Glittering Spirit: The Art of Kelly Shaw Willman

From uphill invisible swimming performance series
copyright Kelly Shaw Willman
As an avant-garde performance artist, a vocalist, an experimental poet, and multimedia artist, Kelly Shaw Willman's creativity spans many mediums. Her work is an intricately woven into her life’s journey, making her performances deeply personal. Willman’s performances have taken place in the remote woods of Maine to a sunny Iowa farm to a dimly lit living room in Brooklyn. She has an uncanny ability to transform spaces and to draw the audience into her inner world.
From the uphill invisible swimming performance series.
Copyright Kelly Shaw Willman
According to her website Kelly was "born & raised amongst the cornfields & creek-beds of eastern Iowa, but a life-long obsession with the ocean inspires her to one day settle in a self-sustaining ((coastal)) arts space... Kelly migrates through these creative times as an original daughter of the waves & seeker of glowing trails."
Kelly's performances invoke a sense of magic and involve ritualistic processes with objects and symbols that give her work layered meaning. There are recorded sounds and voices played back on tape recorders, apples being sliced, honey being poured, and copious amounts of glitter in Willman's sacred space.
From Kelly's grunge*quest performance series.
Image copyright Kelly Shaw Willman
Spirituality and the sacred within art practice is a common theme in my ongoing creative discussions with Kelly. During one such exchange over email, she had this to say:
"The community of artists I gravitate toward is operating from spaces that are more energy-based, more mystical. Sounds are words. Color and iconography (in placement and mere presence) equate efforts to communicate a deeper meaning: something of the spirit, of a life past, of a shape shifted, of a message received, of a dream...I think a newfound fixation on this creative magic is much more intensified in the artists of now."
From Kelly's uphill invisible swimming performance series.
Copyright Kelly Shaw Willman

From uphill invisible swimming performance series.
Copyright Kelly Shaw Willman
In Kelly's most recent works, part of her uphill invisible swimming performance series, her body becomes the vessel for her sacred rituals. The pieces bring to mind the work of the late artist Ana Mendieta, whose groundbreaking works incorporated her own body and explored themes of ritual, spirituality, and her own identity. She coined the term "earth-body work," as a way of "resisting the terminology that she felt the art world establishment tried to impose on her." (Olga Viso, Unseen Mendieta). And much like Mendieta, Willman resists putting labels on her work. "I am...not attracted to the exercise of labeling art or beings...I prefer no labels on my work or on my sleeve..."

The strength of Willman's work is that it is so personal, so uniquely her own. Through performance, sound, and image, she has developed a personal iconography that charts the journey of her life. In documenting her own course, she invites each of us to consider the beauty and lessons of our own paths.

From uphill invisible swimming series. Copyright Kelly Shaw Willman
Kelly Shaw Willman is an exciting young artist we'll definitely be hearing much more from in the future. Keep up with her creative process on her blog, check out her facebook fan page, and view more performance photos on her flickr page.