Austin Woman magazine, April 2005, pp. 58, 60, 63, 64
Sculptor and Painter
Fascinated by Artistic Dualities, She
Sculpts What She Considers Sacred
by Gabrielle Snyder
It's late, after 10 p.m. on a Monday night, and Kelly Borsheim has just finished teaching a three-hour sculpture class at the Austin Sculpture Center. Tomorrow she will rent a car and begin the drive to New York City to participate in the 27th Annual Artexpo New York. You'd think she'd be exhausted, ready to call it a night. But Borsheim is energetic, percolating with ideas, and eager to talk about her work. "As long as we don't go past 1 a.m.," she says.
Born Kelly Aileen Seiler in the year the Beatles came to America (1964), Borsheim is the progeny of a pilot and an artist. Borsheim's mother, with six children to keep her busy, was unable to make a living at art. However, she taught art classes in the family's home and young Borsheim sat under the table, soaking up the lessons.
Borsheim is a full-time sculptor and painter. At her Cedar Creek studio, she sculpts sensual nudes in clay and bronze and creates what she calls "sculptural" paintings. She also teaches anatomy and sculpture at the Austin Sculpture Center (formerly known as the Elisabet Ney Sculpture Conservatory) and runs a successful art business, selling her work online and through a variety of galleries and exhibits.
But Borsheim didn't always plan on being a full-time artist. "It hadn't occurred to me that you could do art full-time," she says. "Let's be real here. You can't make money at art." A self-described math nerd, Borsheim excelled in high school and was valedictorian of her graduating class. In college, she majored in English and minored in math.
She does not regret those choices, but with hindsight says, "Even though l thought there was no reason to be an artist full-time, now I realize I couldn't be anything else but that." In college, she took photography as an elective, and that was the start. She recalls, "Being in that black and white darkroom and seeing something come up out of the chemistry. That's magic." Borsheim took a job in a photo lab, telling herself she was doing it to defray college expenses. "That was my first choice to go back to art," she says, "even though I didn't know that was what I was doing at the time." After moving to Austin, Borsheim developed an interest in restoring old photographs. When, she began encountering daguerreotype images with missing body parts, she decided to take up drawing again, thinking she could "learn to create, for instance, a missing hand in a photo." Soon she was frequenting life-drawing sessions and in September 1994, she began studying sculpture at the Ney. By the end of January 2001, she had sold her online beeswax supply business and had become a full-time artist.
Borsheim struggles against a tendency to, as she terms it, "butterfly" from project to project. She sees herself first and foremost as a sculptor, in part because she's made the choice to stick to one thing and to do it well. Her goal is to appeal to more than one sense. "I like the idea that a blind person could enjoy my work," says Borsheim.
In fact she is particularly fascinated by synesthesia. In other words, Borsheim wants a viewer to look at a painting and feel as if he or she were stroking its contours or touch a sculpture and hear a sound, maybe even music.
"I am also fascinated by the duality of our nature, especially the idea that two opposing concepts exist in a strange kind of balance," she says. "I find that creating works of art in bronze and stone offers me another way to explore coexisting opposites." Her sculptures are full of curves, what she terms "the rock 'n' roll" of the body. But here's another dichotomy she delights in: When creating art, Borsheim sees not in curves but in triangles!
Even the concepts behind Borsheim's most personal pieces deal with dualities. Interested in the more personal moments of human lives, what the artist calls her "pivotal pieces" express a concept she has wrestled with or been moved by. For example, the piece "Together and Alone" evokes the sense of feeling separate and solitary even when with someone else. A couple stands in a close embrace, but the woman is subtly pulling away, her mind or spirit obviously elsewhere. This piece has personal resonance for Borsheim. Although she is frequently gregarious and witty, she views herself as an introvert.
Not every work, she says, is meant to make a statement or be a "deep, dark thing." Sometimes her pieces are meant simply as a celebration of the beauty of human anatomy and what that grand design can accomplish, in particular what bodies can do through the movements of dance and gymnastics.
To those drawn to the visual arts but unsure where to begin, Borsheim says, "It all starts with the observation. It all starts with the line of the drawing. Even if you're a sculptor, you need to go draw, draw, draw."
Drawing, Borsheim says, allows one to capture a fleeting moment, to capture the essence of something, quickly. In addition, Borsheim advises new artists to "listen to everything." She acknowledges that one of the most difficult challenges an artist must face is criticism.
"It's kind of like when you're watching Simon on 'American Idol'," she says. "Everybody is dissing Simon, but if you listen to what he's telling them, he's actually giving them the best advice to shape them. You can either hear that he's telling you your wardrobe is bad and go fix your wardrobe or you can go cry, 'He hurt my feelings.' If he tells you you're weak in this area, and you agree with it, go fix it. But if you don't, throw away what Simon said and don't let it beat you up."
Borsheim concedes that being able to take criticism and not be crushed by it is a difficult task. "I think for me," she says, "the biggest thing is the issue of self-esteem. Our parents don't have it. They don't know how to teach us to have it. You can only get self-esteem through doing. You can only succeed at stuff by failing at stuff. You don't want to risk more than you can afford to lose, but you've got to risk something or you get nowhere."
Borsheim contends that pursuing a passion, such as art, requires action. "If you're not happy, you're the only person who can change your life," she says. "If you're an artist waiting to be discovered that implies that you're lying around passively waiting for someone else to change your destiny. And that's not what I'm doing."
At age 40, Borsheim says she feels a sense of liberation. She says she can look back and see that "being quiet or being shy got me this result. And now I can be forceful with my opinions. I don't have to be around people who make me uncomfortable, and I don't have to justify my reasons."
She speaks with intensity about her return to the United States last summer after six weeks in Italy studying its art. "It was depressing coming home," she says. "We don't live with art like they do there. In Italy, they've got the nude bodies out there, and I don't think they're any more decadent than we are."
Borsheim says she loves the United States but is frustrated by American shame around nudity and resistance to nude sculptures in public places. "I keep sculpting to say that to me the human body is sacred. I think shame gets us nowhere."
She continues: "We have some serious health issues - obesity, disease, population control and even self-esteem - that directly relate to how we view the human body, especially in relation to our minds and spirits. While I am not advocating that we all become nudists, I do not see why the nude in art should be avoided as somehow shocking or impure. It is through art, after all, that we humans are able to explore who we are and how we relate to the rest of our world."
Another Borsheim hope concerns Austin architecture. While she appreciates Austin as a city of artists, she believes its architecture doesn't reflect its residents' wealth of creativity. Confronted with too much gray concrete, she asks, "Why can't we have different colors of buildings?" She admires designs that dare to be distinctive: the new City Hall and the Frost Bank Building, for instance. "If they're going to put concrete in," she says, "I want it to be different concrete." Borsheim also wishes that humans would learn to live closer to the earth and hopes to communicate this philosophy, without preaching, through her art. "Until we see ourselves as part of that whole system of life on our planet," she says, "we're doomed."
At the close of the talk, Borsheim is still animated, discussing her evolving ideas for future projects. For one, she hopes to exploit the Internet to create an international community of artists who come together to personally aid countries in need.
Her Web site details new projects and upcoming exhibits, including Sculptors' Dominion Invitational, April 14 - May 22, in San Antonio. Filled with her art, her thoughts on art and a variety of useful information for artists, the site also contains her entire artistic history. *
2005 April issue of Austin Woman magazine: Kelly Borsheim sculpts and paints what she considers sacred: the dualities, textures, and shapes of the human form.