'Artists can do as they please. There are no rules you need to follow. Learn as you go, but what doesn’t serve your purposes and desires for your work can be discarded.'
Kimberly Dow is an American fine artist. Her paintings explore contemporary narratives using the genre of figurative realism. She has exhibited and received awards nationally and internationally, and her work has been showcased in many publications and collections around the world.
Do you prefer to work in silence or does certain music inspire you?
It depends on the day. Most days it is music, sometimes just an old favorite tv series on in the background for company. Occasionally I am so into it that I have not noticed the music has stopped. I have to keep the music low though – I have occasionally found myself moving to the music enough that I messed up the painting. The style of music has changed so many times, it would be hard to come up with any one type. Right now I am listening to a lot of banjo picking and old-time southern religion gospel as it goes with and is inspiring a series I am working on.
Studio life can lead to isolation, how do you address this/ keep a balance?
I am one of those true introverts. I can be the life of the party, but I NEED time alone – lots and lots of time alone. I have never met anyone who can spend as much time alone as I can and be healthy, but I truly love it. My husband is similar in that way – we go our ways creatively, then get together for quality time. If he needs time, I give it and when I am feeling the muse and working ridiculously, he is thrilled for me. There is a quote by Georgia O’Keefe I’ve used often and it is about all those things you do that seem necessary, such as grocery shopping. But really, it is all just in the way of getting back to painting. Do not get me wrong, I have a large family and love them, but they also know I get impatient if I have gone too long without painting.
Describe a moment you had an epiphany concerning your creative life.
I think this was when I realized I could do what I wished. Once I stopped listening to outside influences about how if I want to keep selling, it must be young thin models. Or how I should worry about what people would buy. Or judge me for being vain if I painted self-portraits. I heard all these things and more. I realized I could make this personal. Some of the paintings could be about me. I was worthy of a painting. My life and narrative is interesting. Before that, it seems that I painted all ‘pretty girls in white dresses’. They were selling, but… I had things to say and I realized I could. It is sometimes about me - at other times it is relatable narratives or political statements or whatever. And it doesn’t have to be pretty. And it doesn’t have to be ‘nice’. I can literally paint whatever I want. This still amazes me. It was a particular mouthy ex that had to go and then my world opened up to all the possibilities. I try not to limit myself anymore. My newest series is beautiful to look at, but was literally inspired by my daughters past drug addiction. Years and years ago I could never have imagined telling a narrative like that. Years ago I might tell an ugly story in there, but it was hidden so far down no one would know what it meant. Now I am free to share the personal meanings about my paintings – which means I can be more obvious with symbolism if I choose to. It is just…freedom, beautiful freedom to be and paint what I wish.
What is your favorite/ least favorite part of the creative process?
Losing myself when sitting in front of the easel is my favorite. Those days it just flows and you forget to eat. The days you are creating something beautiful and it is as if you are outside yourself watching someone else do magic. On those days you wish your body could stay going just a little longer.
Describe an obstacle you have faced and how did you overcome it.
Is having children an obstacle? *laugh* It definitely can be and I chose to have three of those obstacles. How did I overcome that and still be a good mother? I did not sleep, that simple. I lived on caffeine and stayed up late into the nights painting. I would catch cat naps when I could. Those baby gates that you usually put your children in? I put it around me and my painting area so they could not get into it. I was fenced in painting while the kids played outside that area, but within my site line. My kitchens and dining rooms through the years were make-shift studios when needed. It wasn’t a real conscious choice for me, I just did it because it was my obsession.
Nature versus nurture- do you believe you have inherited abilities from creative parents, do you have creative siblings? Can you identify environmental factors or influences which led to your choices or directions?
I have an aunt who paints beautifully and my biological father could draw horses, I am told. Other than that it has just been an obsession since I was small. I can not remember a time I did not draw. One of my grandparents who lived in Maine was always my favorite simply because he always kept a drawer full of white paper for me to use as much as I wanted. I added painting in high school. There was never another thing I wanted to do, except be an artist. My children say I am lucky that way and I suppose I am. Never any insecurity or wonder about what it was I wanted. To be as specific as I can, there may have been a spark of genetic talent, but my obsession with the activity caused me to learn and grow into someone who could someday become a professional. Being an only child helped as well. Art and reading were my companions.
If you could time travel, what advice would you give the younger you, regarding pursuing your artmaking?
I would tell younger me to stop limiting myself to still lives and landscapes. I did not really paint people until I was 30 or so. I had some kind of fear of even trying as I had carved out gallery representation and even a solo show for those genres. I was gallery represented at 20, so I felt lucky and stuck at the same time. Once you develop an ego about your work, bravery can take a back seat. It took me wanting to paint my children to give it a shot. Those first paintings were awful, but I already had skills… so learning after that went fast. I was painting in acrylic previously – so not only did I need to learn figures, but how to handle oil paint as well. It was the best thing I ever did for myself. I can not imagine ever going back to just landscapes or still lives when people are so damn fascinating.
How does your work respond to social trends?
I hope it does not. That is probably not true though. I do know that the whole ‘empowerment’ movement for women was something I was already doing, but it felt a bit good to realize it wasn’t just me who wanted to be powerful and strong and brave and even vain at times. The whole lady-like thing I knew earlier in life was such a drag. There were plenty of female artists being brave out there, but my lack of a formal education means I did not see enough of them. I wish I had been exposed to feminist art earlier in my life.