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Conversations with Kelly Schrader

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelly Schrader.

Alright, thank you for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us how you got started?
I was born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Art was always there – I was always drawn to visual expression, especially as a shy child hiding behind my parents’ legs, unable to voice my order at McDonald’s, or running in absolute fear from the sound of a ringing phone. As a kid, I spent most of my free time drawing and, at one point, even created a self-published comic series to a circulation of all 4 family members. The validation of someone seeing a drawing, understanding that content, and even laughing at the ideas I was trying to represent was thrilling. Non-verbal communication is so crucial to social interaction. Still, the tools one needs to sharpen those skills are typically dampened by mainstream schools and workplaces prioritizing public speaking and writing abilities; as a child who never felt comfortable publicly expressing themselves verbally, being able to communicate visually seemed spiritual or transcendent of the limitations of spoken language.
On top of that, sharing humor and laughter made perfect sense to me, and to this day, I have only ever felt close to people who laughed with me or could make me laugh. There is something sacred in using humor as a communication tool. I could talk for ages with someone about the deepest depths of humanity and never feel more than a surface-level connection, but if we’re able to share a laugh? That’s love.

That shy child has slowly been replaced by this grown person who talks to strangers near-daily. When I tell people I used to be a shy child, they never believe me. My parents have told me how proud they were; they no longer have to worry that I would bury myself in the sand and hide away from the world forever. Communicating with others successfully has helped me learn and grow, and I like to think it has helped those around me as well. Having more verbal communication tools has allowed me to not be so literal in my art. The more I learn to speak up in my personal life, and the more elusive my process and art identity can become. I used to have to say everything through my work because I couldn’t say it myself. There’s freedom in losing concern for being understood.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Overcoming obstacles is a constant theme in the stories of all our lives. The only way to grow is to be uncomfortable. I’ve had many things go wrong. I’ve been rejected from countless residencies, artist calls, jobs, and people. Being an artist is signing up for a lifetime of rejection. You must be willing to face a sea of “no” s every day. Not everyone will understand, nor should they. Some “no” s will be harder than others, but there is always something to learn. A vital truth, which I believe is true for most people, if not everyone, is that the biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome every day is myself. It honestly feels inauthentic to list how the world has challenged me because we are all in the same boat, getting hit by the same storms. I’m mainly just thankful for the blessings I’ve had – I don’t want to keep track of the failures.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Everything I make is original and handmade, and I’m always exploring new techniques and ideas. Experimentation with materials is something that has been a constant in my work. I rotate through different processes for different projects. I make a lot of small-scale items and multiples that I sell at markets and community pop-ups. Some examples are carved block prints and prints of digital illustrations, ceramic vessels and small objects, screen-printed upcycled apparel, collages, and vinyl stickers. I get recognized a lot for my Boobface series, which consists of various illustrations featuring a genderless figure whose face is a large breast. There are a ton of boobs on my Instagram page, naturally! I try to keep a sense of humor alive in these works and hopefully never take myself too seriously.

Separate from these multiples, I have a more serious art practice that I usually work on very slowly and behind the scenes. I’ve exhibited these works in galleries across multiple states, and it is within these assemblages that my actual practice lies. I use found and recycled materials to create fiber sculptures. Most of them are suspended in some way, typically in a rigid frame made of wood, clay, or other salvaged materials. These works are much more personal to me as well as enjoyable. I focus on themes of identity and duality of the self within my assemblages – I find myself living in the areas where disgust and beauty overlap or intersect. These works are time-consuming to make and are process and concept heavy.

More recently, I’ve done several street art festivals and mural projects. I’m proud to have placed or won every festival I’ve done so far, and I hope to do more live events in the future! I currently have one mural in downtown Raleigh, with several other projects in the works. Murals are an excellent way for me to engage with the community I live in. While the market has proven very difficult to tap into, I have nothing but excitement about the future of my public art projects.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank or give credit to?
The best support system I’ve had in my life started at home. I am lucky to have two parents who supported, encouraged, and actively participated in my art career. Who else has parents who react with gleeful approval when shown a new drawing of a boobface? Or eager to wear a shirt that says “boobface is watching” in giant block letters? Not only wear it but tout it as their “fancy shirt”?
My parents are special people, and everything I am is due to them.

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