Kelly Shpeley

Artist: Kelly Shpeley
Photographer: Electrify

A Conversation with Kelly Shpeley

How did you start making art?

I started making art as soon as I could hold a crayon. My parents were always getting me art supplies when I was a little girl. They got me paint, pastels, whatever they could, and I remember really getting into it. I remember being five years old, turning to my mom and saying “I’m going to be an artist!” And I remember her saying “What about a scientist, or an archaeologist or a doctor or a lawyer?” And I was like “ART! ARTIST!” It was decided. I remember that moment very clearly, and so does she.

How did you get into mural painting?

The first mural I ever did was when I was about eight years old. I won a contest to paint the corner store window. It was in Black Creek on Vancouver Island and we had this corner store, which is still there. I won this contest from the two schools that were nearby to paint the front window for christmas. So that was my first mural gig, and my first commissioned gig. I was actually super shocked that I won the thing, because my teacher entered my name in the contest without me knowing. She was very supportive of my artwork, my teacher. She actually still has two pieces of mine. Two laminated paintings that I did in kindergarten. One was like – you know when they get you to trace the outline of your body and paint yourself? So everybody did their outlines and they’re like filling them in with shoes and pants. I did a full anatomical painting to the best degree I could. I had been flipping through the encyclopedias at the time and there was an anatomy section. I painted my version – my little kindergarten brain version of that, which included skin, organs, skeleton. Immediately, the teacher and principal called my mother in because they were concerned. So they sat us down and I explained where I had seen the picture and my mom was just like “Yeah, she likes encyclopedias a lot.” and so my teacher was like “Wow, ok.” She kept it and laminated it and still has it. I bumped into her about ten years ago and she still has it. I knew pretty early what I wanted to explore with art. I got into watercolour around eight as well, and did a lot of paintings of natural objects. Paintings of animals, pinecones, trees, and whatever was around. I would paint as close to realism as my little hands would let me.

Did you ever study art?

When I moved to Nelson the first time I was fourteen and going into junior high. I had kind of stepped away from art for a little while and was more into dancing. I did a lot of dancing and started doing martial arts and things like that but then I sort of steered back into art probably around grade 10 and that’s the only sort of formal schooling I had. At L.V. Rogers Secondary School they had the Advanced Placement Program where you could do first year classes and get accredited. Because of that, I have my first year, but I never followed it up. I decided to go travelling instead, and I went to Europe to check out all the old, long dead masters of painting. Michelangelo, Van Eick, Bosch etc.

Who were some of your favourite artists that you encountered?

My favourite artist is Hieronymus Bosch – all time favourite. Just by coincidence, I happened to be in Amsterdam when they were having a retrospective of his work at Rijksmuseum. It wasn’t even advertised yet. I was at the museum and I paid for the general ticket, and I was kind of chatting with the fellow at the front desk. He says, “we have a new exhibit here, want to check it out?” So I went into this room, and there was a security guard in every corner and it was ALL Hieronymus Bosch. The ENTIRE collected works of Hieronymus Bosch. It was like winning the lottery for me as a young artist. That level of weird, really made me feel like I was on the right path. I always loved his little creatures and dreamscapes, so it really made me feel like it was fate I should be there.

How did you start painting murals?

I travelled around a fair bit, and just kept making art, and absorbing as much art as I could. When I went to Europe, that’s when I really started to see the murals. There’s lots of murals everywhere. In Amsterdam they have a ton along the canals, and lots of graffiti. I travelled around in the UK quite extensively as well, and there’s graffiti, and our boy Banksy everywhere, all kinds of work really. A few years ago, I got hired to go and do a mural in Oslo, Norway.

What was that like?

It was in a private residence in Oslo. The client had purchased one of my paintings at my studio when he was visiting Nelson the summer before. He wanted to get a mural done in his abode. He flew me over, and we talked about all sorts of ideas for the space. I probably did about 10 or 12 sketches of different things that I wanted to do. He wasn’t in a mad rush. He was like “I’m going to show you the country first. I’ll show you the vibe that we’re going for. There’s a few muralists in this country that I really like and I want to take you and show you the work to really inspire you.” So we went to the North of Norway to the Lofoten Islands. On the Islands are all these abandoned buildings with these enormous murals on them. They were done by these two artists named Pøbel and Dolk, both Norwegian artists. They’re amazing murals. You have to travel to very isolated spots to see the work. It was kind of this profound kind of desolate,and extreme landscape, and then suddenly these enormous murals in the middle of nowhere, and I really liked that. I really liked the idea of “abandoned as gallery” and a simple palate. It had a very strong effect on me. Then after, I went and spent time in Berlin, and that’s all about crazy murals EVERYWHERE. Almost every building has a magnificent mural on it. It was so inspiring, Everywhere a human hand can reach has art on it. It feels so lived in. So when I got back to Oslo, I ended up doing this big glossy jade coloured norse dragon across this person’s house. Right through the middle of the house. I ended up meeting some other folks that also wanted murals done, and commissioned works done. I ended up staying in Norway for quite awhile doing commissioned works and murals before I came back to Canada.

Did you continue doing murals when you came back to Canada?

I ended up coming back and working in the theatre at Theatre Calgary and Alberta Theatre Projects. So everything was large scale, and sort of like murals. Theatre is really neat. You’re doing these big sets and decorating everything, and everything is big wide strokes, and it is really quite bright and fun. It was a very creative environment and it continued to inspire me in the same way. And then I ended up working in film for a few years in Vancouver. It was a bit more specialized. I didn’t do set decorating for that, I did props and stunt weapons so it wasn’t quite the same. It definitely influenced me towards doing more of the installation type stuff. But I did learn how to do a lot in a very short amount of time, with a very limited budget. So, a sort of economy of time. That sort of intense limitation, can make one not get too precious about the product, which I think is an important process to learn.

How did you hear about the Nelson International Mural Festival?

My friend told me about it, and urged me to check out the NDAC website. The summer was lining up to be busy anyway, because I try to do live painting and installations at the festivals every year here. But it sounded fun, so I went online and posted a couple of the videos of the murals that I had done. I heard that people were deliberating what they were gonna do. I got this phone call from Sydney, and she told me I had been selected to be part of the festival! I put 10 drawings together that were based on concepts that I always wanted to blow up big. I chatted with my pals in Berlin who are all mural artists, and I asked them their opinions of the sketches. I chose three out of the ten and they chose what they liked from all three and I kind of put them together. I ended up submitting the raven with the rainbow. My friends were super stoked on that image. When I submitted it, apparently, people really liked it. So that worked out.

How do you feel about having your mural on the back of the Capitol Theatre?

I love it. It ties back to what I was doing before. It’s nice for me, because it’s arts related, and I am making art on it. It’s like a full circle scenario. It’s nice to be able to contribute to my community. It’s a public space and a beautiful old building. It’s nice that they have chosen me for that spot. It’s a good spot. Big wall, close to the street, and I have a lot of freedom with it. I am very appreciative of that. I’m super stoked on it. The folks of the Capitol have been really supportive of this whole venture.

Who are some muralists that influence your work?

What is influencing my mural at the moment is an artist named ROA. I met him in Berlin a few years ago and I met him before I really knew that he had a bit of a following. He does these huge black and white murals of animals. I was at this place called the Stroke Urban Art Fair in Berlin, and he was painting a mural on the side of the building. Straight across the street from his mural was this other mural which was made by an artist duo called Herakut. It’s a man and woman that do these really amazing, super sharply rendered hands and feet with sketchy lines around it. Just huge, massive murals. Both of these artists do huge murals but they’re both so unique. It’s not like high realism but a mix of realism and basic figurative. It’s really beautiful. I feel that that’s the direction I want to go. I like the mixture of animal and human and keeping a really basic colour scheme, and with a heartfelt message.

Where can we buy your art?

You can find me at, and on instagram @kellyshpeley

Interviewer: Nicola Rough – 2018


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