This summer, Kelsey earned her MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
This summer, St. Andrew’s studio art teacher Navanjali Kelsey completed her Masters of Fine Arts degree at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia. Her artwork is currently on display in the Anne Bryan Gallery, as part of PAFA’s annual thesis exhibition. In May, Kelsey was awarded PAFA's Deena Gu Watercolor Purchase Prize for "Dancer," a work in China marker, watercolor, and gouache work seen here. Another of her works—“Physically Enhanced By a Special Spider Derived Serum,” seen here—has been selected to be one of 30 pieces in the Oxford Art Alliance’s 2021 National Juried Exhibition.
Drawing upon the visual elements that surrounded her in childhood, Kelsey creates art that “considers [her] place as an American child of Indian immigrants,” she says. “There’s been so much reflection in this whole [grad school] process: reading the theory and taking the time to really think about why am I attracted to these images and colors. For me, [what] it came down to, [is] it’s all linked to my home and how I was raised.”
Something she learned in grad school and “[hopes] to impart to the art majors [is the importance of] making first, then analyzing later,” Kelsey says. “It has to do with being really free with the process and not getting stuck in your head.” This freedom is evident in her work: intricate figures morph and evolve while layers of colors flow and drip. The resulting visuals are fluid and dreamlike, mirroring her creative process, which is closely tied to memory.
While the bulk of her work explores the space she inhabits between Indian and Western cultures through the lens of memory, Kelsey has recently started to allow images to come through that are from her present life and the home she shares with her husband and two children. This new direction came from looking at drips in her paintings and finding shapes reminiscent of her sons’ toy dinosaurs and storybook characters.
Similarly, in the St. Andrew’s classroom, Kelsey continues to teach “habits of serendipity,” a concept originally encouraged by longtime studio art teacher John McGiff, who retired from St. Andrew’s in 2019; Kelsey pushes VI Form Art Majors to explore what they can discover among abstract lines and marks—and in the process, teaches them to be open to the happy accidents that occur in the creative process.
In her thesis, Kelsey writes:
As I further recollect the vivid imagery of Hinduism, I see the powerful images of gods and goddesses that have multiple arms and hands. In my own life, as an artist, mother, teacher, and student, there are many instances where I feel the need for additional arms and hands myself.
“Hindu gods being represented in this manner are a sign of strength and power,” Kelsey notes; the use of these forms in her work reflects the strength and power she hopes to embody herself; balancing her many roles is no small feat. However, when asked about the relationship between creating and teaching art, Kelsey emphasized how important she feels it is to maintain artistic practice, even when teaching art. Her artistic practice, she explains, allows her to better support her students as they navigate moments of uncertainty and doubt, and brings a freshness to her teaching, as students can learn about and try the same processes that Kelsey has recently explored and developed herself.
“Our students are so dynamic, and they’re so hungry to learn and eager in the best way possible,” Kelsey expliains. “It is so energizing. So it becomes this really wonderful cyclical process of being able to bring that energy back into the studio.”
Her St. Andrew’s art department colleagues—all of whom are practicing artists as well—would agree!
View more of Kelsey's recent works below; click any image to expand.