For the past six months or so, we've been working with the most delightful artist whose work had us so excited we couldn't wait to shout it from the rooftops. But guess what happened? Before we could even utter one word about this artist, almost all of the paintings flew out the door (we know, not a bad problem to have.) We quickly put a desperate request for more work - and then tapped our toes impatiently until they arrived.
The new paintings just got here to the gallery - so finally, it's with great pleasure that we introduce you to Justin Kellner. Keep reading to find out more about this wonderful artist who:
- paints a heavenly melange of abstract and very specific imagery
- who cares deeply about our environment
- who paints the most detailed and beautiful birds we've ever seen
Memories of a Frequent Scene (Black-capped Chickadee)
Close-up of the little black-capped chickadee.
HHFA: Justin, tell us about your journey/career as an artist. How did you get started?
JK: Believe it or not, I didn't always want to be an artist, or a painter specifically - I originally wanted to be a cartoonist. During my undergrad days at Central Michigan University, I dipped my hands in many artistic endeavors, from printmaking to graphic design and I eventually graduated with a double major in sculpture and painting. Then I pursued a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Kendall College of Art and Design.
HHFA: how did you get start selling and getting your work out there? (Artists: pay attention!)
JK: I'd set up booths at music and arts festivals. I'm a huge music fan and have always loved going to local music festivals throughout Michigan. I figured if I could pay my way by selling a few paintings, it was a plus.
Luckily, my work was spotted by a couple galleries who picked me and that's how I got my professional start. Funnily enough, I haven't done an art booth in almost 10 years but I always tell other artists: it's one of the best things you can do to promote your art, meet people and clients and learn about the business side of art.
Having Traveled a Great Distance (Northern Parula)
Close up of the Northern Parula.
HHFA: what medium do you paint in? Your paintings are so layered and textural.
JK: I use acrylic paint as well as materials like sawdust and pine needles to create interesting textures. I like to use acrylic for its versatility - it has a quick drying time so I can work quickly and build up layers of textures and thin washes. I can water it down to keep it loose like watercolor or I can keep it thick to build up heavy impasto areas.
HHFA: what first caught our eye about your work is your marvelous combination of hyper-representation and abstract. Which are you at heart? A representational painter, an abstractist - or both?
JK: both! Being able to paint both ways lends itself to my process. I like to switch it up from day to day. I will have days where I will do my active abstract painting, where I'm moving around the studio working on multiple paintings at the same time. The next day I will sit and work on the realistic imagery. It helps to keep the work fresh and I never get bored of painting.
Various Stages of Fading (Blue-Winged Warbler)
Close-up of the blue-winged warbler.
HHFA: how did you narrow your subject matter to birds? Why birds?
JK: originally, I used birds as a symbol to represent the cycles found in nature and life through the idea of migratory patterns. It's a cliche but the saying "a canary in the coal mine" is still true. Birds are a perfect indicator species for how healthy an ecosystem is. The use of birds in my paintings has roots in lifecycles, habitat loss, environment and pollution but now, I hope want birds to spark a curiosity in birding, nature and the outdoors.
It Quiets After a Certain Time (Ruby-Crowned Kinglet)
HHFA: in your artist statement, you talk about ecosystems and the environment. Are your paintings a message about our environment?
JK: Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time. t’s daunting, important and can create an overwhelming feeling. I don't want my paintings to be about the all encompassing issue of climate change. Originally and still to this day, my paintings are about the environment, climate change, pollution, sulfide mining, ecosystems, habitat loss, and human expansion.
Most bird species I paint are either endangered, threatened, or drastically declining. Maybe creating an interest in birding will connect someone with nature. Maybe they will search out new parks and conservancies, and then discover how important these natural areas are.
Did You Hear the Sound? (Prairie Warbler)
HHFA: so, are you married? Kiddos?
JK: I have an amazing family, my wife Megan, also a painter, currently works at an art museum and our two children, Charles, 3, and Clara just turned 1.
HHFA: where do you paint? Do you have a dedicated studio?
JK: I converted my basement into my painting studio and currently work from there full time.
HFHA: do you listen to music while you work?
JK: Most of the time, I have to be listening to music while painting. Sometimes it helps to keep me going, or to help keep my mind off the paintings, trying not to overthink them.
In Other Places (Hooded Warbler)
Close-up of the Hooded Warbler.
HHFA: how do you structure your painting days? Very rigid like a job or as the creativity and inspiration hit you?
JK: I paint most weekdays. Some days I do abstract work, other days I will sit and do my realistic imagery. I work in short bursts - with time in between where I'm trying not to be distracted! I also spend a lot of time looking at my paintings, making mental decisions first, rather than actually putting paint down on canvas.
HHFA: how do you unwind? Is there a favorite vacay/happy spot and why?
JK: I love to go birding and camping. Most of our "vacations" are decided by what new birds I might be able to see (luckily, my wife also loves birding.) Spring migration is my favorite time of year when multitudes of neotropical migrant birds briefly pass through as they head north to their various breeding grounds.
I was raised fishing, hunting, camping and swimming - and always surrounded by water. I always look forward to going back home to our family's hunting camp where it's all about hours spent taking in and observing my environment.
Close-up of the Black-throated Blue Warbler.
Isn't Justin's work mesmerizing? We could all spend hours soaking up the beautiful abstractness of his work - and then you zero in on the birds for a whole other visual experience.
Our take? Yes, it was definitely worth the wait for this powerful group of new work from Justin. Swing by the gallery to feast your eyes on these new pieces - and, like us, you might have a new appreciation for our little winged friends out there.