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Neill takes uncommon approach to her art

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
SUMMIT DAILY NEWS
Special to the Daily
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Kia Neill grew up with two artistic parents: Her mom illustrated children’s books, and her dad worked as a brand and logo designer. So, you’d think they wouldn’t bat an eye when she told them she wanted to be a fine artist. And, sure, they were encouraging, but more so toward the commercial and advertising side of art, which is the only way they knew how to make money artistically. But Neill had something else in mind.

“I always knew I wanted to be in fine arts,” she said, adding that she didn’t want her creativity dictated by other people’s agendas. “I had my own ideas I wanted to explore.”

She said it took awhile for her parents to realize she could make a living at fine art, but after her graduate school education, they were impressed by the quality of her work.

Neill began her college degree by

concentrating on oil painting, but at

the “last minute,” she switched her emphasis to ceramics.

“I liked clay because it is so tactile and sensual and a very meditative medium,” she said. “Something was coming out of me, and something was coming out of the clay.”

The three-dimensional medium led her to start playing around with “tacky” and interesting items she found at garage sales and within her other wanderings. She compares that phase of her life to the bad neighbor boy in “Toy Story,” who ripped apart toys and made them into Frankenstein creatures. Her pieces portrayed doll-like qualities, with eyes and mouths, but she eventually moved away from caricatures and ventured into new textures and environments, which she called “visual sensations.”

Lately, she’s been looking at how commercial manufacturers depict nature through fake plants, gold-plated shells, silk flowers and even wallpaper.

“While they’re totally fake and synthetic … in a way, they are very real because they represent a cultural perspective of how we view nature,” she said.

For a time, she created large-scale installations, which she admits are not easy to sell simply because of their size, so she relied on grants and stipends to support that kind of work. Now, she’s focusing on smaller “fantasy artifacts,” which can sell in galleries. And her main income stems from teaching art and working full time at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

“I’m super high energy,” she said. “I’m constantly active. I don’t ever stop working.”

As a result, she appreciates her time at the Tin Shop in Breckenridge, where she doesn’t have to worry about freelance deadlines and enjoys studio space that isn’t full of her unfinished projects.

Her latest theme, which she’s working on in Breckenridge, involves coral reefs and other things found in the sea that are “not a plant and not an animal at the same time,” she said. She creates sea crustaceans and oyster shells out of epoxy clay and gold leaf, rhinestones and various fibers.

“When I exhibit them, at first glance, people think they’re real shells,” she said. “It’s not what I intended, but it’s an awesome reaction.”

She’s also working on a series of paintings in which the imagery looks like a microorganism or an x-ray of a single-celled animal or jellyfish.

“They’re pictures of possible life forms that could have lived in my fictional coral (pieces),” she said.

She tends to produce her paintings untraditionally; she begins with a puddle of paint, thinned with water, then moves the puddle around with a blow dryer. She originally intended to allow the puddle to dry on its own, but her impatience led her to use a hair dryer.

“It’s hard to control, and I have no idea if it’s going to work out,” Neill said.

“Kia is an innovative mixed media artist that can transform everyday objects into imaginary worlds to explore,” said Jenn Cram, Breck arts district coordinator.

Wednesday, Neill will host a public workshop on making small objects, such as beads and pendants through an Egyptian, pasty type of ceramic clay. The ancient form only lends itself to small pieces, because the substance is quite fragile. As it dries, moisture in the clay causes crystals to form on the glaze. Then, in the kiln it turns “all kinds of beautiful colors.”

“It’s a fun, and pretty, medium,” Neill said.


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