Words By: Jillian Claybrook
All Artworks Courtesy of Kyra Kendall
Artist on the Rise, Kyra Kendall, Is Living Her Life in Color
There is no denying the power of art — through countless mediums, an artist has a unique ability to influence the lives of their audience and the world around them. Through art, one can show things to people they’ve never met and broaden horizons; change minds and open hearts. Elizabeth Broun, former director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C., once said that “art is not always about pretty things, it’s about who we are, what happened to us, and how our lives are affected.” Watercolor artist, Kyra Kendall, is the true embodiment of that sentiment.
Bright colors, famous faces, exquisite detail and a seemingly contagious joie de vivre, fill her canvases and the souls of those who lay eyes on them. But for the artist whose desire is to create beauty and make people feel a spark of joy — the road to success wasn’t always so beautiful or joyful. Her path would include a cancer diagnosis as a young art student and having to put her dreams on hold to undergo treatment, as well as navigating the sadness, shame and frustration that coincided. Ultimately for Kendall, the challenges only further fueled the urge in her heart to paint. Her studio would become her safe haven.
It’s a safe bet that Kendall will not run out of inspiration anytime soon, nor will her story or her work cease to inspire. From her home studio in Toronto, Kyra Kendall opened a window into her inspiration, creative process, hopes, and influences. She also shared where you can find her when she’s not painting.
When did you begin painting?
My mother was a sculptor. So there was always a studio in our house. I remember being allowed to paint while my mother worked in the studio. But I didn’t begin watercolor painting until I was 12 years old. My mom enrolled me in a painting class at a local community center.
Did you always have an affinity for watercolor as opposed to other mediums?
Nope. I actually found it a really frustrating medium for years. It is frustrating! However, the thing watercolor has over anything else, is that you can travel with it so easily. In fact, that is how my Instagram project began — I was traveling through Spain, and I wanted to paint on my trip. I went to an art supply store in Barcelona, and that was that.
What inspires your work?
The desire to create beauty. To celebrate the positive. I just have an urge in my heart to paint. I am inspired by social media and movies. Especially old movies. I love to paint things that we can all relate to.
How long does it typically take for you to create a piece?
Oh dear. Sometimes it’s so fast — other times its hours. But because I often repaint the same subject many times, each time I am painting it, I am learning, and so it gets faster.
What do you like to do when you’re not painting?
I love to snowboard. My husband bought me fancy gloves so I don’t fall and break my wrist, which he jokingly calls the ‘Cash Register’. I also love riding my bike in the summer through Toronto. In fact my favorite thing to do is to ride my bike to meet my friends for drinks. I also love to travel and paint in new places. That is very, very inspiring to me. I am planning a painting trip through Italy this summer and I am looking forward to it immensely.
Do you remember the first piece that you ever created?
I remember being in Kindergarten and gleefully drawing on the chalkboard. I would take a piece of chalk in each hand and draw mirrored halves of the same image at the same time. I remember being SO HAPPY when I did that.
I also remember going into my moms studio and finding some clay on the floor and just kind of zoning out and sculpting a sneaker. I just walked away and forgot about it. A week later, my mom presented me with my sneaker that she had glazed and fired for me in her kiln. She was really impressed with it. I didn’t think it was anything, but I was kind of awed that she, the sculptor, was impressed.
Do you remember the first piece of work that you ever sold?
When I was sick with cancer I got really into doing these tiny watercolors of roses with fairies inside them. Even thinking about them today makes me feel a little sad. My mom’s friend had me make her a bunch for her house and that was the first work I ever sold. I remember being so happy that I had made money through painting. But I also felt so sad that my life felt so small like the watercolor fairies in the roses. Being sick is hard.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Eccentric. Generous. Brave.
Who are your biggest influences (in the art world as well as outside of the art world)?
In art my biggest influences are, and in no particular order – Marlene Dumas. I remember seeing a collection of works of hers at the SF MOMA when I was about 23 and I felt crazy with adoration. The way she conveys emotion in her painting is so amazing. Janet Werner is a Canadian painter, and I am in love with her work. There is a painting of hers that hangs by the stairs in a bar I love. Sometimes I excuse myself from my friends and sneak up the stairs to look at it. I also love the painting of Richard Diebenkorn. I think those 3 are my biggest art influences. Also Matisse. But who isn’t blown away by his use of color?
Is there a message or something that you hope to portray or express through your work?
I hope that my work shows the beauty of this world. I hope that in me painting all the time I can inspire others to give it a try. I hope to make people feel a spark of joy.