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The Portraits of Ambre Kelly

Ambre Kelly is a Brooklyn-based extraordinaire. Co-founder of SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Kelly strives to redefine the already accepted models of “art ingestion”- in a fair or in a frame. Her portraits zoom into the personal realm only to quickly expand outside of their original subjects. A redefinition of the portrait proper is perhaps in order here. A “social portrait” or “media portraiture” might more appropriate terms to define her work: they capture at once the details of the personality of their subjects and eliminate all chances of their specificity.


Who: Ambre Kelly
Where she was born: Small Town, South Carolina
Where she lives now: Brooklyn, New York
What she does: Curator and consultant by occupation. Producer and production designer by inclination. Artist by both. Dancer by inebriation.

10. AMBRE_GORI (WIDE)_pinkish

What are you currently working on?

In the studio: a series of oil paintings I call “Impressions”. These consist of hundreds of miniature portraits of people I happen to be friends with on Facebook. Each portrait is a compilation of ten/twenty/thirty small paintings, all of art industry professionals (artists, curators, dealers). Each painting functions as a repurposing of classical portraiture in light of the self-constructed persona of social media platforms. So think of them as portraits of how people digitally represent themselves in contemporary society. Self-portrait portraits.

In the office: SPRING/BREAK Art Show 2015. Busy solidifying this year’s theme, an exciting curator and artist list, and activating a completely new part of New York City history with a brand new (old) space.

In film production: Andrew Gori (my partner in most things) and I just wrapped a short film called High Phantom Playback, are busy developing a bigger budget feature, and gearing up to shoot a mysticism-tinged low-budge side-project about an art world couple in the throws of creative stagnation (not autobiographical, don’t worry).

In life: I’m working on being newly wed. It’s wildly fun, wildly the same while being wildly different. That’s all I have to say about that.

1. _Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith looking at my work! - with Jerry Saltz and Ayn S Choi at 69th Regiment Armory._ (JERRY SALTZ + ROBERTA SMITH)
Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith looking at my work! – with Jerry Saltz and Ayn S Choi at 69th Regiment Armory.” 2014, Oil of Panel, 4 x 6 inches. Original reference photo by Ayn S Choi.

What was your first experience with art?

I started an architectural firm at the age of 7. I would set up appointments with (imaginary) clients and discuss what they wanted for a residence and then make sketches of that home during the “meetings.” After our agreed design, I would review the sketches and draw actual blueprints of the house that would be approved by the client in a later meeting. Sometimes, I’d build the houses out of poster board, popsicle sticks and hot glue. I still have the sketches and blueprints from those first clients. My earliest “drawings.”

What is there too much and too little of?

As I mentioned, I grew up in a small town in the South where there was little access to art. There was a program for “smart kids” called ALERT that had a specialized class for art, so I devoured anything I could get my hands on: books, found ephemera, VHS tapes. You know, the Internet wasn’t a thing of reality back then, so in order to see art it was a tangible affair, restricted to library pillaging, the infrequent museum, and field trips. We did a big class trip to NYC back in 1989 where we walked the graffitied streets of SoHo, visited museums, bought bootleg cassettes tapes off Broadway. I knew that I would seek out art (and New York) from then on.

What’s on the agenda for SPRING/BREAK Art Show?

We’re developing the theme for 2015 and will be requesting curatorial proposals in the coming weeks. It’s going to be a big big year for us. We’ve outgrown the Old School, and will be repurposing a new piece of New York City historic real estate. All to challenge and celebrate the existing art fair model, of course!

6. SPRING_BREAK Art Show installation view. Curated by David Alexander Flinn
SPRING/BREAK Art Show installation view. Curated by David Alexander Flinn. Photo courtesy of Samuel Sachs Morgan

7. Bruno Pogacnik Wukodrakula _Powercave_ installation
SPRING/BREAK Art show installation view. Bruno Pogacnik Wukodrakula “Powercave” installation Photo courtesy of Samuel Sachs Morgan

Your portraits are extremely personal, yet outline a human shape that at first feels quite universal. How true to life are you in your renditions? Are these portraits or translations?

Great question. It may fall somewhere in-between. All my art works are forms of portraiture–be they literal (in this case) or conceptual (see my For A Good Time Text series, below). And they tend towards interpretations: of relationships, conversations, experiences or information shared between one or more persons. The paintings I’m working on now are more clearly representational portraits created from digital photographs of Internet ephemera. Yes, it’s a creepy practice, but well-intentioned. I follow the general composition of the photograph but make slight variations to allow room for my subjective interpretation. An impression, fleeting. Detritus of the ones and zeroes of our social networks online.

2. _+ARTrageous 2010 05.24.10 _____NYC_____ - with Kehinde Wiley_
+ARTrageous 2010 05.24.10 *****NYC***** – with Kehinde Wiley” 2014, Oil on Panel, 6 x 6 inches. Original reference photo by Jason Malihan.

Do you conceptualize “mass” or “matter”, the same way in painting as in sculpture?

It’s perhaps all the same to me, meaning I think of myself as someone who makes portraits, only in a variety of forms or shapes. Portraits own a subjective property in the contemporary world. I’m trying to replicate information that is passed from one person to another and how that information defines or obscures relationships, intimate and otherwise. The relationship becomes the focal point of the “portrait”, so-called. With the series “For a Good Time, Text”, I poured plaster casts of my (ancient) 2006 Palm Smartphone and used actual, unedited text messages that I had with other people to evolve a visual portrait of our acquaintance. They are drawings, they are objects, and ultimately, they are portraits of social connections.

What’s your next challenge?

Evolving my next series of artwork beyond “Impressions”. Keeping SPRING/BREAK Art Show on the rise. Potentially expanding the show to other cities. Consider having a baby, which terrifies the hell of out me. Both having one and not having one. Getting a pet. Same fears as with baby.

4. _Rocking.A.New.Ring. #engaged #rocking #ring #heaskedandisaidyes #love #luckylady # romanoromano #kapow - with Eric Romano. (Helen Toomer)_
“Rocking.A.New.Ring. #engaged #rocking #ring #heaskedandisaidyes #love #luckylady # romanoromano #kapow – with Eric Romano.” 2014, 6 x 6 inches, Original reference photo by Helen Toomer.

What is your WILD wish?

I could say the things that one should say, like “Find cures for infectious diseases, fight miscellaneous corruption, save the planet or world peace”, all of which I want. But, since this is a WILD wish, I’m going to be wild and wish that I was Janet Jackson’s backup dancer. Yes, Janet. Not Beyonce, tho she’s cool. Only Janet. Rhythm f*cking Nation, y’all.

Grace Villamil, InstallationGrace Villamil, Installation

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text by: Michael Valinsky

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