Rebecca Kelly: The Artist as Healer

If all art forms are supposedly interconnected, one bleeding into the next, Rebecca Kelly is an excellent example of this. A formally trained actress turned visual artist, Kelly is constantly blurring the lines between mediums, creating works that are not only beautiful but striking, works that tell stories and evoke moods.

My Old Friend John
An example of the artist’s book art

Kelly frequently experiments with books as an artistic medium, an idea she was first introduced to at the Center for Book Arts in New York. While attending a workshop with the artist Miriam Schaer, she began to conceive of a project. “I was searching for a tangible way to pull out of the depression I felt after 9/11,” explains Kelly. During the workshop, she constructed The Blue Book, her first work of book art. The piece, “included comments from friends, artists, writers, and others on how they react to the color blue, or the feeling of the blues,” says Kelly. It is an idea reminiscent of Picasso’s blue period, and something that speaks to the emotional power of art. Kelly was drawn to the medium because of its narrative capabilities, and has continued to use books in her work since. “This form channels and contains my wild, often chaotic impulses within a structure,” she explains.

Wooden Bowl, altered book, book pages, wire, 10-1/2″ x 7-1/2″ x 1-1/2″

As a teaching artist, Kelly is very familiar with the possibilities that art opens for us all. She has taught for many organizations throughout the years, including Horace Mann, Young Audiences Arts for Learning and The College of New Jersey. Currently, Kelly is the Artist in Residence in cancer care at NYC Langone Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital Center. Her vast experience has broadened her perspective on art and creativity, and the way we as humans benefit from artistic processes and self-expression. “I believe the artist is a healer,” explains Kelly.

While she is mostly teaching over Zoom at the moment, Kelly remains busy and engaged. As a multi-media artist who wears many hats including curator and storyteller, she is not starved for inspiration and revels in the vast artistic community. “I truly love being part of collaborative art experiences where storytelling inspires the visual art experience,” says Kelly.

Heartbroke, front view, 2019, vintage camisole, thread, beads and found objects, 14″w, 18″l

While in-person collaborations have been curtailed at the moment, Kelly has still found ways to engage from afar. Most recently, she has been working on a contribution to the 100,000 FOLDS art project. The project seeks to commemorate those lives lost to COVID-19 by helping us to “visualize the scale of these deaths.” As a participant, Kelly will create triangular origami pieces, all of which will eventually be assembled together in a large sculptural structure. “The project,” says Kelly, “supports our collective grief over the pandemic.”

In a time when we could all use some collective healing, it is inspiring to be reminded of art’s regenerative power.