Kelly Detweiler: 'Sanctuary' at Sandra Lee Gallery

Sanctuary, 2014, acrylic and collage on wood and canvas, 65 x 64 x 6 inches

In his solo exhibition Sanctuary, now on view at the Sandra Lee Gallery in San Francisco, Kelly Detweiler brings together paintings, cut-outs and sculptures that move back and forth between being two and three dimensional. Combining his imaginative fantasies about nature with his fears for the future, Detweiler creates works that delight the eye while speaking to the heart.

John Seed Interviews Kelly Detweiler

Kelly Detweiler

Kelly, what can you tell me about the theme of this show? 

The exhibit was named after the piece called Sanctuary which is a landscape surrounded by images of birds. To me this is a piece about the current world condition. Sanctuary for the birds is nature and a safe forest, for humans it is a sustainable environment and a safe place without strife. I actually don't try to be overtly political in my work but sometimes I make something and then realize all of the implications. Because of the way I work, I often think first of format and images before I think of the meaning which is coming more from a subconscious place. It is rather obvious that we should be concerned at this point about what we (humans) have done to the environment. Those of us with kids are worried about the world we will leave for them.

Home Base, 2015, acrylic on wood, 47 x 31 inches

Does that theme extend to the other works on view? 

Some of the other pieces in the show deal with the theme in a different manner. Several of the cut-out pieces have bird houses or even buildings which again reference a safe place metaphorically. The birds are both subject matter and representations of man. They are constant observers, and oversee these artificial environments which I create. They seem rather non-judgmental but still concerned about what is going on. Some of the cut-outs represent environments which seem in decay or chaos but the birds are survivors and they don't seem to mind. For me it is a powerful combination with dead trees and empty frames and furniture. On first impression they might seem like colorful fun environments but the underlying message is not so warm and fuzzy.

Frame Tree, 2015, acrylic on wood, 59 x 36 inches

Am I right that you also have some comments to make in your work about the current situation of art? 

Yes: Sanctuary also refers to figurative art in some way because even though I am not in any way a realist, I am figurative and my work comes out of a figurative and narrative tradition. Arneson and De Forest were very much story tellers and they influenced what I am today as an artist. The empty frames in many of the pieces are a reference to much of the art which I see today that I feel is not as interesting as the frames. I don't mean to imply that there is not plenty of great art being made today, just that I respond to some types of work more than others. It is only natural to have a point of view but I appreciate all types of art if I can find a way in, some kind of mental sanctuary where I can go for a while. My work might be a sanctuary for some people who want that connection to history and to the traditions I come from. Art is one of the last places we have as a culture where the unexpected or magical can happen. Special effects in movies are great but I like the little flaws and the human element and reality of art.

Weeping Woman, 2015, milk-based paint on wood, 30 inches high

Can you tell me something about the sculptures in the show? 

The sculptures and the cut outs grew out of a series of paintings which I did between 2010 and 2013 that involved overlapping of images and figures. Sort of an outside inside overlap. All of the paintings stemmed from drawings which I do in meetings. I am constantly drawing in that type of situation and many of my best ideas have come from faculty meetings. I did quite a few and was trying to figure out a way to make them better, never really feeling satisfied with the final product. Since I am around and friends with many very good painters it finally struck me that I am not really a painter in the classical sense. I am, in a way, like the paintings, and overlap of skills which were both 3-d and 2-d. I realized that the paintings would be better without the background so I cut one out and it was truly a much more unique and engaging piece than the original painting could ever be. Then as somewhat of an natural progression, I realized that I could make real sculpture which had the same complexity and elements as the paintings.

Walkin' the Dogs, 2015, acrylic on wood, 69 x 48 inches (open dimensions)

Kelly Detweiler: Sanctuary
March 1-19, 2016
Opening Reception: Thursday, March 3rd, 5:30 to 7:30 PM
Sandra Lee Gallery 251 Post Street, Suite 310 San Francisco, CA 94108