Wilderness Workshop residency program sends artist Kia Neill into the wild
August 30, 2017
Artist Kia Neill covered a lot of ground in her weeklong residency in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Neill, one of four artists coming to the valley in 2017 through Wilderness Workshop's artist-in-wilderness program, set out on daily hikes through the wilderness seeking inspiration. In her first few days here, Neill explored the Lost Man and Linkins Lake trails, photographed wildflowers on Independence Pass, popped into the Grottos, made her way to the flanks of Mount Sopris at Thomas Lakes and hoofed it above Ashcroft to Cathedral Lake.
"Primarily, I want to absorb as much as I can," she explained last week.
Neill does have a looming deadline to tend to while she's in residence at a cabin near the Roaring Fork River outside Aspen. She's opening a solo exhibition of 30 paintings and drawings at Naropa University on Sept. 8. But that's not keeping her out of the woods while she's here.
A Chicago native, Neill was based in Houston when she first visited Colorado six years ago for a residency at the Tin Shop in Breckenridge. That taste of the mountains influenced her artwork deeply and drew her back permanently. Neill moved to Denver three years ago and, just before coming to the Roaring Fork Valley for her residency this month, settled in Keystone.
Being close to nature, and particularly to the dramatic mountain landscapes of the Rockies, has become essential to Neill's work. She practices across disciplines, from photography to painting and drawing to sculpture.
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Her innovative collage pieces combine digital photos — she works exclusively with cellphone cameras — of mountain landscapes with detailed painting and drawing. A single piece might juxtapose far away places in which Neill has found visual rhymes. A piece currently hanging in a solo show at the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, for instance, layers photos and drawings of an abandoned mine in Montezuma upon the moguls below Chair 6 on the ski hill in Breckenridge and dramatic shots of Lake Dillon. Most recently, trekking around the wilderness surrounding Aspen, she's been exploring links between mountain landscapes and the human body.
"I'm relating forms that I see between shapes and structures in our own bodies and various landscapes," she explained.
For instance, looking at groves of aspen trees and the way their roots come together underground, she's been reminded of how humans' ribs join in the sternum. In Aspen, she's figuring out ways to make that connection visually in her work.
"I'm just playing around with those ideas," she said.
Neill is one of four artists selected for a residency here this year by Wilderness Workshop. The wilderness and conservation advocacy group founded the program in 2008 to honor watercolorist and activist Dottie Fox. It's since annually brought diverse artists — selected by a jury of artists and art collectors — to stay and work on ranches and in remote cabins around the Roaring Fork Valley.
Resident artists are free to do what they like with their time here. The nonprofit only requires participating artists to donate one piece of work to be auctioned off for Wilderness Workshop's benefit.
Neill has snapped countless photos during her very active residency as ideas for future work developed in her mind's eye.
"When I make work, it's very much about the process of discovery and realization," Neill explained. "It's through making that I realize what it's going to be. So for me, making art is a thought process."
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