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My Memphis View - Mary Ellen Kelly

Can you tell us a little bit about the moment you realized you wanted to be an artist?

Well, I’ve always been creative and I come from a dexterous family, so being creative was totally around me. I was good in art in high school and always took some kind of art class after high school, but I guess the exact moment was when I was at the Cooper Young fest and saw the mixed media works of Vikki Bible. I realized that I wanted to do that.

How did you learn your necessary skills?

Ha! I stalked Vikki and eventually became friends with her and convinced her to have a weekend art workshop. After that weekend, there was no turning back.

Are there specific opportunities or challenges that focused your career?

I made the decision “to be an artist” about one year after my second son was born, so being the primary caretaker for the boys and trying to launch a new talent/career all at the same time was the biggest challenge.

Who do you consider as your most influential mentor?

My aunt, Jeanne Lachance, was quite a successful artist up in New England where I grew up. She was a huge inspiration and mentor for me in many ways.

Do you have a creative ritual that helps gets you started?

Not really. I am a good self motivator, I’ve never needed much prodding to do stuff I like.

How do you measure success in your work?

Success is when upon completion, my work elements come together like a puzzle and make something beautiful.

What artist inspires you the most?

I don’t have a “most” but I have several that come to mind that inspire me a great deal: I adore Lee McKenna, she’s a collage artist in Australia. Evan Horback, from Portland OR. The colors of mixed media artist, Jill Ricci (from NJ) are always on point. The works of Brooks Salzwedel (LA based) are both calming and captivating. Locally, I think I respect Pam McDonnell the most. She’s never afraid to try new things and although she has a definite style, she’s always doing something different. I love that she’s always exploring with her craft.

As a kid what did you see yourself doing as a career?

You know, I loved making art when I was kid. I loved messing around with watercolors. But I never had visions of doing anything with art when I was real young. I actually wanted to be a singer!

What told you ‘this is the life for me’?

I can’t remember an exact point but really every time someone gets fired up about something I made, it really affirms that “this is it, they get it, they get me.” It’s a joy that something I made from my mind and heart makes someone else happy.

What compromises have you had to make in order to succeed? Has it been worth all of your effort?

I wouldn’t say I’ve made compromises as much as I’ve forced myself to try different things - different shows, locations, etc. I always say doing something or trying something new is better than not trying or doing, but on occasion, that has been a tough pill to swallow! I constantly try to learn from a bad decision, show, or experience and I can’t say that I’ve been able to do that 100 percent of the time.

What brought you to Memphis?

My husband finished grad school from USC and ended up getting a job with Fedex in 1999, so that was that!

What do you love about being a creative in Memphis?

I like the receptiveness of the community here. Folks are so supportive and open to new ideas.

Do you have any new and exciting projects planned for 2021?

I always have something exciting or big planned for the new year, but this year, with the pandemic, it’s been a challenge to flesh out the calendar and projects. Anyway, I’ve just begun working on a new and (kind of) different book. This will be my third one! It will be a minimal photography book like My Memphis View 1& 2, but with evening/night shots, which is totally something new for me and a bit out of my comfort zone. So, we’ll see how that goes! And I’m talking with the Downtown Memphis Commission about opening up the My Memphis View Art & Gallery again, in some capacity. Which I would love to see happen, of course.


Learn more about Mary-Ellen Kelly at

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