Kelly Rossetti is an abstract artist based in Westport, Connecticut. She maintains two distinct bodies of work - abstract and figurative - which are intrinsically linked in their colorful, loose, and expressive qualities, which she carries throughout her artwork. During our interview, we took a look inside Kelly's light, high-ceilinged workspace (*swoon*), and chatted with her about her background in fashion, how she developed her style, and the ins and outs of her creative process. Read on to learn more about Kelly and to see inside her studio, or watch the live tour and Q&A at the bottom of the page!
Our Interview with Kelly Rossetti
Where are you from originally and where are you located now?
I’m from a very small town with one traffic light - Holland, New York. It’s about forty minutes south of Buffalo. After school I moved to New York City, lived there for many years, and then slowly we made our way to Westchester and now, Westport, Connecticut.
How did you get started as an artist?
My background is actually in fashion. I spent thirteen years in a corporate job and when my oldest son went to kindergarten I decided I had enough and quit. That was 2014. I took my first painting class at a small atelier in New York while I was trying to figure out my next steps and that is when the spark was lit. I never went back to fashion and began my pursuit toward creativity. I’m so glad I never looked back.
How would you describe your artwork?
Gestural, expressive, often bold, intuitive. Capturing moments of both grit and beauty.
Can you describe your creative process? How does it go from the start to finish?
At this point in my career, I’m always working, always painting and just trying to find my way through the piece. I often like to grasp onto a concept and work in a series that explores that concept and just see where it goes. I don’t have a pre-meditated palette, I just work. If I’m working on a figurative series it takes a lot of time, thought, and planning. As an example, my latest figurative series was on paper. So I had about 8-10 pieces going at the same time. All the paper has to be prepped and taped, and then I comb through hundreds of poses and select the ones that stand out. I might do a few studies before I dive in, but for the most part I just start working on all of them at once, going back to each one to progress them further. I have found if I work this way, one usually takes the lead and then informs the others. You ultimately infuse each one with that life force energy that day. It feels magical in a way.
What's your favorite part of the process?
I love the beginning. Always have. It’s where you can be free to play, to explore, to start without the pressure of trying to finish something or trying it make it great in some way. I think for artists that are publicly putting themselves and their work out there on a regular basis, there can be constant pressure (notably internally) to show up and produce beautiful work day after day. And congratulations to all the artists that are able to do that, but I find that you need to make some duds in between. It’s a practice for a reason. A daily one. Every painting is an opportunity to learn what works, what doesn’t, how it makes you feel, what you like and what you don’t. I actually love all of that, and every painting provides a new problem to solve.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I think I'm like most creatives - we look and find inspiration everywhere in our daily lives. I don’t generally go out and seek to be inspired. It’s the way the light hits something and produces a beautiful shadow, it’s the sky's never-ending and constantly-changing beauty. It’s the natural landscape, or the color of anything and everything. I do like to take a lot of photos if something catches my eye— it’s better to try and capture it in that moment so you have reference to return to, and try to remember what it was about it that struck you. There is no such thing as waiting for inspiration to start work. At least not for me. You paint whether you feel inspired or not, and more often than not it ends up being the act of painting that inspires me most. When I’ve done something that I haven’t done before, when I feel I’m breaking ground on a painting, when I’m letting the painting talk back to me in a way…
Are there any particular artists who have inspired you?
In my early career I would say that the one artist that really spoke to me was Richard Diebenkorn. I was immediately drawn to his work, both his figurative work and especially his Ocean Park series. Many years back, the Baltimore Museum of Art did a retrospective of his work alongside Matisse. So I hopped in the car, and made the trip solo. That show left such a mark on me. I remember walking through the exhibit feeling so connected to the work, so inspired by both Diebenkorn and Matisse’s nudes… and then I walked into the last room and found the Ocean Park paintings. I had full goosebumps and frankly felt a little teary eyed. It was awe-inspiring. The color, the scale— I mean, these are HUGE paintings. To be able to experience that was just incredible. Perhaps that is where I felt this pull to want to paint large-scale someday. Lately I’ve been wanting to see more of Joan Mitchell’s work in person. I’m looking forward to hitting up some museums in New York City this summer.
Where do you do your best work?
Well, I just moved into this gorgeous 1,000 square foot studio, with 25 foot-high ceilings, and it is without a shadow of a doubt, my dream studio. I actually can’t believe it’s mine. I walk into the space every day and literally pinch myself. It has amazing light, good karma, and inspires me to work. And, I still have my home studio which has its own magic too. I’m beyond grateful for these spaces to create freely.
Each of your paintings tends to have a main palette, but you often add accents in really bold, unique, and/or complementary colors. How do you make decisions when it comes to your color choices?
This one is kind of hard to describe because it really does come pretty intuitively if I’m being honest. I’ve always been drawn to work that has a tiny amount of grit to it, or even something that at first glance might make you think, "What’s going on here?" I like that unpredictable, bright pink mark. I like the smear of charcoal. I like putting down many layers of acrylic and then going in with oils and - my favorite - R&F oil sticks. I love the buttery marks and remnants that remain after drawing with them. Sorry— I think I might have gone off topic there. Back to color! I do feel that my time in the fashion industry really developed my eye for color. It was color all day, every day. Just in clothes. Before presentations, I would spend hours merchandising the collections making them feel cohesive, yet making sure there were interesting moments happening within. It’s a dance— and I’m never going to be a painter who just paints pretty grey landscapes. You need to look elsewhere if that’s what you want. I’m always going to be interacting with color, trying to find ways to make unpredictable color combinations work.
In addition to your abstract paintings, you’re also an accomplished figurative painter. Do you feel that one body of work informs the other? How did you end up finding a comfortable space for two bodies of work that at first glance, are quite different from one another?
This is a long one, are you sure you have time for it? The figurative work for me has been something of a passion project, I guess. I’ve always loved the figure and have been fond of painters who can capture the female form so eloquently. In the beginning, I wanted to have some skill attached to my abstract work. I wanted people to know that I could draw this or I could paint that. The thing was, once I started taking live drawing classes, I was hooked and I just wanted it to become part of my practice. And just for the record, I was unskilled and could hardly draw a stick figure. But I made it my mission to learn— and I did.
I would agree that at first glance my abstract and figurative paintings are quite different from one another… but I think after you sit with both bodies of work you begin to see many similarities even though the subject matter is completely different. For instance, I find that I tend to be free when I’m loose with the brush. I’m happiest when I can move my entire body and try to get away from being “tight” if that makes. I generally like to keep my work very gestural, regardless of whether the piece is abstract or figurative. Even when I’m working on portraits, which I don’t do often…they are extremely loose, full of gesture and marks and much more expressive than if I were trying to render something super realistically. I’ve never been interested in going there, I’m much more intrigued with the emotion that comes from line and mark-making and big gestural strokes.
I will say though, that when working on the figure, I do want some semblance of accuracy. And that, sometimes, is hard to achieve when you are trying to balance abstraction. When I merge the two, it feels pretty special and unique to me. My goal is to spend some more time developing these figures because I truly love the work.
At the end of the day, I just have to decide: Do I have room in my practice for both? I hope so. Why do I have to choose one thing, or even one tight style? Can we be free to explore? These are questions I ask myself every day.
From your first painting to those you create now, how has your work changed overall?
Oh wow, if you only you could have seen my first abstract, or still life painting for that matter. Pretty scary! There is constant evolution in my work, and I think until I have about fifteen years under my belt, I expect there to be more. I’m still green as they say, and part of my process is to follow the things that excite me, to try things I haven’t tried before. I’ve always been someone who gets bored easily, which is a blessing and a curse as I feel like I’m all over the place. It’s hard to stay on one path when I feel I’m constantly getting pulled in so many directions. But to answer the question, it has changed a lot. I now am in more control of what I’m trying to communicate rather than just slopping and moving paint around.
What do you find most challenging as an artist?
Oh, this is a great question! I think the constant highs and lows of the artist life is the thing that I find so challenging. It just feels like a rollercoaster of emotions. You can have an amazing day in the studio where everything is working, followed by a terrible day — or week! You prepare for a big show, the show opens, and then it’s over and you feel deflated. You sell a huge painting, you do a happy dance, and then you’re onto the next. It’s a never ending roller coaster!
Did the pandemic affect your creative process at all?
Not really, to be honest. It was really the first three months that was the hardest. I had two kids at home, so it felt almost impossible to work. Luckily I had my home studio, so I was able to get to work in small bursts. I found that I started to work pretty small, which I never do, but it felt manageable that way. Once my little guy went back to pre-school it was "game on." I got back to wor k and almost like the pandemic wasn’t there. I work solo, always have, and that didn’t change.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self as an artist, what would it be?
Don’t try to rush your creative voice. You don’t have to sell anything right away. You can take the time to discover who you want to be, what you want to say before putting yourself out there.
In 5 words or less, what is your goal as an artist?
Why is this so hard? Make work that moves you.
Now for something different: Coffee or tea?
100% coffee, and then some more coffee.
Are you a morning person or night person?
Definitely morning. I feel the most creative and ready to tackle projects early in the morning. When I had my home studio, I used to get up before the kids, put in an hour before they woke up, and then return once I got them off to school.
A day at the beach or a day hiking in the mountains?
Why do you have to torture me with these kinds of questions? How can I pick between my two favorites? I’m going to go with the hike… there is nothing like moving your body and being active in nature.
Warm weather or cold weather?
I actually really love them both. Remember I’m from Upstate New York! Growing up we were all about snowmobiling, skiing, and snowboarding. Nowadays though, I’ll take the warmth. Give me the beach every time.
Camping or luxury hotel?
Yeah, I’m going to go with luxury hotel. Who doesn’t like to get pampered?!
What’s your favorite place on earth?
It's either my bed, or Italy. Let’s go with Italy. By far, the best vacation of my life, and I can’t wait to go back. Florence, Venice, walking all of the hill towns of the Cinque Terre — the colorful houses and harbors, hiking the cliff side. The food! Just amazing. I’ve only been there once, but I think it might have been my favorite place on the planet.
What do you do in your free time?
What is this free time you speak of? Ha! My weekends usually revolve around the kids at this point, since I have a five-year-old and a twelve-year-old. But if I can take a few minutes to do something for me, I just love being outdoors. I like hiking, a leisurely bike ride, walking the beach, staring into the clouds, gardening. And I’ve begun to develop a green thumb with the help of my mom.
To see all art by Kelly Rossetti, visit her Artist Page, or learn more about Quiet Moments, an exhibition which ends August 1, 2021, in which Kelly's work is featured alongside Daniel Pollera's traditional seascapes.
You can also watch our live studio tour and Q&A below, where we go a little further in depth on the topics discussed above.