Interview with Artist Kelly Ording

14 mins read

To get things started, I’d love to hear about your background. Was there any inspiration that you had when you were young? How’d you get into art?

Yeah, I grew up in the Bay Area. And it’s surprising to me, too, because my family was very athletic growing up. My dad was a huge rugby player for the United States. And everything was sports, sports, sports, everybody played sports. We didn’t go to art museums or anything kind of like in the arts at all. And then, in high school, I took a ceramics class. And I still do ceramics to this day, too. But that was like my first kind of introduction into actually making anything. And so then, I went to school in Colorado, CU Boulder, and studied environmental education. But I thought I’ll still take a ceramics class to keep up with it. And then, eventually, it took little time. A year later, I didn’t think I wanted to do environmental education anymore. And then luckily, my uncle lived in New Zealand, and he’s a potter. And so I could study under him for about a year in New Zealand, and I made pottery. So I was doing that and that’s when I decided to transfer to the SF Art Institute.

How was that?

Once I got there, I realized that their Ceramics Department needed to be stronger. And I thought I don’t think I’m going to succeed with this here and instead, I started painting. It would have been my junior year in college, and then it was off to the races from there. And luckily for me, that school, I loved the Art Institute. And I was surrounded by my classmates, like contemporaries who worked closely as a unit. It was almost like a family of people who just loved doing artwork. And so we all pushed each other. And even after graduating from the Art Institute, I had to get a job but never stopped painting, really. I think a lot of that was surrounding myself with other people that wanted to paint in a community, and then that was the Mission District of the early 2000s. There was just such a strong artistic community going on there that was with the whole mission school, going on with Alicia McCarthy and there was so much energy in the mission then. People were doing all sorts of like pop-up gallery shows and those were some very healthy, creative places to be in the early 2000s.

Do you feel like the art scene of SF has changed a lot since then, to your knowledge?

I live in Oakland, So I don’t know if I can still comment on this. But the artists are still there. I’m not going anywhere. I’m an Oakland nerd. My studio is not over there anymore. And my gallery is actually in Oakland too so I don’t know as much; I can only imagine that it’s changed a lot. Because when we moved over here, many artists moved to Oakland, because it just became so expensive in San Francisco.

And I would like to hope that it’s still like that, although, I mean, the artists aren’t as close. I mean, I went around CCA a couple of weeks ago, and that school was huge and looks like it’s thriving. So I would hope to imagine that there’s like a healthy arts community there. A new museum opened, and there were lots of gallery spaces opening. So I think it’s healthy, or I would hope so.

I guess it’s just rough. That’s a rough place for an artist, right? When a city becomes too expensive.

Absolutely. If you’re trying to rent a studio space. But you know, artists are pretty gritty. I think I worked out in my room for years. Some people are sleeping next to them in their studios. You’ll do whatever it takes to make it work.,

I think that true, dedicated artists make it work. But Oakland now, too, is, is pretty expensive for people, unfortunately. But still, I think there’s a lot more space and you can find studio space here. 

Well, then Oakland must be doing quite well with people like you around.

Yeah, I think so. There are a lot fewer galleries over here than in San Francisco. It’s a lot smaller. But I think there are a lot of people actually doing the work in Oakland. I mean, we live in North Oakland. And it’s kind of by Emeryville. There are just a lot of warehouses. And I used to live in a warehouse off Third Street in San Francisco for years. And now that area has changed. I don’t know how many warehouse spaces are still over there. Whereas in Oakland, there are huge warehouse spaces that people can work in still.

So, you really got into painting, especially after setting on that as your career after school. And what about right now? Has your sense of art changed recently? Has it developed more or have you moved in a particular direction?

I had been a working artists for eight years. And I think in that time, I think when I was like, first able to quit my job. It was a little bit different I liked painting more murals, and you could make pretty good money painting murals. But then over the years, I like to step back a little bit from your work and concentrate more on your work. And I think over the years I just developed a really good sense of my work.

There are certain things that have not changed because I’m still fascinated by the process. So I work on paper. And then I also work on canvas. And they’re to like kind of deferring the paper like with that dyeing process, I think over the years, I’ve just introduced different mediums. I’ve been able to work with the art San Francisco arts commission on larger public pieces like mosaic or concrete. And that kind of has helped open up my eyes to like introducing different mediums into my work beyond just paper and Canvas. 

So in my last show, I introduced this kind of wooden, 3d sculpture, they’re they like were on the wall. So they weren’t really sculptures, but they were kind of these wood pieces that hung on the wall. And then with like ceramics, too. I would like to like haven’t actually shown ceramics in a show. But I imagine probably next year, I’ll introduce that.

Coming back full circle.

Yeah, no, exactly. I feel like I have so much work that I’ve done, I’ll still like go back and look at things that I’ve done five or ten years ago.  Lately, I go in and out of minimal phases, like right now I’m really fascinated with just color. After having been an artist for 25 years, something so simple as color. When I still had a teacher, the best advice I ever got was that you must constantly entertain yourself as an artist. If you’re spending 60 to 80 hours a week in your studio by yourself, you have to come up with problems and solve problems to keep yourself entertained and fascinated by your work. If you don’t do that, all the soul and love that would go into your painting isn’t there. What’s the point of even doing it unless you push yourself and love your work?

That’s true. Because otherwise, you can get really burnt out. You can end up just becoming exhausted.

You have to. You’re in a lucky enough position that you have to keep working. For deadlines, shows, and exhibitions like that. You just have to keep it exciting. I think people can see when an artist is not excited about what they’re doing.

introducing different mediums continually is really fascinating to me. And I feel blessed because I’m 46 now and I have confidence in my work and the process that I didn’t necessarily have 20 years ago. Knowing what will work, and what to do next.

Right? I mean, with your experience, I’m sure you have much more confidence and direction for your work and where you want to go. Like you said there must be endless and endless ways to continue on with the work especially if you have like this fascination with it and your input to entertain yourself. 

Exactly. And then introducing other things like wood and or I did like these like plastic sculptures, and then that’s even a whole nother level of discovery, I guess you could say.

That’s right. Wow. So do you. So do you see yourself doing more of that in the future? Is that the direction you see your art? Going? Like, branching out into other mediums cutting back into ceramics a little bit, or just continuing to experiment?

I think just continuing to experiment. I still love painting and painting is my forever love. I’m also fascinated by just seeing an artist’s work in a different medium. Kind of like just seeing how an artist’s mind works with wood, for example. I also relish using a new medium for the first time and being like, “I don’t know what I’m doing here,” it’s so vital to continue in your practice to be uncomfortable with something. That’s when all this discovery happens, and new things come out of you that surprise you. So I don’t feel like I’m gonna become a sculptor, but I definitely hope for the rest of my career to continue introducing different mediums into the work. And plus, it’s really interesting to see how all those things communicate with each other, and over time. Like creating a whole body of work and seeing how all those things relate to each other and influence each other.

Thanks so much for taking some time to chat with us, Kelly.

To learn more about Kelly Ording and her work, visit kellyording.com or find her on Instagram. Her work can also be seen at her gallery in Oakland, which is called Part 2.


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.