By Monica Morones
Multi-media artist Sallé Kirby has been an influence in the art community with her bright, expressive and beautiful work. Photographer, painter, printmaker, are just a few of the many subjects this talented woman is gifted at. I first met Kirby in a photography class and I was instantly drawn to her charisma and her perspective on art. When she speaks about art you can tell it flows through every fiber of her being. Her pieces are evocative; some having political and social issues and some more personal, always with her bright abstract touch. Her work is currently showing at the “Then & Now” art show at Venus Art Studios in Palm Desert and is up until May 23rd. She is currently in the process of working on a series called “Expressive Color In Depth” and I look forward to seeing her new work when she is ready to unveil it.
MM: How old are you and where are you from?
SK: Really, how old am I? Let’s just say I’m in the mature stage of my life (smiling). I’m originally from New Jersey but I’ve lived in California over 20 years and Los Angeles most of my adult life. I came to the Coachella Valley to care for and be closer to my mom in 2008. It took a minute to get used to living here full time but this place is my vortex of inspiration.
MM: How did you get into art?
SK: My oldest sister said I’ve been making art since I could hold a crayon. She remembers us playing with my watercolor set and I only had one good brush with the bristles. So because this was my toy my mom wanted to teach me how to share and let my sister use the good brush with the bristles and then she showed me how to use the stick by dripping it into the paint to make marks. My sister said once I knew how to do that I was content because I was really angry that she had the good brush which was stopping my flow of creativity. I was that kid who always bought a paint-by-numbers set when I went to the store. I was content with being alone or playing by myself as long as I was drawing. I would sit with my brother while he read comic books and I would draw Archie and Kung Fu comic figures. You might not remember the TV Guide but it’s this antiquated book that used to have a drawing contest each week. It was always of some animal caricature. My mom sent in my entry and the next thing we know this guy is at the house trying to sell a $10,000 workbook course to make me a better artist. I was around ten. This was definitely not in my single mother’s budget so she brought me an expensive oil paint kit that I was terrified to use.
MM: What would you describe as your style?
SK: I don’t think I have a style per se, I think I have a fluidity to how I create. I feel it’s because I’m more self-taught, I’m not limited to a particular process of repetitive training. This is a blessing and a curse. It’s hard when I look back at certain work and “I’m like damn how did I do that.” It’s really about trial and error for me when I’m working but maybe Expressionist is a title I might use for now; either through color or subject matter. Currently I’m enrolled at COD taking two art history classes. I’m learning so much about different artists that it’s mind-boggling. I see myself in a lot of their work. I feel . . . I’m a little bit of this and little bit of that. I don’t want to be placed in a box because I like to play with different materials and I’m constantly learning.
MM: You are a painter and a photographer, what do you tend to gravitate to more?
SK: There really is no difference between the two they’re both my tools. I’ve been taking pictures since I was about 4 years old. My first picture was my parents and I chopped off their heads but their bodies was perfectly huge and in focus. I was always the one in the family that wanted to take pictures. Getting people together trying to make them smile and capture the best moment. Underneath my yearbook picture it states my career path as photographer. My graduation gift was my first Nikon camera E series. Photography helps me record my world frame by frame. It’s also my references to transition into painting. When I seriously started painting, it was the early nineties. What’s funny is I had no clue that the styles of art I loved could not be achieved in acrylic. This was the only medium I had ever worked in. So when I tried to get the effects of impasto oil paintings, it was not happening. But I wasn’t going to stop trying and that’s how I got into the overlaying of colors trying to emulate how oil paint works. So I developed this layer technique I liked.
MM: What influential artists have inspired you?
SK: Wow, I’m in love with Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele. Their work is so troubled and distorted it’s amazing. I see this beautiful tension of flowing colors and brush strokes and I like their back stories. In the early part of the 21st century artists were really like rock stars. One present artist that I’m really digging is Hung Liu. She’s a Chinese -American artist that makes oil paints bleed in a good way. How she applies her washes of oil paint outstanding. I love how she brings life to dead memories by working from historical photographs of Chinese prostitutes, war refugees and poor villagers. Her paintings are timeless history. Others are Charles Briggs, Chuck Close, Kehinde Wiley and Alexa Meade, really too many to name. What influences is how their work moves me.
MM: Where have you shown your work?
SK: I’ve been fortunate to show my work at Michael H.Lord Gallery in Palm Springs; the J. Willott Gallery on El Paseo where on opening night my piece sold to an art collector in San Francisco; also, the Mark H. Arts Center in Palm Desert and at Venus Studio Gallery in Palm Desert, Ca.
MM: What do you think of the art scene in the Coachella Valley?
SK: I think it’s up and coming with a lot of diversity. There’s a lot of Pop up galleries happening, which is great because it gives the artist exposure and it gives the public an opportunity to see some work more frequently. Some galleries are representing a lot of the local artists which is great. Venus Studio Gallery, in Palm Desert has at least two or three community shows throughout the year. I’m currently in the show “Then & Now” with the faculty and alumni of College of the Desert running until May 23rd.
MM: Do you feel it supports up and coming artists?
SK: For me the Coachella Valley has opened up opportunities that might have taking me longer if I was still in Los Angeles. I think the community is starting to see a need and wants to represent the diversity in a lot of local artists. You know they still have their Desert scenes which is always going to be a part of the Coachella Valley but there’s a need for young “out the box” artist like La Maniaca who brings a new face to retro. Then you have “mad groovy dope” graffiti artist that are coming up who are phenomenal and they need that exposure.
MM: What is your favorite subject to photograph?
SK: People and nature. Especially children when I can get them to laugh. I love to capture a stillness in a person’s thoughts too. Nature helps me see how life is formed. I took a picture of this squished lemon on the ground and watched this ant carry off the pieces. Those are my favorite subjects.
MM: What is your biggest struggle as an artist?
SK: Transitioning from working a 9 to 5 job with some form of security, to putting 250% in what I know is my destiny.
MM: What is the root of your inspiration?
SK: That’s really hard to say. I’m inspired by so much but if I had to choose, I would say. . . just about everything. I can’t choose but I think the root comes from what moves me, good, bad or indifferent. I have a painting in my head right now. This is a bit morbid but I’m going to share. I was getting into my car when I heard a crash. I knew someone had gotten hit by a car because of the impact of the sound. I called 911 to send help to the area. When I saw this young boy lying on the ground dying, I was paralyzed. His body was so distorted and we couldn’t move him. He was riding his bike one minute and the next he’s lying in front of me taking his last breathe. This is something embedded in my mind and I have to paint it. I may never show the work but this is what it’s like for me as artist. You have all this stuff in your head that has to come out. So this crazy, uncertain, out of control LIFE is the root to my inspiration. “Never forget JUSTICE is what LOVE looks like in public.” – Cornel West.
You can see more of Sallé Kirby’s art at www.facebook.com/salleandart