“Comfortable is okay, but I like uncomfortable a little bit more,” says Kely Knowles. After many years as a well-known watercolorist, Knowles is embarking on a brave new adventure by challenging herself to translate her work into oils. “Changes are part of my DNA,” she says. “I find change exciting.” This year has brought not only a change in medium, but also a change in representation. After running her own gallery for over 17 years, Knowles is thrilled to be working with Addison Art Gallery in Orleans.
Without a business to run, Knowles has been able to refocus in the studio. Inspired by her participation in a painting group led by Paul Schulenberg, she decided to make the move to oils. While the medium has changed, the subject matter and the artist have not. Knowles remains well-known for her masterful depictions of traditional Cape scenes: farmhouses, harbors, marshes, and boats. She is an observer of both the majestic and the mundane, equally inspired by a view of Provincetown Harbor at dusk or a hallway lit by afternoon sun.
An expert draftsman, Knowles is also a colorist and no matter the media, the orchestration of color is of primary importance. “My goal is always to develop a strong and intense color balance,” she says. “You can manipulate color in these provocative, incredible patterns.” Knowles’s work stands out from myriad other representational watercolor painters by the playful, almost abstract way that she manipulates colors, patterns, and shapes.
Growing up in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, Knowles remembers drawing at an early age. “I can remember at a young age drawing the kitchen cabinets,” she says. “My brother and my mother were artistic in a traditional sense; the others were artistic in other ways. Everyone had something: gardening, cooking, sewing. I was one of eight children, right in the middle.”
Somehow, Knowles has always found a way to make a living as an artist. In addition to her painting practice, she frequently did freelance graphic, and illustration work when she was starting out. “I did illustration, advertising, menus, whatever came my way—it was something I could do at home with three kids,” she says. She and her husband moved the family to Cape Cod on a whim in 1987. “We wanted to live on the Cape so we just said, let’s do it.”
With an ideal location in Orleans, Knowles’s husband built her a studio/gallery on their property in 1995. She sold her paintings and taught classes out of her gallery, at the Cape Cod Museum of Art and through the Nauset Community Education Program. Teaching continues to be a source of satisfaction. “I can show simple things and it opens doors,” she says. “My students get to succeed. People shy away from art and they don’t have to.”
In addition to her occasional teaching, Knowles is looking forward to a summer at work, both in her studio and out in the world. “To be an artist, you really need to disconnect. I’m not a talker, I’m a listener. I’m an observer.”