Connecticut has been home to an array of artistic talent over the years, including artists creating everything from dynamic abstracts representing the natural world’s energy, to works inspired by ancient Egyptian and Roman art. It’s home to art that responds to American ideals and values, works inspired by the ethos and people of Connecticut, ’90s-nostalgia brands whipped into candy-colored confectionery, and paintings that re-imagine the sensations of Vietnamese refugees in America. Here are five artistic creators who should be on your radar in the coming months and years.
Canadian-born Conley has lived in Connecticut for more than a decade, and her work reflects her experience living in the U.S. Her bold, varicolored art has over the past few years “been the story of this country; my feelings and experience of this country in response to historic imagery,” she explains. Growing up in Canada with an American mother who held up patriotic notions of individualism, perseverance and ambition as a national character, Conley is particularly interested in what she calls a “collective need to have these ideals and to hold up individuals to embody them.”
In her work, she references historic photographs in which she explains, “I can often glimpse the roots of our current moment, as parallels or connections that can act as a framework to comprehend the latest headline of chaos or hope.” Conley’s work has been exhibited at venues across the world, including a solo show at Skarstedt Gallery in London this June, and in the U.S. in spaces such as The Painting Center and NURTUREart in New York City, and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield. She was an artist-in-residence at New Haven’s NXTHVN art space in 2019 and received several grants, including an Elizabeth Greenshields Award and, recently, a Connecticut Office of the Arts Fellowship. Through Aug. 27, Conley is part of a group exhibition, Horses?, at CHART in New York.
Keeting has had what he calls a “remarkably productive” year, making art so consistently that he has a studio now full of his gorgeous paintings. Currently teaching at The Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven, Keeting first moved to New Haven after earning his graduate degree in painting from Boston University to play in a rock band. He started his art career as an art handler at The Yale Center for British Art, which is also where he met the woman who would become his wife. They’re now living and creating in Connecticut, which Keeting says is a great place to make art.
Of his recent work — abstract art rooted in what he calls “direct observation,” he says, “I want the chaotic, dynamic energies of the natural world — all of its elemental states: the gaseous, the liquid, the solid — to course through these pictures, like coagulating blood, like spirit.” He’s participated in residency programs at the Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico, Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York, and the Millay Colony for the Arts in Austerlitz, New York. Determined not just to create art but to “meet more artists, and contribute to the community in ways I hadn’t initially,” Keeting co-founded, with artist Christopher Joy, Gorky’s Granddaughter. It’s a series of studio-visit conversations with more than 500 artists across the country that he calls mini-documentaries.
The award-winning artist’s work uses nature as both mirror and window — “to communicate who I am, where I’ve come from, and how I feel living in our world,” Vu says. The New World, a series that he’s made for the past 10 years, is a beautiful, abstract re-imagining of sensations felt by his parents when they fled Vietnam during the war — settling in the U.S. with seven of their eight children. “These completely imaginary landscapes tap into a refugee’s feelings of hope, joy and confusion — but these feelings are universal,” he says. He’s called Connecticut home for 22 years, living and working (as a professor at Southern Connecticut State University) between East and West Rock in New Haven. He says that the land and ethos of its people find prominence in his work.
Thuan’s most recent series is called Kintsugi. “It utilizes the Japanese practice-slash-philosophy of repairing broken pottery by rejoining the pieces together using gold. The newly repaired piece, proudly showing its golden scars, is seen as more beautiful for showing its history, resiliency and its ability to be transformed from trauma,” he says. His paintings are inspired by the loss of his father in 2018 and the state of our world and this country, where beauty, hope and decency seem tempered and hard to maintain. It’s something that’s reflected in the black and white flowers in his Kintsugi paintings. In 2020, he was the sole painter to receive the Artistic Excellence Award by the Connecticut Office of the Arts. In October, Vu will exhibit in the group show Arrivals at the Katonah Museum of Art.
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Jill Sarver Rossi
A native of rural Ohio, Rossi paints with a soundtrack of ’90s grunge in the background and co-habits with two adorable rescue “tortie” cats — Maizy and Fabia. She relocated to Connecticut in 2008 for grad school and hasn’t left since. Rossi and her husband Dan now live in Bridgeport, and she’s spent the last decade jurying and curating independent exhibitions. She’s also taught art education in the Midwest, New York metro area, and Italy. Her journey into the art world began as early as age 5 and was cemented at 12 when she developed a love for ancient Egyptian and Roman art and archaeology.
Choosing to pursue art over archaeology, Rossi now incorporates both worlds into her work, especially in her recent painting series titled Anonymous. The series, she says, “uses a single portrait as a vehicle for expression and channels different emotional responses in each painting, often reflecting the current events of today’s chaotic world. From personal tragedy and distant empathies to a social and political outcry, each painting embodies a degree of ambiguity or anonymity, allowing the viewer to bring their interpretation and response to the table.” The series has been exhibited in Connecticut and New York City.
Vermont-born Bonilla grew up in Connecticut, where she says, “Summers were beautiful, and winters were rough,” and where she worked as a substitute teacher and did catering on the weekends to sustain herself as a young artist. Bonilla’s melting ice cream and confectionary-based creations draw inspiration from toy culture, classic cars and ’80s/’90s cartoon stills. Her candy-colored palette is lifted from the Rugrats or neon primaries from Pac-Man. “The hype on nostalgia is the core of my work,” says Bonilla, an admirer of brands like Hot Wheels, Barbie, Rubix cubes, neon video games, and iridescent fabrics for their impact on popular culture.
She’s currently working on a series of larger pieces. “I’ve got an idea to make a large Super Soaker-inspired piece, and also enlarging one of my cherry drips as a free-standing piece,” she says. Bonilla, who also paints with oils, is currently in Charleston, South Carolina, where she found herself right before the world shut down in 2020 and where she’s been recently nominated in the best exhibition and best visual artist categories of The Charleston City Paper’s Best of Charleston 2021. Her work is currently at Miller Gallery in Charleston, and she has a pop-up with online boutique Furbish Studio upcoming in May.