Lea Kelley: An Abstract Expansionist

Lea Kelley: An Abstract Expansionist
Last month I wrote a brief introductory article about a wonderful Bellingham, Wa. artist named Lea Kelley. She is active in her community, is a delightful and insightful person who has proven herself to not only be a very educated and technical artist, but also as someone who thinks in deep and abstract ways about the world, and our place in it. Kelley has described herself as an abstract expansionist. This is intriguing, so while there are many other things that could be said about Kelley, her art, her philosophy, or her observations, the thing I want to focus on is this idea of being an abstract expressionist.
Abstract Expansionism is a term worthy of exploration, not only because it isn’t something we are very familiar with, but because of the implications it carries. It is difficult to pin down exactly what we are to make of the terms, but I think worth a try.
A picture of a maple tree is a picture of a maple tree. It is not an abstraction in and of itself. It represents something real in the real world. Interpreting such a picture is simple. We look at it, we connect with what we know about maple trees, and we move on. To look at a picture that for some reason makes us think of, or reminds us of, a tree is quite another proposition. It requires interpretation.
Interpreting an abstraction requires us to draw on many different things; things like: personal and shared experiences, memories, intuitions, beliefs about the world, emotional highs and lows, betrayals, loves, and our expectations about the world around us. Those sorts of things are like tools that help us interpret depictions that don’t actually look like anything in the real world. We see the figures and colors, we process, we conclude. There is no right or wrong.
Abstractions require us to think. They require that we try to connect with those parts of self that often go unrevealed, or even buried under layers of everyday cares or thoughtless humdrum activity. Lea Kelley has discovered that through abstract art, those underlying aspects, or connections, can be brought to the forefront and thereby translated into real value for each observer, as well as for the larger community that we are all a part of. This expansion of the way we interpret, to the way we think and act, is perhaps one of the ways we can best understand what it means to be an abstract expansionist. To look at a Lea Kelley piece it to experience it. It is an enlivening experience. Her pieces, like her, are both complicated yet simple, challenging yet freeing.
Lea Kelley paints something that she wants to represent, but has absolutely no control over how an observer is going to interpret what is painted. This is something she is comfortable with because it lets others apply, or expand, their own experiences to the art. This metaphoric expansion of art is what I think is at the heart of the definition. But that’s just my take on it.