My heart is full today as I share this latest HOUSE CALL with painter, educator, and graphic designer Keith Doles as he shelters with and provides care to his parents in North Jacksonville. He is surrounded by the beauty and quiet of a neighborhood with lots of green and bird song, feeding a passion for nature we are accustomed to seeing in many of his works of art.
If you have spent anytime in our community, you have certainly interacted with Keith’s artistry. He is a long time contributor to the cultural scene, showing his work consistently at the Ritz Theatre & Museum, local galleries, Jax Makerspace, and in a recent solo exhibit at the JCA. His works are popping up in corporate collections on the regular with recent commissions appearing on the walls of the the new Baptist MD Anderson and JTA buildings. Or maybe you have been fortunate enough to attend one of his classes or have seen him demonstrating at events throughout the community. Better yet, maybe you live with one of his works of art…aren’t you fortunate?!
Keith is also a significant part the Yellow House family…truly! His stunning body of abstract works appeared alongside the equally fabulous Princess Rashid in Under Construction, an exhibition we co-created in Yellow House’s first year of existence. Keith has also contributed to our Be the Art Summer Camp and given generously of himself to artist talks, university tours, and living room conversations with artists and neighbors. Hardly a week goes by when we don’t receive the gift of a visit from Keith as he pauses his own work at his studio at the CoRK Arts District next door. I am not sure there is anyone who has spent more time taking in every work of art, reading every poem, and honoring every artist statement than Keith Doles. He is a beacon of creativity, compassion, and kindness and we are honored to give you a glimpse into his life during this time of pandemic.
What are the most significant ways that these months of isolation and uncertainty have impacted your typical routine?
The urgency to complete tasks changed significantly over the last month. My last day to work in a real classroom was on March 12th. Prior to that, I was preparing for an exhibition in Jacksonville Beach and writing proposals for a couple of public art projects. The day after the 12th, everything came to a halt and it took some time to realize the majority of work I spent months doing was now in vain or simply postponed indefinitely. There were no more deadlines to meet. There were no studio appointments to schedule. The stress of having to write estimates for client work went away and replaced with the focus on caring for my elderly parents. Home health workers who came regularly to see my mom marveled how I could manage being an educator and an artist. This pandemic only put my graphic design work on hold. I paint from home now like I used to before I setup my studio at CoRK. There’s no urgency to finish paintings, so it gave me the opportunity to think through a piece with less distraction from the other usual commitments.
The Covid-19 pandemic also removed the excuses I had for not connecting with my family and friends in the frequency I did before I had a regular job. I reached out to my immediate family members in Georgia, and received a phone call from one of my mentors living in South Florida. I was so tired from work that I would put off communicating with the people who are important to me. My preference was face to face meetings over phone calls even before things changed. However, this provided time to look up friends who texted, emailed and called that I neglected to respond. Conversations are of course about the virus and everything that it touched or exposed. My routine didn’t alter too much, only the need to do things timely for others became less important. I sleep more, eat less, and spend more time outside in my backyard. Conversations also include how peaceful the silence can be and helpful in completing thoughts if you have the space in your home to do so.
What are you learning or experiencing now that you want to take with you into a new future? In other words, what is your big ‘lesson’?
Gratitude. I’m thankful for those who offered to help my family during this time. The isolation period provided an opportunity to do an internal inventory of what I have to live on and for my livelihood as an artist. I’m taking moments during prayer and meditation to appreciate that my loved ones remain healthy. I’m hoping to do this going forward with my work. I want to pass this on to my students when I return to teaching and ask they not try to rush through their creations, but take a moment to enjoy the process even if it’s a struggle.
6. Is there anything you have connected to you in yourself or your external life that has brought unexpected joy during this time? What is it and is it a new discovery or something you had forgotten or left behind?
For ten years, I’ve been an educator and mentor to artists from elementary school age to university level. I have no idea how many students I’ve taught altogether, but rarely do I get to see what their lives are like after class is over. My classes are all held on Zoom via the University of North Florida website. The sessions are a difficult transition to get through for all of us, though it is interesting to see how my recent group was able to open up about themselves. The students use our Zoom meetings to share their creative space and requested extra time for critique and sometimes chat about art philosophy. I believe their speaking in their own space is comforting and produces a connection between the other students who chose to broadcast in the same way. The joy I get from it is the reminder of the days when emerging artists would visit me to share their paintings. We talk; I give my opinion; and bounce ideas off of each other when discussing plans for their dream compositions. This new normal made me appreciate those moments much more.
Have you found the motivation, time and inspiration to create during this time? And how has the pandemic impacted your process or your life as an artist?
One thing the pandemic hasn’t done is slow down my juggling of ideas. Recently, my street paintings drew interest from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) and a Downtown residential project for subjects that feature diverse people, public workers and the infrastructure of urban communities. With social distancing, or rather physical distancing a requirement for going out in public, I’ve seriously thought about updating some pieces that included crowds of people on sidewalks. I’m not altering actual paintings, but produce digital images with people wearing masks and removing some figures from the scenes. My work does not always reflect or react to trends of the moment. The street paintings represented trends that repeat during periods of economic uncertainty, and this health crisis created a future that no one can really predict. My painting Walk (picture behind Keith in his portrait from home at the lead of this interview), for example, was completed in 2011 and has graced the walls of a few prominent art galleries. The image features 20 different characters in front of a blurred background a client intuitively recognized as the colors of the American flag. The new digital version will have half the number of people walking across the street wearing face coverings. Other pieces may also get a digital update.
I continue to work on my abstract paintings as well. The crisis placed all of my upcoming exhibitions and mural projects in limbo. I’m coping with this by working out sketches for mixed media landscapes. They will be similar in concept and design like the construction site pieces where the focus is on spaces that induce feelings of calm, love and remembrance. Scenes are taken from trails at local parks and private residences. A few paintings were started in my studio at CoRK. My goal is to paint and apply collage on site. However, I will test drive this process from my home studio.
Painter, educator, graphic designer
www.keithdoles.com | Instagram: @keithdoles | Art books at https://www.blurb.com/b/9725742-infrastructure
About the HOUSE CALL Series
Yellow House is checking in with the artists, writers, performers, and activists who have filled our space with their works and voices. During a time of crisis, creatives are faced with the same challenges, anxieties, and opportunities as most of us, yet they can offer unique perspectives on how to adjust, evolve, and understand. As observers and empaths, they can help us see ourselves and the world around us more fully. And in all honesty, I just wanted to know how our people are doing during this time of threat from virus, social distancing, continued work, and adaptation. One aspect of community care is to check in our neighbors and we are doing it the way we know how, through a series of intimate glimpses into lives authentically shared.
Interviewed by Hope McMath