Walk into artist Lisa Kinzelberg’s Winnetka home studio and you’ll see several paintings in progress. Large-scale abstracts, figurative works, and portraits encircle the room. One, a portrait of Kinzelberg reading to her children, leans against the western wall. Paint tubes and brushes, palettes with daubs of mixed colors, cans of walnut oil, and other bits of painterly flotsam spread out underneath. Inches away, an American Girl sports car is parked next to a Barbie dream house. Twists of Hot Wheels race tracks trail off toward a partially-built Lego tower. A metal basket of soccer balls looms beyond that.
This unintentional still life combining children’s playthings and serious paintings, “exactly represents my life,” laughs Kinzelberg.
When her children (Livvie, age 6 and Eli, age 9) are home, Kinzelberg is with them, momming the home ship with all its attendant games and books, meals and cleaning, sports and homework. But when the kids are at school, she paints. A lot. In the last year Kinzelberg completed 14 paintings—12 of them commissioned for homes throughout the North Shore and in second homes in Arizona and Florida. More are being completed for a show March 1 through 31 at the Vivid Art Gallery in Winnetka.
Kinzelberg’s body of work for the show includes a series of large-scale abstract oil paintings that showcase her chosen “visual language.” Cascading squares and rectangles of color appear almost pixelated throughout the canvas. Scraped paint blurs one color into the next, forming organic patterns and shapes in muted shades of green, blue, cream, gray, and sunset mauve. Each piece is intentionally high-energy and raw but simultaneously seeks to communicate groundedness and calm.
That dichotomy “is a metaphor for life,” says Kinzelberg. “When you look at the world authentically,” she explains, “you don’t just see beauty or ugliness.” Our experiences of the world are more complex than that. Looking at the ocean, for example, one might see it as both beautiful and frightening. I try to capture that energy and life in paint.”
Describing her aesthetic and approach for the show pieces, Kinzelberg says, “Think Jackson Pollock meets Gerhard Richter meets Monet,” she laughs. “Resolving contradictions is definitely a theme for the show. I want people to feel energy from each piece, meditate—even to go on a journey. The name of each piece is a window into a subject; the view takes it the rest of the way.”
A year ago, Kinzelberg—who has a degree in Philosophy of Art and Art History from The College of Wooster, Ohio, had been painting and drawing as a hobby, trying to decide whether she should jump back into a business career, or do something else.
“When I came out of college, I didn’t want to be a starving artist, so I went into other work—first for a PR firm in Cleveland, and then for a management consulting firm in Chicago,” Kinzelberg recalls. “And then I stepped away from all that to raise a family. Once the children were both in school, I knew I wanted to do something to keep growing creatively. I was looking for that second act.”
Talking about this with a close friend in the interior design business, Jessica Margot Federighi of Jessica Margot Design in Lake Forest, who was also a fan of her work, brought Kinzelberg her first commission.
“Jessica had a client who needed a large piece of wall art in their family room,” Kinzelberg recalls, “and asked if I would be willing to create it. Jessica took a big risk referring me, but the result was fabulous. The client loved the work and I enjoyed the collaboration. So it was a win for everyone.”
Since that initial project, word of Kinzelberg’s work spread fast and every month of 2018 saw her busy with a new commission.
“Commissions are so much fun,” she says. “They have a built-in challenge because they are collaborative. I love giving the client a finished piece that is not only an expression of how I view things as an artist but something that is meaningful to them too.”
Growing up in Akron, Ohio as the middle child in a family with three daughters, Kinzelberg developed that vision early. “I was captivated by all things visual,” she says. “When I was tiny, my mom recalls that I looked at the world differently than other toddlers, noticing and commenting on colors, proportions, scale, and texture. And I always found ways to communicate emotion in my drawings.”
Kinzelberg’s childhood was full of culture and intellectual conversations. Her stepfather had been a professor of history, and her mother’s family members were musicians. “My grandfather, for example, was the music director for the New Jersey State Opera, a composer, guest symphony conductor, and nationally recognized timpanist. He played snare drum with Benny Goodman and Paul Samuel Whiteman. And my uncle is also a prominent music director, composer, and drummer.”
In fact, Kinzelberg’s approach to painting, “is like drumming,” she says. “With a lot of emphasis on the rhythm and stroke, and energy. When I paint, I too focus on rhythm and movement, intentionally interrupting lines, sculpting the surface, and so forth to create tension and feeling.”
Most of Kinzelberg’s commissioned works are abstracts, which she creates by layering, removing, and re-layering paint. “It’s an iterative process,” she remarks. “I apply the paint, create a composition, and then start removing and reapplying the paint until an interesting color story and energy emerges. Even if it takes seven layers, I don’t stop until the piece feels alive.”
A lot of the paintings Kinzelberg has been commissioned to create are in newer homes. “So I feel it is important for the pieces to have a feeling of nature or history about them—water, stone, rock, sky, even brick. This way, they bring some soul and texture, story, and energy into the space.”
In the months ahead, Kinzelberg hopes to do more shows locally, nationally, and eventually internationally. She’s also exploring the stories she tells with her art. “The artists I respect most have a cogent approach to their work—their art and philosophy of life are one and the same. I want the pieces I create to resonate with the viewer so that they see something about their own existence in the work.”
For more information about Kinzelberg, visit lisakinzelbergart.com.