Art at Heart

How local artist Kelly Merkur is using quarantine to dedicate herself to her work

Kelly MerkurWhile Kelly Merkur was earning her bachelor’s degree in textile design at the University of Kansas, she purposefully managed to avoid all painting electives. “I think I was intimidated by it,” she says.

Though she did work in the textile industry, she set her art aside to focus on raising her daughters. But just last month, the Parkland resident relaunched her artist website where she sells original abstract paintings, a sort of culmination of the new artistic journey that started a few years ago. When her mother, a painter, visited from Oklahoma, Merkur planned for them to take a painting class together. Though her mother couldn’t make it, Merkur took the class on her own, experiencing her own artistic epiphany.

“It was kind of this light-bulb, ‘aha’ moment that this was what I had been missing in my life since I stopped working,” she says.

With new inspiration, Merkur started painting pet portraits, but also found herself attracted to abstract style. A class in abstract painting provided another “aha” moment, leading her to discover her own style. Though she does continue to do commissions of pet portraits, most of the work on her Instagram page are abstracts featuring swaths and patterns of cool colors juxtaposed with warm, feminine colors as well as subtle repetition of shapes and patterns picked up from her textile background.

“Most of my work has some type of pink in it. … There seems a theme of female empowerment—the idea that being feminine and strong aren’t mutually exclusive—that you can be both,” Merkur says. “I would say it’s my main inspiration.”

Since then, she’s been featured in shows at the Coral Springs Art Museum, the city of Pembroke Pines’ 15th annual Art Competition at Studio 18, Broward Art Guild and Cornell Art Museum. She’s also a member of Women in the Visual Arts, the Coral Spring Artist Guild.

Like many artists across the world, Merkur has been sheltering at home where her artistic process takes root.

What quarantine means for an artist. I always said to my husband, I was wishing I could devote more time to all of it: to the painting and to the business side of it. … This quarantine has almost been a gift to me of the time I didn’t have before. I’ve been able to paint more. I’ve been able to focus more. I kind of almost feel like I have a full-time job because I’m working at it every day while we’re home.

Routines. I have certain workouts I do on certain days. Some days are my studio days and other days I spend on the computer. Every day in the studio is different. It’s not that I’m necessarily painting. I’ve got a watercolor commission of a dog portrait that I did one day, and some days are just finishing painting stuff that I’ve been working on. Other days, I have to have that inspiration to feel ready to create, and some days are better than others for that.

Pros and cons. I do like to be alone and paint. But I was taking a class at the Boca Raton Museum of Art school, and I miss that camaraderie, feeding off each other’s creative energy. So in a way, that’s been hard that I don’t have that anymore. But … it’s interesting when you’re painting alone and nobody’s watching, you might make different choices or try something a little more daring than you would when you feel like other people are watching what you’re doing.

Quarantine process. Music’s a huge part of it for me. I always try to paint from a place of joy and happiness, so I don’t usually paint if I’m upset about something. I try to play happy music. I light a candle to set the mood. My dog’s always in there with me. And I just go for it.

Expanding creativity. I’m planning to start doing more Instagram Lives. I have an idea for a series of Lives that take it from the very beginning where I have a blank canvas and how I go through the whole process to the finished product. [Editor’s Note: Merkur has started an Instagram Live series focusing on a new series of paintings about life lessons.]

Advice for other creatives in quarantine. I think that people always just think, “I can’t do that. I’m not an artist.” You have to kind of deflect the intimidation or the fear of it. If you’re painting, you don’t need an eraser. You don’t need to start over. You don’t need to throw it away. Don’t be intimidated. Just keep going. Just use whatever feels intuitive. What the hell? Try it.

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