I create paintings and drawings that explore themes of trauma, longing, and loss from the perspective of a mature woman in an ageist society. There’s an obsessive focus in my work on “fixing” the ingrained sense of inferiority and lack I have felt as a woman in this world. In my experience, doors are often closed to 50+ year old women who make artwork about their life experiences, but I am claiming this time to insist my artistic point of view be recognized.
On the surface, my imagery appears nostalgic, but instead of looking back through rose colored glasses, I use nostalgia to expose uncomfortable truths about personal life experiences. I grew up in a law enforcement home in which the patriarch regarded his family as suspects; recording, tailing, interrogation, and punishment were part of everyday life. This early experience created a lasting feeling of fear and an attachment to ordinary objects like my toys, clothing, and books over relationships with other people.
I juxtapose repetitive imagery—patterns from vintage fabrics and conventional wallpaper commonly used to cover imperfections and impart a cheerful veneer to working class homes—with patches of infected skin, predatory creatures, and abstract imagery to create works that expose my anxiety and subconscious self-loathing. I incorporate the language of women’s work; stitching, mending, and knitting, to center the narratives of women. I use water-based paints, ink, pencil, and especially paper, to allude to the mass-produced, ephemeral quality of the objects I reference in my work.
I’ve been making art for more than 30 years and have remained dedicated to my practice even when my time was focused on building a stable financial and emotional life for myself. The pandemic brought me a clarity of vision, and the opportunity to prioritize my daily studio practice. Last year, I completed a series of 25 paintings, dealing with my emotional response to the pandemic, that have been collected in a limited edition artist book, A Guide: 25 Tips for Surviving a Pandemic, to be published with Conveyor Studio this fall.
In my newest work, I am challenging myself to be more expressive, and to create images in which all of my previous thematic interests can be in conversation with each other. I believe that this important and exciting moment in my artistic career is one that comes only with years of experience and dedication. It’s one in which I feel the greatest kinship to the generations of women who spent their lives creating without recognition.
Kelley Simons (Brooklyn, NY) is an artist making paintings and drawings that explore themes of trauma, longing, and loss from the perspective of a mature woman in an ageist society.
Kelley has been selected to participate in TransBorderArt’s Fellowship-Residency Program at Governors Island in September 2023. Her works have been widely exhibited in galleries and museums nationally; most recently at Piano Craft Gallery in Boston, MA, New York Artists Equity Gallery in New York, NY, and Lore Degenstein Gallery at Susquehanna University, PA, where her work appears in the show’s catalog.
Kelley holds an MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art. She spent last year creating a series of 25 paintings, dealing with her emotional response to the pandemic, that have been collected in a limited edition artists book, A Guide: 25 Tips for Surviving a Pandemic, to be published with Conveyor Studio this fall.