When did you first begin painting?

I first fell in love with painting after my parents took me to a van Gogh exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when I was seven. Looking up at the thick colorful swirls of paint on his canvases—I was hooked. I wanted to make my own versions of them, I used acrylic paint but it didn’t feel right. I can still remember getting my first set of oils, I was in middle school and set up a studio in my garage. Through copying paintings in old impressionist textbooks I learned so much about depth and light but it also gave me an appreciation for Art History, which I ended up majoring in.

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Can you take me through a typical day in your studio?

I like to get an early start, most of my energy is in the morning. I walk through Humboldt Park to get to my studio, which is a nice way to clear my head. I can’t work in any kind of mess to I’ll clean up from the night before and take my brushes out of the vegetable oil that I keep them soaking in. I always listen to podcasts when I’m painting and like to plan my lineup so I don’t have to think about it while I’m working. My favorites are “The Weeds” by Vox, “Pod Save America”, and any murder mystery like “48 hours” or “Sword and Scale.” Recently I have gotten into audio books and just finished “Hunger” by Roxane Gay. I’ll go over some images I have saved on my phone or computer, or inspired from something on my bookshelf and start sketching. I don’t actually like to work on paintings too long because I tend to overthink them. I’ll spend a long time preparing the canvas but like to start painting immediately. While I have an idea in my head, I like to keep it simple. I’ll say to myself “I want to make a painting where the figure’s curves parallel the hills of a landscape,” or “ I want to make a painting about lovers in the grass.” I get my best work by allowing myself be as reactionary as possible. I’ll take a break in the backyard and get lunch then usually stay until I feel the surface is resolved enough to leave it overnight.

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How has the Chicago community impacted your work?

I moved to Chicago right after I finished my undergraduate studies at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I didn’t know anyone in the city and it became apparent to me very quickly that most of the artists have made their connections through either SAIC or Columbia. I joined a studio collective called Autotelic Studios and it was invaluable in helping me meet people. After leaving an undergraduate program, it’s hard to get into a routine and continue feeling stimulated enough to make work. Chicago is such a rare community because there is so much going on for younger artists to engage in. I was accustomed to the art scene in Boston that mostly got sucked up by New York and was filled with expensive or exclusionary spaces. The Chicago community paves the way for people like Andi Crist, who created Autotelic Studios and gave dozens of artists affordable studio space, or people like Caleb Beck, who turned his entire apartment into a gallery space at baby blue in Pilsen. Having these opportunities pushes you to want to make work so you can engage with people.

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What artists do you look at for inspiration? What things, that aren’t related to visual art, do you look at?

I really love what is going on in the world of painting today, so I mostly look at contemporary painters. Dana Schutz and Nicole Eisenman have always been the two greatest pillars of inspiration for me. Most recently I’ve been looking at Danielle Orchard, Louis Fratino, Shara Hughes, Jessie Edelman, Tal R, Kyle Staver, and so many more. The inspiration for both my palette and composition is taken from anything I come across such as a photo I’ve taken on my iPhone, or a screenshot of a scene from a movie. I will crop the images, turn them, flip them, and distort them until they vaguely resemble something that inspires a painting. It can be simple as the negative space between two people about to kiss, or three colors from a character’s dress. Recently I have been falling in love with gradients and have a series of photos on my phone of cropped sidewalk shadows that I come across at night- the colors have been appropriated into my paintings as sunsets.


Can you discuss the difference in working with small vs. larger paintings?

Working small vs. large has been a huge focus of mine this past year that I really cannot emphasize enough. For a long time I was making small works on paper because I really liked the immediacy of them, but I missed oil painting. With the small works on canvas there is less pressure. The canvases don’t take as long to make and you don’t have to think about brush size as much, one stroke can take up a lot of the canvas- making decisions easier. With the large paintings there is more planning involved. My paintings rely on intense lighting and depth, so it’s important for me to get the color and the space right. I have spent weeks on some paintings changing certain colors and playing around. Still, I have paintings that I have worked on for a long time that I love just as much as paintings that happened in a few days. There is no one solution to creating a successful painting, which can be frustrating but also keeps the process exciting.

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You typically paint figures as the main focal point of the composition. Can you talk about the importance of this? 

I’ve always been attracted to portraiture and even when I create landscapes the comment I always get is that they seem to have a personality or a presence. A lot of my work is about memories and nostalgia. I want the viewer to get the sense that the image is a snapshot in time, even when the details aren’t obvious. My compositions are influenced by the cropping that occurs on phones and in social media. The figure is kept as the main focal point as a psychological way to enter the space. The scene might include a busy bar or crowded party, but the painting only shows pieces of that. There are often suggestions of other people, such as a second wine glass or a distorted limb entering the frame. The identity of the person isn’t necessarily important to me, as much the voyeurism the viewer enjoys by looking at them.

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Any upcoming shows or events you want to share?

Right now I am focusing on making new work. I had such great experiences this summer. Like my show at The Neon Heater Gallery in Findlay Ohio and another with Anwar Mahdi at baby blue gallery in Pilsen here in Chicago.


Perry HeadshotKailyn Perry was born in 1990 in Boston Massachusetts and received a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2013 with a dual major of Painting and Art History. Since 2013 Kailyn has been living and working in Chicago at Autotelic Studios. Her most recent exhibitions include a solo show at The Neon Heater Gallery in Findlay Ohio and a two person show at baby blue gallery in Chicago.