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Thalo loves to promote artists and each month, we spotlight a member of our community! 

This month we are pleased to have Kelley Hensing as the thalo Spotlight Artist.


Thalo Team: Can you give an "elevator pitch" of your work?

Kelley Hensing: My artwork is inspired by the mysterious. Haunted places, strange figures, old relics. The beauty and decay of nature and living things. I use archetypical characters to create symbolic narratives both beautiful and dark.  


TT: What is your artwork about and what do you want people to take from it?

KH: I grew up in a house by the woods, and we went on may adventures off the beaten path as a family. I was surrounded by animals and wilderness, so many of my themes relate to nature. There were also religious influences growing up that rooted in my subconscious an attraction to symbolism and spirituality. I’m fascinated by icons and the images our ancestors have created around myths and folklore. I also like studying the psychology behind our stories, with some of my favorite influences being Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung.

In my work I use archetypes and nature to create a symbolic language, which is both of my own creation and inherited from the collective consciousness. I use these things to tell stories, convey emotions, and visualize experiences.  The act of creating art is also very therapeutic. I use art making to expel my fears and phobias, transforming the energy of these anxieties into creatures and characters. My happiest moments are when I’m able to make art that resonates with my spirit. Forming something from nothing. It’s a form of meditation.


Burst Oil PaintingBurst


TT: Which artists do you feel have influenced your art the most?

KH: One of the most influential artists in my life has been Donato Giancola. I’d admired his work ever since I saw my first Spectrum art book, and on book covers and at conventions. His work is dramatic and expansive, yet tells a story intimately through gesture and individuality of his figures. During graduate school at SVA, I had the fortunate experience of having him as my painting mentor, which later led to the rare opportunity of becoming his studio assistant. (And sometimes an elf or warrior for a painting!) He’s a fantastic teacher and a prolific painter, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him over the years. He also has a very positive, energetic energy and a sharp mind for business, which are all vital components in being a well-rounded artist.


Another influential artist is Marshall Arisman. He’s a long-time artist and illustrator, and the chair of the SVA grad program I attended, “Illustration as Visual Essay”. Marshall is like the sage on the mountain, whom I discovered on my quest for a new path. He’s filled with extraordinary stories and life experiences, and his delivery captivates the room. His paintings speak to me and carry a sense of transcendence, with golden animals and colorful auras. During my first meeting with him while on a visit to SVA, I felt like he could read my artistic soul. He knew what I was looking for in my work and in growing my life.


I also love sharing my artistic interests with my partner and fellow artist, Michael Graessle. He loves studying people and body language and illustrating characters through exaggeration. But he can also capture the unique personality of someone’s face through realistic portraits. We’ve known each other well over a decade, and he’s seen my work evolve over the years. He knows my strengths and weaknesses and he’s someone who can share in the same passions and struggles of making art. I always wanted to be with someone who could enjoy and appreciate the art world, someone I could draw with and who understood life through a creative lense. 


TT: Do you have a preferred method of presentation for your artwork and why? (Examples: workshops, gallery shows, Instagram, etc.) 

KH: My work is mostly painted in oils, so my favorite way of viewing it is definitely in person. There’s nothing more magical than seeing your piece (it better be a good one!) hanging on a gallery wall. The ‘do not touch’ policy adds extra mystique. Here’s an image that you created from an idea in your head, that you spent hours painting away at hunched over at your studio, alone while blasting podcasts and mood music, that’s now being revealed to the public. Hanging it in a gallery presents your work to an audience in a professional environment, and it feels really good.


TT: Out of all of your creations (or bodies of work) which one did/do you find the most cathartic in creating?

KH: One of my most cathartic pieces is called ‘The Healer’. It was cathartic because I’d had a visceral response to one of the most revolting videos I’ve ever seen. All I’ll say is it was a hidden video of a ‘fur farm’, (aka an extremely inhumane slaughter house). From that experience I envisioned a character called The Healer. He is a transcendent figure that reveres nature, who can resurrect the spirit of the animals by giving them sacred wings. 


TT: When was your “Aha!” moment that led your work to where it is now?

KH:  I have a number of “Aha” moments as I’ve evolved through my life, but this is the one that finally got me on the right path. At my first college I had been accepted into the DAAP program at the University of Cincinnati. I’d been encouraged to major in graphic design since it was ‘art-related’ but would lead to a ‘real job’. (Keeping in mind computers were still ‘newish’ and graphic design was an evolving field.) A key feature of the program was co-oping (a paid version of interning) at a company in your chosen field. I had landed a choice spot at Hasbro Toy Group, and had my very own cubicle in their graphic design department. I love toys and cartoons from the 80’s so it was an awesome experience. But I distinctly remember one particular day- I was at my desk fumbling through a vector logo of some kind, when a man came to our floor with a small painting. He was an illustrator with a piece for for one of the box covers, of a GIJoe solider mucking through green underbrush. It was so cool seeing the real art for the box and I was given the task of scanning it. As I sat on my desk, I looked from the painting to my computer screen back and forth, and a jealous panic hit me. It was that moment that I realized I wanted to be making paintings and telling stories, not making the boxes and logos for them. The following year I applied to the Rhode Island School of Design and was thrilled to be accepted. I was then a major in illustration with a focus on painting, which was a much better fit. 


Demon Hoarder

Demon Hoarder

TT: How do you promote yourself and your art?

KH: On-line I promote myself with my website, instagram and facebook. Out in the world I use promo materials being postcards, business cards, prints and booklets. One of my favorite ways of promoting my work though is through art conventions. They offer a wealth of resources- you have a booth for displaying your work, you can gauge where you stand with other art displays, and you can reach interested collectors, public visitors and students. You also have the wonderful opportunity of meeting fellow artists and making friends. There’s so much to learn and share with peers, I’ve found it to be a welcoming and friendly community of like-minded people.


TT: Do you have any tips or advice for fellow artists based off of your experiences thus far?

KH: The most successful artists I know do it because it’s their passion. You will only “fail” at being an artist if you give up trying and evolving.

Being a successful artist doesn’t mean you’ll end up famous and rich. Don’t let expectations ruin the true pleasures of creating art.

Your voice will find you if you continue to create new work. It’s not something you should force or panic about if you don’t know where you fit.

I know a piece is going well if I wish I could keep it at the end. 

Learn how to run a business. We spend so much time trying to make art, we can overlook how vital it is to know what to do with it afterwards. 

It’s very important to network with fellow artists, attend shows and put yourself out in the art world. But be genuine. 

Read and learn about all kinds of other life topics. It will broaden your wisdom and inspiration. 


TT: What are you working on right now and why?

KH: I’m working on a new series of oil paintings that I’ll be displaying at my booth, at a wonderful art convention coming up known as IX 11. It’s held in Reading, PA on October 17th through the 21st.

My series is an exploration of the beauty and decay of life. It’s filled with botanical oddities, morphing animals and twisting paths through portals. Stylistically it has a gothic feel and vintage victorian. I’ll have a more full description with images up on my website once the convention is here. 


TT: What would you consider to be your "biggest achievement" with your work thus far?

KH: That would have to be my first big art show at Last Rites Gallery in NYC in 2014. It’s a distinctive gallery I love and admire, owned by the famous tattoo artist Paul Booth.  My show was titled "The Animal Within", and included 24 pieces of new and past works. It was one of the most rewarding days of my life. 




TT: Do you take commissions? Why or why not?

KH: Yes I take commissions. I'm happy painting both small individual pieces and larger more involved ones. I enjoy using vintage frames so each one is unique. My usual mediums are oil paintings and pencil sketches.The best way to reach me is through my website.


Be sure to check out Kelley Hensing's work on her other social media platforms: 


follow my work and travels on instagram: @kelleyhensing

Photo 1: Tite: "Burst"
Kelley Hensing
Photo 2: "Demon Hoarder" Painting
Kelley Hensing
Photo 3: "Paradox" Painting
Kelley Hensing
Photo 4: "Parcae" Painting
Kelley Hensing
Photo 5: "Rise of the Sea" Pencils
Kelley Hensing
Photo 6: "Usher of the Gloaming" Painting
Kelley Hensing
Photo 7: "Zombie Rider"
Kelley Hensing