“The Poet” by Kelly Sullivan


“The Poet” by Kelly Sullivan, 2012. Oil on paper, signed and dated on lower left.

For over twenty years, painter Kelly Sullivan, a pioneer in the field of collaborative art and founder of FingerSmears (Sullivan’s signature method of collaborative painting) has sparked artistic expression and creative fuel in hundreds of thousands of lives.

Born and raised in Clinton Township, New Jersey, Sullivan knew she would be an artist when she was five years old, the year her grandmother surrounded her with paint and repeated simple but encouraging words:  “Don’t be shy with the paint,” a refrain that stuck.

Largely self-taught, Sullivan sold her first artworks (pencil and pastel drawings) living at the Jersey shore in the mid 1980’s,. But she soon found that the solitary nature of creating art didn’t satisfy her hunger for an engaged, socially conscious and collaborative artistic community.

A natural leader and organizer, in 1989, Sullivan produced her first multi-artist “Montage” show (featuring 5 diverse artists) out of the Old Mill Inn in Spring Lake Heights, New Jersey, a well-received exhibition featured on the front page of the Herald Extra and called, “the most innovative show the Jersey shore has seen in some time” on the local TV news.

The first “Montage” planted the seed for a trailblazing list of shows, exhibitions and festivals. Sullivan transplanted to San Francisco in 1990. Shortly after her move to San Francisco Sullivan’s grandmother (the one that taught her to paint) passed away. Kelly invested a small inheritance from her grandmother, coupled by a grant from the Fort Mason Foundation, and the Haagen-Dazs Corporation, to gather 15 diverse artists and produce 94 Montage; a festival that provided a hands-on front row seat to the creative process for the entire community.

In between shows and events, Sullivan traveled to South East Asia and Europe painting her “Faces of the Earth” series through US Servas (an organization that promotes world peace through direct cultural exchange. ). Her travels were depicted in her traditional works and added to the multicultural flavor of her Montage shows.

Forced to worked under the constraints of a tight budget to provide a “painting experience” for guests over a week-long 94 Montage festival, Sullivan invented a collaborative way of painting she called FingerSmears. Incorporating hundreds of painters, FingerSmears used only one canvas, and no brushes.

Since that week in 1994 when Sullivan staged her first FingerSmear, over 80,000 people from around the world have participated in her collaborative paintings. Everyone from Fortune 500 CEO’s, to rock stars and other celebrities (including The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Edie Falco, Carol Burnett, Harrison Ford, and William DeFoe, among many others) have dipped their fingers in paint for Kelly. FingerSmears have continued to shape her career throughout her life.

Launched in a pilot program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, through the Rutgers Future Scholars Program, Mighty Fingers-Facing Change (MFFC) is a two-part experiential art project that has connected and inspired adolescent girls from different areas of the world; Guatemala, Edmonton, Canada, Teton Valley, Idaho, San Francisco, California, and Haiti. MFFC’s next stop is Uganda.

A life-long facilitator of creative expression Sullivan’s art celebrates the complexity and energy of real life, in layers of evocative color, emotion and texture, distinctly present in her own paintings as well as in her public murals and collaborative canvases.

This painting of a young man, titled “The Poet” captures the features reaches into the soul to reveal a strong emotion.  The wide wood frame illuminates the facial features and brings the inner being to life.

Image size: 8″ by 10″

Framed size:  14″ wide x 16″ high

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