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Chris Willey, artist

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self-portrait by Chris Willey


Artist Chris Willey is one of the artists exhibiting in Noyes Art Gallery’s Femmes Qui Bercent exhibit in March 2013 (in Lincoln details below). She shares with LFF about knowing from age 3 she was an artist, her various inspirations from national art museums to people watching at Panera, feminism and her work in this upcoming show…

Where am I from?

I am an Air Force brat and moved quite a bit my whole life. I went to 9 schools before college. I lived in Denver, CO; Washington, DC; Lincoln, NE; Honolulu, Hawaii; Bellevue, NE; Tripoli, Libya; Chicopee, MA; and Lincoln, NE. My adult life has also included Kansas City, MO; and Warrensburg, MO.  I live in Kansas City, MO now, and when people ask where I’m from, that is the short answer. 

How did I get into art?

I am not from an art background, and yet, I have known from the age of three that I was an artist. I have never questioned it or thought of becoming anything else.  I only had to decide what kind of artist. Painting always seemed the most natural fit.

About my work/inspirations.

I am always looking at other artists, visiting museums and galleries, and reanalyzing my own work. I am a retired art professor and a former freelance illustrator and graphic designer. Those careers gave me great discipline, introduced me to some incredible artists, and allowed me to travel to many museums and galleries, cultures.

My work jumps from landscape to figure to still life to an occasional abstract. It all depends on what it is I need to learn, or what I’m paying attention to at the time. I am always drawing from life as well as imagination, and yes, some photo reference as well.  Plein air painting is the work that comes closest to meditation. I love being outside surrounded by nature and a million design possibilities. It is when I feel the most connected to the earth and the most at home in the world.  But I love the draftsmanship and connection of drawing the figure.

Artists that inspire me change daily, depending on what I’m looking at and where I am growing. Today I would list Ann Gale, Mary Beth McKenzie, Jeremy Mann and John Howard. The list would be different if you asked tomorrow. Painting inspirations come everyday from just looking intently. Today I found a paintable, sketchable moment while having breakfast at Panera Bread.

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"Bikini Girl," by Chris Willey

Does feminism play a role?

If one is a serious female artist in this time period, then feminism has played a role. Feminism isn’t necessarily what my work is about, but feminism is what has allowed me to work.

When I went to college 2% of tenured studio professors were women. When I began my career out of college, most of the people in graphic design and illustration were men. When I began teaching college, 4% of tenured studio professors were women. I was the second one in our department of 14. The numbers are much better now, and most university departments have quite a few tenured women. They have seemingly always had women in the departments, but most were either graduate students, lecturers or instructors – most working part time without benefits. That is still a part of that system. In the visual arts and graphic design and illustration, women are now a huge part of the industry.  Women’s art , and in fact women in general, are taken much more seriously in this country at this moment. As I watch/read/listen to politics in the US and in the world I realize that attitudes and cultures can change so quickly, so I do not take it for granted.

Tell me about your work for the upcoming show and why its important to you.

I have been regularly attending and/or teaching  life drawing for at least 30 years. The work in this show is recent work. Some of it is about the figure, some of it simply contains figures as part of the story of everyday life.

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See more of her work at chriswilley.com.

See her work in Femme Qui Bercent, opening March 1 at Noyes Gallery, 119 9th St. in Lincoln, 6-9pm running thru March 25. Details here!