Kiah Bellows can recall working with her hands from an early age. Originally from out West, her family frequently moved when she was young before settling in Greenville, often living in eclectic homes that had character but needed a lot of work. Bellows describes being allowed to draw on wallpaper before helping her mother tear it down, and using needle-nose pliers to pull up staples and rip out old carpet.
“It was fun, and now I look back, and I’m like, ‘Man, they just got free help,’” says Bellows with a laugh.
But it was those experiences — in addition to having parents who encouraged her creativity — that helped lay the foundation for her desire to pursue art as a profession. “Art’s kind of physical, manual labor,” says Bellows, a painter and gallery assistant at Art and Light in the Village of West Greenville. “I think just doing stuff like that, that was kind of my normal.”
She adds, “My dad got me a drill when I was 12, and we built a treehouse together.”
When Bellows enrolled at Gardner-Webb University on a swimming scholarship in 2008, she knew she wanted to do something in the arts. She initially considered majoring in interior design and minoring in business, but ultimately chose an art major with a concentration in printmaking and painting.
Balancing the demands of athletics and academics was a formidable challenge. “It was hard being in studio late hours. I’d get out at 10 p.m. and have to be up at 4:45 a.m. for practice,” Bellows recalls. “And it almost killed me my senior year, having my last big conference meet and then a month later having my senior show.” But she reflects positively on the experience, adding that it prepared her for the self-sufficiency needed to launch an art career after graduating.
And Bellows will take a new step forward at Artisphere, where she will exhibit her work as one of two Emerging Artists. The category is specifically for artists who lack experience showing their work at festivals. In addition to being provided with booth space and marketing materials, Emerging Artists also attend an exhibition workshop.
“I just constantly apply for shows, just always try to keep the ball rolling and do something different,” Bellows says, regarding her decision to apply for Artisphere. “I’ve never done a street festival before, and there’s a handful of artists who do festivals all over the U.S. every year, and they’re really successful. So I think it’d be a really good thing to kind of get into that.”
Her work largely focuses on abstract landscape paintings, which she says are inspired by trips to visit family out West and along the East Coast. “It’s not necessarily that I’m recreating a specific location in my landscapes, but more of a feeling or a memory. I’m trying to connote a feeling or an experience,” Bellows says.
Bellows uses acrylic paint as a base, and she often draws on her paintings with pencil, charcoal, and graphite, a technique called mark making. Other media she frequently uses include oil sticks and watercolor sticks. Although the process varies, when Bellows starts a new work, she usually begins with a basic color palette or composition. She then sketches an initial draft on paper before transferring it to canvas, with the final painting often departing from what she first envisioned.
Asked if there’s an artwork of hers that she’s particularly proud of, Bellows reflects, “There’s some that I’m more close with, but there’s always those pieces that you feel kind of got you to the next level. Kind of like stepping stones that you love … because you learned something. It’s more of the process.”
After Artisphere, Bellows will have a show with painters Glory Day Loflin and Dorothy Shain from June 2 to July 27 at the Greenville Center for Creative Arts.