By on March 15, 2018

Intimate, vibrant art with theatrical underpinnings debuts at the Center

JACKSON HOLE, WY – A couple years ago, Kathleen Herlihy-Paoli was in a second-hand shop sifting through bins of junk when she came across a strange metal tool. She had no idea what it was or what it was meant to do, but it looked like a figure to her and she wanted to paint it.

She isn’t sure why she placed it on a stage but she did, and she liked it. That painting began a series of surreal works Herlihy-Paoli created by putting objects like a feather on a curtain stage.

“I guess I sort of felt that if I put something on stage it made it more important,” she said. “Even if it’s just a simple glass of water, it sort of elevates it a bit.”

The Montana artist will show a series of 16 of these paintings in a show called “Act Three” at the Theater Gallery in the Center for the Arts.

Herlihy-Paoli began the series several years ago after a stretch of several difficult years in her life. While she didn’t want to share specifics, she did note many of the paintings were about water and fire. “That’s what we lived through those last few years,” she said.

Herlihy-Paoli grew up in Connecticut. Her father was a mathematician, but she and her two sisters became artists and her brother became a chef. “We all ran from math,” she said.

Instead theater inspired Herlihy-Paoli. The family often went into New York City to see dance and plays. Her mother would sing a show tune and quiz the kids to name the production it was from.

“The theater reflects truths about our culture and lives and has always held up a mirror, allowing us to see ourselves and society more clearly,” she said in her artist statement.

The works in her new exhibition are oil on canvas. Many have beads or buttons sewed into the canvas, a nod to her grandmother, a seamstress who raised four children on her own and sent them all to college. She was a woman who would buy fabric by the bolt to make her 18 grandchildren matching outfits. But it was her grandmother’s fortitude and tenacity that Herlihy-Paoli admired the most.

The paintings are a departure from her previous work, starting with the bright colors. Herlihy-Paoli uses an actual object as a model for her paintings, but the stage and the curtains come from her imagination.

“Because they are made up there doesn’t have to be any color reference,” she said. “They can be whatever I want them to be.”

Herlihy-Paoli sews the buttons and beads onto the paintings after the paint has dried and she’s sealed the work.  She creates the paintings with the finishing touches in mind and often knows where they will go.

The show’s title, “Act Three,” reflects an obvious theater theme, with the curtains and stages.  But it is also a reference to where Herlihy-Paoli is in her life. At 61, she sees it as entering her third act.

Herlihy-Paoli’s exhibit is the first show of the year in the Theater Gallery. She is one of six artists a jury selected for the space, said Carrie Richer, creative initiatives coordinator at the Center for the Arts.

“I think what was really impactful about Kathleen’s submission was it really related to the unique aspect of the space so well,” Richer said. “[It] highlights the other programs that are happening here. There’s not a lot of art that can stand on its own and reference the other cool things that happen here, too.”

The work saturates the hallway with color. It is obviously personal to Herlihy-Paoli, which adds depth to her work and to the experience of those who view it, Richer said. It will make her artist talk especially interesting, she added.

“It’s a cool way to experience someone’s work through their eyes” she said.

Act Three opens Thursday and hangs through April 16 at Center for the Arts. Herlihy-Paoli will give an artist talk from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday; the gallery will host a reception at 5:30 p.m.

About Kelsey Dayton

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