MY LIFE AS A STREET PAINTER IN FLORENCE

WORDS: KELLY BORSHEIM
PHOTOS: PRIVATE ARCHIVES

Sometimes magic happens when you start something in a dramatic and grand way.  Having a mother for an artist, I have always been creating things.  But I saw that being a full-time artist is a difficult life, and thus, I entered university to study another love:  Mathematics.  A counselor told me that I had to take an elective class, which introduced me to a new found passion in photography, especially the dark room printing.  To pay for my education, I took a job in a photography laboratory.

During my eleven years in that business, I moved into restoration of images.   That work led me back to more drawing, painting, and then sculpting.  I guess one can not take the artist out of the girl.  I came to Italy in 2004 to touch a Michelangelo sculpture.  Two years later, this American came back to Florence, Italy, to study classical painting.  It was there that I became a street painter and for the first time in my life, I drew with pastels.

But when I say I started something in a dramatic and grand way, I mean…

Up until that point, I had mostly worked in monochromes:  black and white photography, umber-colored bodies on canvas, and sculptures in stone or bronze, with very little added color.  Pastels are wonderful:  bold, strong pigments and immediate impact!  The loudness of the chroma was shocking to me.  In addition, for my first time using them, I added other new variables to my work:  My paintings were large, horizontal, created while working on my knees or sitting or lying down in a street for an average of 14 hours per day (10 a.m. to midnight), and copies of famous masterpieces of art.  I worked in front of the public instead of privately in my studio.  And thus, everyone saw the process,  and my mistakes.  The whole performance part of street painting fascinated me and led to my writing a book about it, “My Life as a Street Painter in Florence, Italy.”  [It is available on Amazon or from me.]

But this bold move helped me jump into color in a way that I might not have otherwise done.  Color is still not my strong point, but it adds to the tools I have to express what I want, which is often this:  If we can see the beauty and the complex, marvelous designs in the world (especially in our bodies and minds), we will not desire to harm these wondrous things.  I have never understood the need of some people to put others down just to feel better about themselves.  It is not the way of true love.  I do not understand why those two actions would ever need to have any connection.  Everyone can shine.

My process is a very slow one.  I have many ideas.  Some evolve simply by looking at the proportions of a blank canvas and deciding where I want a diagonal line to pass.  I draw it and then leave it to work on other things or search through existing sketches to see if a figure fits the line that I want.  The idea builds as I see the spaces and think of the stories one might imagine.

Other ideas emerge quickly, based on experiences, from a dream or sometimes as a form of therapy.  I dream a lot, actually, during the day when I should be doing other things.  I find myself distracted by light, by shapes and colors in Nature or the architecture around me, constantly distracted.  The moon and clouds get a lot of my attention, as well.

As most artists are, I was taught that in order to survive, one must create a consistent body of work, get really good at it, and keep doing the same type of thing, branding, if you will.  “Only once you are famous will you be able to change your work,” I have often been told.  But is it not odd that a life deemed to be creative should stay with one look or topic for an entire lifetime?  I do not want to self-sabotage, but I do believe that I want to go in many different directions and speak of many subjects.  And do as I please.  I often hear that my work does not look as if it is done by one artist.  A colleague told me that it is difficult to know if my work was done by a man or a woman.  I do not really understand these concerns since my work does not look so varied to me. Perhaps because I believe everything is connected, that all of my different subjects and materials are part of the same path. I am learning and evolving all of the time.

In any event, I continue working on more complicated compositions and in many media, including my beloved pastels.  Thank you for allowing me to share my work with you.

https://www.patreon.com/KellyBorsheim
http://BorsheimArts.com