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Viridian Woman, painting by Kelley Mogilka
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Pence Gallery’s Emerging Artist: Kelley Mogilka Enters The Scene

This month, the Pence Gallery opens a solo exhibition of figurative paintings and drawings by Kelley Mogilka (see below), the award recipient for the gallery’s Emerging Artist Award in 2022. Mogilka’s show, “The Elusive Muse,” opens just as the gallery announces its 2023 call for entries. 

Natalie Nelson, the Pence Gallery’s director and curator, explains that the award supports the creation of new work by California artists early in their art career—artists who may have experience exhibiting in group shows, but haven’t yet had the solo exhibit that their work commands. “They’re showing their potential to make work that will set them apart. It’s been really interesting to see where the artists go after this.”

Each year, a grant is underwritten by donors (James R. & Suzette M. Smith for 2022 and Rosa Marquez & Yatish Mishra for 2023) for the artist to use as needed to create new work and showcase it in the 600-square-foot community gallery. It affords the artist a valuable opportunity to have a solo show and to articulate why they do the work they do with an artist talk—a skill of its own.

“They constantly push themselves to make new work and to stretch themselves as artists. To me it has had a huge impact on artists,” says Nelson. “We’ve never been disappointed.” 

Artists may work in any medium. “We’ve seen everything,” she adds, “from installation artists to painters and photographers and ceramic artists. We look at over 200 artists every year and we look to not have a style or medium that we always pick.” 2021 featured the work of glass artist Sean Free Alcala.

The decision is made by a panel—including Nelson, Eileen Hendren (Assistant Director), and the donors—who each bring their own perspectives to the decision and try to convince the others about the potential exhibited by their top-choice applicants. “You’re looking for some consistency,” says Nelson, “that they have a style that will lead to a unified show. You’re looking for a comfort level with the materials they’re using, and the feeling that—even if they’re still learning—they understand how to use their materials.” 

Ultimately, however, the artist should offer something they haven’t seen in some way, something “slightly different: ‘Do you have something new to say–something to add to the conversation about a subject?’”

“Kelley is the first figure painter we have had,” says Nelson. “We were moved by her work. … You’re looking at a woman in front of you and you have to translate that. ‘How do I create a sense of feeling and emotive presence in her so that it comes across?’ It’s hard to paint people and it’s even hard to get to what they’re emoting,” she continues. “And I think that’s some of what Kelley’s trying to get at—‘What do we sit with and how does that come across in our expressions and how we hold ourselves?’”

Kelley Mogilka’s solo exhibition, “The Elusive Muse: New Work by Kelley Mogilka” will be on display at the Pence Gallery, 212 D Street, Davis, from Jan. 7–Feb. 3, 2023. A reception will be held Jan. 13 (during 2nd Friday ArtAbout) from 6p–9p. Mogilka will give an artist talk and tour of the exhibition on Jan. 14 from 1p–2p. Sponsored by James R. & Suzette M. Smith, as part of the Pence Gallery Emerging Artist Award.

To support the development of local and regional artists, the Pence offers several calls for artists each year, including the Emerging Artist Award, Slice: A Juried Exhibit of Regional Art, and Exhibit It!.

The Pence Gallery is a nonprofit art gallery located in Davis, California, with a long history of supporting artists early in their career development. Its mission is to serve the community through offering high caliber art exhibits, supporting the development of artists, and providing education programs to visitors of all ages.

Covering Kelley Mogilka 

On painting Viridian Woman

“I am drawn to the specific shapes and colors that make up a person’s features. I think it’s fascinating how those abstract qualities, when translated into two dimensions by being painted or drawn, can reflect and even amplify the essence of a person. 

“Viridian Woman was inspired by Diana Oliphant (Instagram: @diana_jean_o), a professional art model whom I often work with. It is really a collaboration piece, and most of my paintings are, because I’m responding to an emotion that the model is giving me. And the best models give the best emotion. 

“I think where I take over, personally, is in my use of color and brushwork. I use what is called a limited palette, where I limit the colors on my palette to three colors, sometimes two. It helps me to achieve color harmony in my paintings when I’m not battling with ten-plus colors. Viridian Woman was painted with Viridian, India Yellow, and Crimson Lake (a green, a yellow, and a red), but the emerald quality of the Viridian became what the painting was about. 

“At some point in my process, the individual I’m painting becomes secondary to the abstract shapes I’m seeing within them. The individual is still there, and they breathe life and connection into the abstract; but I’m in it for the shapes, the colors, the gestures of brushstrokes. If I could call myself an abstract painter, I would, but people would look at me funny.”

About the Artist

Kelley Mogilka is a figurative painter hailing from Edmond, Oklahoma. After receiving her BFA in Studio Art at Oklahoma City University, she attended Laguna College of Art and Design for her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting. She lives and works in Laguna Beach and has won several awards for her paintings at the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association and was recently featured in Southwest Art Magazine’s 21 Under 31, Young Artists to Collect Now. 

As the 2022 recipient of the Emerging Artist Award, she was granted her first solo exhibition at the Pence Gallery in January 2023. Kelley currently teaches figure painting at Laguna College of Art and Design and California State University Long Beach.

Viridian Woman will be on display as part of “The Elusive Muse: New Work by Kelley Mogilka” at the Pence Gallery.

Read this article in the digital edition of the print issue:

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