received a number of national awards for my illustration work through the years, but I am fairly new to fine art painting. Focusing more on the work itself, I have only entered five competitions to date. This year I received second place in the Academy Center of the Arts National Juried Art Exhibition. The 36 x 48” work was of a woman surrounded by my swirling patterns, and I called her “Dance.” I placed some of my work to sell on Saatchi Art in 2015 where I was a featured artist in August for the Made in the USA Collection, in October for the Celebration of Picasso Collection, and in November for the Mid-Century Modern Lovers Collection for one of my abstracts. In 2015 I also received an Honorable Mention at the Arts Club of Lynchburg.

Which artists have influenced your style?
My latest large works with the patterns were obviously first inspired by Gustav Klimt. When I lived in Washington years ago, I saw the Impressionist Show in the West Wing of the National Gallery and that show left a lasting impression on me to this day. Besides the obvious greats such as Cezanne, Degas, Monet and Sisley, I also was inspired by the work of Gustave Caillebotte.

What is your philosophy of art?
I tend to agree with Picasso when he said that all children are artists.
The trick is how to remain an artist when you grow up. When I am working on my patterned pieces, I try not to over think but let the abstract patterns dictate where and how I add detail. In other words, I let the child in me out and color freely. I recently read that in the broadest sense, anything man-made is art. Not just paintings and sculptures hanging in museums and galleries but anything not made in nature. It can be functional, ugly, disturbing or quite beautiful. I want to create works that are pleasing to my eye and capture a certain moment in time whether it be a woman deep in thought or this beautiful city in transition.

What’s the role of art in a community?
Artists living and working in a community actually help create a sense of community. Seeing their works—perhaps on a First Friday or painted on pianos scattered throughout the city—art brings a smile to one’s face and helps bring people together and hopefully inspires. Art also creates conversation in a community and helps people look at things perhaps from another point of view. I feel this city is filled with many talented artists, and I am very happy to be a part of it and very glad that I moved here.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently illustrating for a group out of Charlottesville and starting on a large 4- by 5-foot commissioned abstract for a local client. It is obviously hard to do a sketch for an abstract, but I will be painting three smaller works first to narrow in on color and basic technique. I am in talks now to perhaps paint some artwork for a public building here in town, and I will have a busy summer getting ready for two more shows including a benefit in Lynchburg. I’m also proud to be sending three works to Greenville, SC, for the Museum Antiques Show in October through Mary Brockman at Enchanted. I currently have a few of my works for sale in her beautiful shop.

What’s next for you?
I have written two children’s books and would love to set some time aside to work on them. I’m hoping in 2017 I’ll be able to get to one of them, [and]I have a show scheduled for 2018 again at the Academy.

Any closing thoughts?
I invite everyone to come out for First Fridays. Hop on a trolley and see what new works artists are bringing to our residents and in one way or another get involved with this vibrant art community. See a play, take pottery lessons at the Academy or even sit and play a piano on Main Street if you can. There is something for everyone.

How can readers get in touch with you?
I will soon be moving my studio back into the Allied Arts Building in downtown Lynchburg at 725 Church Street, and a variety of my work can be found in Enchanted at 1204 Main Street.

Connect with Kevin at (540) 940-5039, thecreativemind@verizon.net, and follow him on instagram.com/kevin_chadwick.

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