"You can do whatever it is you set out to accomplish" - Interview to the Californian artist Kim Ferrell
Interview by Rossella Forle’
My first impression of Kim Ferrell was that she is a woman filled with enthusiasm and energy.
Kim paints penetrating portraits of female athletes. She has loved to draw and paint since she was a child and finds working with young women a source of inspiration.
Can you describe your work to someone who may not be familiar with it?
My artwork is inspired by classical realism and contemporary female athleticism. I approach the female figure as heroic, and I enjoy painting women with a bit of defiant attitude.
Why do you paint athletic women? Can you tell me more about this collection of beautiful portraits?
Several years ago I signed up for an art class called Historical Figure Painting at my local community college because my Graphic Design career had turned entirely to technology and I missed drawing and painting.
After completing the class I wanted to continue learning so I created a project for myself. I didn’t see many paintings in classical or contemporary artwork of women that I could relate to. I realised, as both a female artist and an athlete, I had a unique and underserved perspective on the female figure.
I began by painting the women in my own orbit. My daughters’ friends, teammates, and training partners were enthusiastic subjects and the work began to flow out. I find the strong female figure endlessly compelling and the response to my work has been very exciting—especially from young girls. Young women are not shy about approaching me with questions and comments and those interactions are very inspiring.
Is there something particularly relevant between your life experiences and your art?
I am rather shy and reserved by nature and not comfortable with self-promotion; however, as a teenager in the late 1970's I gained community, confidence, and strength through athletics.
Title Nine started a female athletic revolution in which I was lucky enough to take part. Athletics have required me to overcome difficult and painful barriers and I apply the skills I’ve gained to every aspect of my life. As difficult as it can be, I feel it is my duty to challenge myself and to live fearlessly as an example for my daughters. There is an underlying maternal instinct motivating my work.
Your life took many turns, you have been a senior designer, art director for a tech company and you have created your own design company to raise your family, do you think there is space for mums to have a successful career in corporate and tech companies today? Or do you think it is still a man-dominated environment?
Firstly, I should take a moment to acknowledge the intelligent, creative, and professional women and men with whom I have had the good fortune to work. That said, the tech and corporate world is a male dominated environment and the hours and workload are not particularly family friendly. Unfortunately, the most recent evidence from studies on pay equity reveal that women continue to be paid less than men for the same work and struggle more for promotion to executive positions.
Twenty years ago I chose to leave my position as an art director and join the ranks of the self-employed in order to devote more energy to raising my children. At the time, my company didn’t offer job sharing or work-at-home options that might have allowed me to continue in the position. Since then it appears more companies are allowing this kind of flexibility, which I think is essential for healthy families and healthy societies.
Ultimately, I believe that women will be the ones to craft and implement policies guaranteeing pay and opportunity equality, as well as encouraging creative solutions for career flexibility and family life. I believe we are better connected and more determined than ever to fight for the respect and opportunities we all deserve regardless of gender.
Do you have any other artists that you look to as inspiration?
I take a lot of inspiration for composition from contemporary filmmakers and photographers such as Annie Liebovitz and Wes Anderson. I love the soulful portraiture of 18th century painter John Singleton Copley, the palette and energy of Frederic Remington, the graphic simplicity and independent spirit of Georgia O’Keeffe, and the sense of humour and humanity of Norman Rockwell.
What is a myth about women artists you’d like to debunk most?
The idea that women are more suited for craft fairs than for the serious business of fine art.
What makes an art work compelling? Or feminist?
Artwork that makes an emotional connection is most compelling to me. I think of feminism as determined confidence and that is fundamentally what I seek to promote in my own artwork.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
The same advice I give to my older self: BELIEVE. Ignore all of the voices telling you otherwise and believe you can do whatever it is you set out to accomplish.
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