CURTIS KELLY: A Woman of Substance
by Joella Cain

On first meeting Palm Beach artist Curtis Kelly, one is charmed and enchanted by her pixie appearance and elfin-like exuberance. However, behind the charismatic exterior there is an extremely dedicated painter.

The consummate optimist, with a refreshingly positive attitude toward life, Kelly’s pursuit of excellence in her business and personal endeavors were a plus when it came to accomplishing her artistic objectives.

Definitely a woman of the nineties, Kelly was a renaissance woman even back in the sixties, when after leaving college she hopped a freighter for Greece, alone.

While still in school, Curtis, majoring in English, decided to pursue the tenuous life of a poet. When a college professor who had traveled extensively in Greece painted a superlative picture of that area, the romantic lure of the Greek Islands beckoned. With her inbred tenacity, an abundance of courage, and $1,000 in her pocket, she boarded the ship in New York and sailed forth with great anticipation.

Her mother, Delta, who fostered Curtis’s independence, was supportive of her daughter’s maiden voyage. This independent attitude would serve Curtis well in the future, but if we reflect back to the attitudes of the sixties concerning women, this was no mean feat for a small-town Michigan girl who hadn’t been east of the Mississippi River.

Upon landing on this magical isle, she fell in love with Greece, and when her $1,000 was depleted, Curtis landed a job teaching English and managed to stay in her fantasy land for a year. Then, with reams of poetry collected in notebooks, Kelly, armed with an insatiable curiosity, worked her way to Italy and then through France and England devouring all the marvelous art in the museums and churches.

(For more beach pictures, click here)

When she returned to the United States, Curtis was offered an editorial job with American Heritage Publishing Company. There she met an editor who subsequently moved to Harry Abrams Publishing Company to develop a series of books on famous artists.

He contacted Curtis and inquired if she’d be interested in writing one of the books, and better still, she could choose her own artist. Without hesitation she chose Goya, and the adventurous Kelly took a sabbatical for a year, received a grant from the Spanish Government, and flew to Spain.

There, she reconstructed Goya’s life, visiting his birthplace, studying his paintings and techniques, and again visiting museums and churches. At the time, she wasn’t aware that this was a prelude to her true destiny, that of an artist.

In the early seventies, with several trips to Europe behind her, she decided it was time to establish permanent roots in New York.

With a co-op in Manhattan and her job as editor, Curtis could spend her spare time attending contemporary art shows and visiting the New York museums. Since Kelly was a small child of about five she was attracted to art, and her natural talent for painting surfaced back in those days. Before she could write she would leave notes, through her painting, to her mother. Once she and a girlfriend wanted to play on the swing sets in the school yard. Curtis promptly whipped up a whimsical drawing of both girls swinging in the school yard and left it for her mother. Delta Kelly saved Curtis’s first original work of art.

This natural talent kept gnawing at Curtis to start painting seriously, so she heeded her inner promptings and en- rolled in the New School in New York.

Every summer Curtis would visit the Hamptons, New York’s fabled exclusive summer retreat for the rich and artistic, and fell in love with the area. With hard-earned funds she purchased a cedar-shake cottage perfect for vacationing and painting.

Where does Curtis get her unusually independent and adventurous nature! “My mother and my art teacher encouraged me to pursue my creative talents and to express myself in my chosen medium. I think Virginia Woolf best explained independence when she said, to paraphrase her famous quote, ‘In order to write, a woman must have some money and a room of her own.’ I believe that applies not only to writing but to every creative endeavor, You can never be beholden to anyone, you must be self reliant. If you’re not given that room for yourself, you must get it on your own. It’s very important to every- one, man, woman, or child.”

Curtis made sure she had that “room of her own” and created a studio in the Manhattan co-op and the Hampton cottage.
Life held another surprise for Miss Kelly. She was offered a job in Florida and when she moved to Palm Beach she began to paint in earnest. She enrolled in the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach to study with Sam Perry, her favorite teacher, who helped the prolific painter develop her own distinctive style. “Sam has a special genius for bringing out what’s best and most unique in every individual,” she says. She still attends one or two classes every week with Mr. Perry.

Last year Curtis was commissioned by Virginia Chapman and Sam Rosenberg of the Natural Collection to paint four large mural-type oils in a Gauguinesque style to be hung in the Beli Hai Lounge aboard the Royal Cruise Line’s Viking Seranade. She captured Gauguin’s technique and use of vibrant colors so perfectly it would take a trained eye to differentiate between the old master and Curtis’s excellent reproductions. Recently, she was again commissioned to create two large oils for the Jupiter Beach Hilton.

Curtis paints in a style she describes as “impressionistic realism.” Her exquisite still life’s are bold and colorful, with a subtle off-kilter perspective that gives them a dynamic vibrancy. Her beach scenes project a casual insouciance that belies her carefully considered compositions.

“Florida is a fabulous place to paint,” Curtis claims. “The tropical foliage, the bright intense light, and the natural surroundings are conducive to creative juices. That’s why Greece was such a marvelous place to study light.”

After moving to Florida, Curtis bought a charming house in Palm Beach, along with another condo. She now maintains her New York co-op, the cottage in the Hamptons, that houses a studio, the home and studio in Palm Beach, along with the condo, which she keeps rented. Not bad, for a little mid- western girl who wasn’t weaned on “Woman’s Lib.”

With this track record Curtis Kelly could be a role model for every young girl who wants to accomplish a better than average life-style but isn’t exactly sure of how to proceed.

When I asked Curtis the secret of her unusual accomplishments she smiled and answered, “Believe in yourself is the first rule. “I never thought, it couldn’t be done.” There’s that eternal optimism at work. “Also,” she adds, “becoming financially independent is very important because it allows you to make your own decisions. Desire shouldn’t be discounted, and above all a person must be willing to work hard. “Of course you must absolutely love what you’re doing. Painting isn’t work to me, I love to paint and can work at a painting for eight hours without getting tired.”

This September Curtis is having a museum show at the New England Center for Contemporary Arts. In mid October the Brazilian Court will be showing paintings from her collection, and next summer the prestigious Elaine Benson Gallery in Bridgehampton, New York, plans a show of Curtis’s works.
Her art sells from $1,200 to $4,000. This talented “woman of substance” is on her way up the creative ladder of success and knowing Curtis, she’ll make it in one leap.



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