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Baltimore Art Star: Kelly Walker

Throughout centuries there have been many visual artists who have been called to do custom paintings. Rome had Michelangelo, the world had Keith Haring and Baltimore has Kelly Walker.

Hailing from North Carolina, Kelly Walker moved to Baltimore in 1994, and Charm City has embraced her creativity and standout artistry. Kelly Walker is a mixed-media, self-taught artist and the owner of Baltimore Art Star – a decorative painting company that specializes in intimate custom artwork, fabulous faux finishes, and elegant hand-painted residential works. recently talked to Kelly about her art, work and the city she calls home. Where and when did this relationship began between you and art?

Kelly Walker: It began with surrendering an old way of living, which was self-destructive and negative. I had to accept a new way of living and I had to put a new hopeful energy into the unexplored world of creation. I can thank Baltimore for that. Baltimore has many venues, eccentric people, and even architecture that continue to inspire me. One can see my evolution from the angst-ridden teenager into a fully focused creative professional. In the beginning my work was very pretty, with lots of colors, tactile fabrics, but they were, upon careful inspection, gritty collaged dioramas with often risqué themes. Today my work is decorative in nature, more refined, and elegant. I actually touch my work. I touch the paint and the canvases. In the past I used to cut paper, words, and I was much more distant with what I was doing. Today I am my work. Being a self-taught artist, was it hard to gain respect, and what obstacles did you run into?

KW: Being self-taught has truly given me an advantage. No one has ever taught me "the rules" of making art, so my work is really raw, and has a lot of guts. I combine ingredients that normally don't gel together; like spray paint and gold leaf. Or things like really gritty plasters with refined, shiny resin coatings, oil, and acrylic with lacquer all on the same surface. There are the people who want to know where I studied and aren't interested in collecting my art because I haven't been to art school. I used to feel a twinge of shame about not being formally trained but now I see not being trained, as an advantage. No other voices are telling me what to paint or how to paint when I'm in the studio. It's just me, my exploration of the materials and my intuition.

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(credit: Kelly Walker) Why come to Baltimore and why live in Baltimore?

KW: I love this town. It was by hitchhiking at 18 that I landed here in 1994, and I stayed because it's the greatest city in America. It's a small town with a big-city feel, a nice mix of the Midwest, and the South, where I grew up. It's truly a town of extremes with the socio-economic mix. As a professional decorative painter I have made a home for myself, a thriving successful business close to D.C. and NYC. You are influenced by artists such as Warhol and Basquiat, but also John Waters. What is it about his work do you admire?

John Waters is such a pioneer. He is self-made and serious, but it's the fringe subject matter in his movies that I can relate to. I have ventured into some of them, plus he's hysterical, sharp, and a darn good interviewee because he's so totally himself. Imagine his debut showing of Pink Flamingos, that was shown in a local church basement! I just love that contradiction. Only in Baltimore. John Walters has courage and has never sold out. He loves Baltimore and I can relate to that. He is also proud and in awe of the people in this town, as am I. Art forms like dance, poetry, and painting require different techniques, which people use to express themselves. What's different about your approach to art, what's Kelly Walker's aesthetic ?

KW: My aesthetic is just me. It's all me: polished and gritty, explosive and tame. People really appreciate the textures in my paintings. They grow because I constantly change my mind and add to a piece creating layers. The more layers, the prettier a surface gets. Kind of like us. The older we get the more layers, memories, and experiences we create, we get better. I love my mid-30s. Now, I feel fully engaged in my life. Tell us about Baltimore Art Star and your recent projects.

KW: I love what I do for a living. I'm always painting, always creating, and challenging myself. When collaborating with designers it's the energy I adore. Patrick Sutton is my favorite designer to work with right now. I just get what he wants, and it's a joy to collaborate with such a talented designer. He once showed me a Rembrandt painting, pointed to a dark edge of the picture, and said: "I want the room to feel like this." I knew what he wanted.

I have been in the business for 15 years, so I'm very well acquainted with nearly every typical technique, and the designers usually have a vision of what they want, which makes it a bit easier. I am constantly creating new finishes for walls, moldings and ceilings by trying new combinations of products I've been able to give a new life to of old favorites. It's because I truly love what I get to do for a living. I push myself to keep imagining new combinations, then actually making them. What's next? Any upcoming exhibitions or projects?

KW: I'm getting very excited for a big show this September called the "Art for Land Sake." It's an annual art show and fundraiser, where some of the proceeds go to the Valley Planning Council; which helps protect the gorgeous Green Spring Valley. I am also donating a large painting and an accent wall to the Living Classrooms Foundation at their annual auction party, Maritime Magic. I do it every year. I really love the art director and what she does with helping kids allow themselves to create. The Living Classroom Foundations "learning by doing" motto is a model that the whole city school system should adopt!

To read more about Kelly Walker and Baltimore Art Star, visit

Abdu Ali Eaton is an arts advocate and writer living in Charm City, Baltimore. His creative works can be found

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