Oakland-based multimedia artist Kelly Ording approaches her art practice with the environment, and its rhythms, in mind. Rooted in playful formalism and spatial awareness, Ording uses her surroundings to explore the subtleties of our everyday lives. Her work is guided by an instinctual, often quiet, reaction to the world around her – whether it be to the routines of her two children, to the time of day, or the shifting seasons.
A focus on color theory, balance and line is executed in four distinct series – bright and graphic abstract works, subdued landscapes, sculptural ceramics and public murals. Each of these gestures is meticulous and articulates an acute understanding of shape and form. At a deeper level, they help to metabolize physical and emotional experiences – creating a symbiosis between the artist, our environment, and her work.
The first leg of Ording’s practice comes in the form of precise abstract works that are mathematically informed and highly controlled. The satisfying compositions feature delicately rendered shapes in the form of curves, circles and stately arches that are harmoniously balanced to one another within each configuration. They require long periods of concentration and a mastery of the medium that the artist has been cultivating for years. When asked if she ever messes up the deft linework, she says, “not in a long, long time.”
This part of her practice was born a decade ago out of a need for control amidst the unpredictability of raising her children. Often done at night in the studio, when things are quiet and calm, the artist carries out an unwinding of the day through her reliable and meditative strokes.
Her second series of work is grounded in an exploration of landscape. Though she continues to incorporate abstract linework into some of the pieces, this series is much more organic. Each piece undergoes a method of dip-dyeing where paper is left in ink baths and rotated over the course of days. The technique slowly builds the layered landscapes in a process that leaves much of the composition up to happenstance. The artist was born in the Bay Area and markers of Northern California – the San Francisco Bay, the oceanic fog, and the hilly ranges that line the coast – heavily imbue the work. After having spent months in isolation, the artist became attuned to the subtle shifts in light and color that often went unnoticed when life was moving at a faster speed. The result is a nuanced series of landscapes that revel in cadence and time.
When asked about how she was able to launch as a full-time artist, she attributes two factors – Obamacare and the artist-in-residency programs offered by Silicon Valley’s tech companies early in her career. Though she feels frustrated with tech’s oppressive presence in the area, she appreciates several companies' dedication to Bay Area artists. Programs like these – bolstered by the excessive resources found in both government and tech – are critical for artists to remain working. On her extensive public mural work, she shares, “creating public work is incredibly important to me because I believe art should be a part of everyone’s everyday life. I think it is culturally vital to bring art out of the museum and gallery and into the public space, providing an opportunity for a community to speak about what they see. Successful public art creates a sense of pride and inclusion in a community, as well as engaging spaces.”
This summer, Ording reintroduced sculptural work to her oeuvre. Originally studying ceramics at UC Boulder, she later moved to New Zealand to apprentice with her uncle, a full-time ceramist, before switching to the painting program at the San Francisco Art Institute. Finding it difficult to balance both a painting and ceramics practice, she took a long break from sculptural work to focus on painting. Ording currently splits her time between her home painting studio and the Potter’s Studio in Berkeley. The tactile nature and rawness of the craft have opened new ways of approaching her paintings. She curiously looks forward to how this will affect the course of her output – allowing the rhythm of a new mode of working to shift and guide her practice.
A true artist, Kelly Ording intuitively absorbs and processes the changing world around her – as seen in her three unique methods of artmaking. She seems to effortlessly sync up to the rhythms of everyday life as she incorporates the nuances of daily repetition into her robust practice. Balancing both a full-time career and the schedules of her family, she remains dedicated to her paramount vision. When asked about what advice she’d give to her children, she specifically mentions her daughter. “Pick something you’re passionate about, have something greater that’s driving you – guys are always told to go after what they want, girls need to be told that, too.”
Based in Oakland, California, Kelly Ording has exhibited her work both in the U.S. and Internationally since graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2000. In addition to her works on paper, canvas and collages, Ording has created several large scale public works and murals. Her public works and murals can be seen in San Francisco’s landmark Clarion Alley, the Palega Park Recreation Center in San Francisco, Genentech, the Emeryville Center for Community Life, as well as other locations throughout the Bay Area and Internationally. She has completed residencies at the Facebook Analog Research Laboratory, Menlo Park and Kala Art Institute, Berkeley. Ording recently completed a large-scale paving project on Ocean Avenue in conjunction with the San Francisco Art Commission and the San Francisco Department of Public Works. She was the recipient of the 2020 Kala Art Institute Master Artists Award. Her work is included in several collections; such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art collection, the San Francisco Arts Commission Public and Civic Art Collection, the Alameda County Collection, JP Morgan Chase Collection and the Ellie Mae Collection, to name a few. She currently devotes all her time to her artwork and her family with fellow artist, Jet Martinez.
Specifics for Public Projects Photos
“Swoop (Outside the Window)”, Mural
1298 East 14th Street, San Leandro
“Love in the Time of Corona”, Mural
we work office, San Ramon
“Windmills”, Mosaic Mural
Palega Recreation Center, Felton Street, San Francisco, California
** Commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission
Camp Artseen, Mural
Camp Navarro, CA
Designed by Kelly Ording
Painted by Campers in one day
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