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InteriorsStudio Tour

Studio Tour: Keri Oldham

by Kelli Kehler

For large-scale watercolor painter Keri Oldham, a years-long devotion to discovering and uplifting the work of local emerging artists in New York City led to a new discovery altogether: the evolution of her own work.

“In 2011, I co-founded Field Projects gallery, a small project space in Chelsea that focuses on showing emerging artists’ work,” Keri shares. “NYC can be incredibly overwhelming in terms of building a community for yourself as an artist. For me, Field Projects was a way of stepping into those waters and showing some of the amazing artists’ work I was seeing in the city. I left the gallery about three years ago to focus on my own painting. In many ways it was a difficult decision shifting from curating other people’s work to investing in myself and my own artistic journey. But it has been a revelation, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole!”

No stranger to her current South Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, Keri has found herself rooted in the area in one way or another for the past eight years. A little over a year ago she found her current studio, a 275-square-foot space with two small luxuries — a window and a sink. Workspace amenities aside, Keri particularly enjoys strolling through Prospect Park when she walks from studio to home, and vice versa. These commutes on foot are replete with inspiration; her observations often inform her paintings. “My work centers on female heroism and rites of passage for women. Inspired by mythology, medieval art and fantasy, I’m interested in utilizing storytelling to show the triumphs and trials of the female identity.”

Nestled in a large building full of artists, writers and filmmakers, Keri uses her small, simple studio to produce vibrant and empowering works in a medium that isn’t often taken to such a sizable scale. “Many of my paintings are actually enormous for watercolor — measuring 60 x 50 inches, so often I can only be continuously working on three at time at that scale,” Keri says. “On the other hand, I love the feeling of when the studio is packed to the gills with paintings hanging all around me. It starts to feel very magical in the space, as though all of the paintings are communicating and an important story is unfolding. The smallness of the space also creates a very potent world that allows me to immerse myself deeply in the work.”

As if it all fell perfectly into place, Keri’s small but mighty studio became the ideal landing spot to nurture her newfound investment in her own work. “I started painting heroic women at first as a kind of pep-talk for myself, but slowly the project expanded to become about so much more.” —Kelli 

Photography by Cinema Petit

Image above: Keri’s small studio is a tidy, minimalist space where her bold ideas come to life through vivid watercolor depictions. “Refocusing on my own work was exactly what I needed, my work has expanded dramatically both in scale and subject matter.”

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Painter Keri Oldham in her South Park Slope, Brooklyn studio. The red plaid chair is from Wayfair.

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“A few paintings in various states of completion, including one of my large-scale paintings titled, ‘Your Fears are a Passageway,'” Keri notes. “My paintings are modern allegories for women facing their fears both internally and externally. This piece in particular draws on the myth of the Labyrinth, Persephone in Hades and Jean Cocteau’s ‘La belle et la bête.'”

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“Two of my favorite pieces. The painting on the left, ‘Judith with Mutant Holofernes,’ is still mounted on board to keep the paper from warping as I paint. The painting on the right, ‘Hungry Ghosts Warrior,’ is a finished piece framed for a collector.”

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“This picture is a close-up of my color chart,” Keri begins. “My paintings are all about color, and this chart helps me to be able to plan my color coordinations of each painting. When buying watercolor paints it’s important to do little ‘tests’ such as these to see the range of the color and how it actually looks dried. 99% of the time the color on the packaged tube is not a good indicator of the pigment. Every time I buy a new paint I do a test. My favorite watercolor brand is Daniel Smith, they offered the most interesting colors like ‘Bloodstone Genuine,’ a great color!”

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“A close-up of one of my paintings called ‘Demon Legion,’ as well as my idea blackboard. I used chalkboard paint and covered one of the walls in my studio to have a space for quickly writing down ideas, quotes, and symbols that come into my head as I paint. I find writing to be a great way of finding themes and narrowing down my intention in a painting series.”

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Even though she would call herself a maximalist when it comes to her art, Keri's studio is anything but -- her friends even joke about how orderly and neat her workspace is.
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The beginning stages of one of Keri's watercolor paintings. "I begin each painting first thinking about the central figure, then slowly all of the other elements and storytelling symbols come into play."
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Keri's work table, bits of inspiration, and tools of the trade.
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Keri shares, “This is a flag I created for my exhibition ‘Blood Banner’ in NYC last year. It is a digital print on silk. I love to do unusual things with watercolor, and created a blood-splattered call-to-arms design playing with watercolor’s often feminine ‘hobbyist’ stereotype.”

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"As a watercolor artist I primarily paint on the floor because standing my paintings upright would cause the paint to run. For this reason I like to keep my studio a little sparse and neat."
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"Wide shot of my studio showing one of my large-scale pieces framed and getting ready for an exhibition. The central figure in this piece is passing through an underworld inhabited by demons. Titled, 'Your Fears are a Passageway,' the painting depicts a demon that has been transformed into a boat, enabling the knight to continue forward."

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Comments

  • Love the artwork! Great colors and patterns. The visual depiction of women’s determination and strength is so inspiring, too!

  • I feel a very personal connection to the images in this post, as precisely when I got off the phone with my sister, having had a conversation about exercising our creative power while moving through fear, this should pop up in my feed. LOVE your paintings and what they represent, especially “Demon Legion”. LOVE your workspace and how well-ordered it is. LOVE the goodness in your soul, which comes shining through here.

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