Smile Politely

WorkSpace: Lisa Kesler

Welcome back to WorkSpace, a series featuring an inside look at the places where local artists roll up their sleeves and take care of business. This time, we are going to see the work of Lisa Kesler, a painter, printmaker, and illustrator. Sahe has a BFA in Painting and an MFA in Illustration. Her paintings are acrylic and encaustic and her printmaking focuses on linocut and letterpress printing.

Smile Politely: When and how did you decide to become an artist?

Lisa Kesler: I know it’s a common thing to hear an artist say “I’ve always been an artist” or “even as a child I remember loving to draw”. But, well, that sort of sums it up. I always thought of myself as an artist. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. Professionally, I made the choice when I chose Painting as my major in college.

SP: What or who are your influences?

Kesler: I am drawn to compositions with a strong light source, high contrast, strong, clear colors, and simple, everyday subject matter. So, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence and Matisse are a few of my favorites.

SP: Who would you like to collaborate with and why?

Kesler: The late Jean-Michel Basquiat. I would love to give him one of my prints and let him draw over it, covering it with words and images, letting parts of the original show through. It would turn it into something completely different.

SP: Tell us about your workspace.

Kesler: I work in two places — my studio in the Lincoln Building in downtown Champaign and at the Living Letter Press inside Dixon Graphics in Champaign. The architecture and interior spaces in the Lincoln Building are always an inspiration and I feel like creating the minute I walk through the door. My studio is on the fourth floor, overlooking Main Street. I do a lot of my printing on the old Vandercook presses at the Living Letter Press. It is a privilege to be able to keep the traditional method of letterpress printing alive. I print my linocut images on the presses and sometimes incorporate text printed with antique wood type.

SP: Choose a piece of your artwork and explain it in detail

Kesler: This is a new three color linocut print titled “Have a Seat” from a series of four different images. Recently I wanted to try to print on some vintage fabrics I had collected. I was frustrated with the results so I decided to carve my own designs based on the fabrics I have and print them as backgrounds for various household objects. The first pieces depict mid-century modern chairs.

SP: What movie would you recommend to watch and why?

Kesler: The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. (if you can find it). It’s a 1953 film written by Dr. Seuss who also designed the set. It’s dark and delightful and amazing.

SP: What is your favorite spot in C-U?

Kesler: The corner of Chestnut and Main in downtown Champaign. I pass by that corner every day when I leave the studio. I love it. The hickory smoke scent from Black Dog, the urban grittiness of the pawn shop and graffiti-ed train cars, the amazing architecture of the old train station (with Dandelion Vintage and Exile Records), the old, old train station (Black Dog), the old Vriner’s ghost sign above Memphis on Main, the Accord marquee, and, of course, the Lincoln building (home of my studio). 

SP: What do you think about the art scene in C-U?

Kesler: Recently, Champaign-Urbana has developed an insatiable appetite for food and music,but for some reason, our community seems to lag behind others when it comes to its appetite for the visual arts. But we are very fortunate to have two local organizations working tirelessly to provide new programs every year. 40 North, directed by Kelly White, oversees the popular Boneyard Arts Festival which grows every year. She has also introduced a successful new CSA program and opened the 40 Point One Gallery on South Neil Street which features rotating exhibits. The Giertz Gallery at Parkland College has planned two recent exhibits focusing on the work of local artists. 

The Urbana Public Arts Program, along with 40 North, launched the Urbana Art Expo last year to showcase the work of local artists and provide an opportunity for the public to purchase original artwork. Because of the efforts of these important organizations, I have seen a significant change in the Champaign-Urbana visual arts scene and I feel very hopeful and encouraged about our future. A few other notable gallery spaces with rotating exhibits are  Gallery 217, the University YMCA gallery, and the IMC gallery in Urbana. But I would love to see at least one more retail gallery in our community, similar to the Cinema in Urbana, with a curated permanent roster of artists where the community could go to shop for art. It would make it easier for people to find the work of their favorite artists without having to seek out temporary fairs and exhibits which come and go.

SP: Where, when and how can we see your work? 

Kesler: My work is available on my website, and on my Etsy shop.

Editor’s Note: Kesler was also featured as a part of this year’s Made Fest during Pygmalion Festival.

About the author: Jimena Oliver

Jimena is a photographer at Smile Politely. Find more of her work and photographs online:

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