Monica O'Keefe is a relative newcomer to Whatcom County, but that didn't stop her from becoming involved in the local art scene. She's one of the artists displaying her work in the October exhibit at Allied Arts of Whatcom County's gallery. An opening reception is 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5. For more on her art, see monicaokeefe.com.
Question: What brought you to Bellingham?
Answer: After living in Alaska since 1984 I came to Bellingham in August of 2011, really just for a change of scene and to be able to head out on road trips in the western United States and Canada. I do miss the beauty of Alaska, and the fact that it is so easy to get outdoors into nature there.
Q: What's your career history?
A: I studied geology at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, and then headed west to get a master's degree in geology at Washington State University. Like many WSU geology majors, I spent summers doing mineral exploration in Alaska.
Even though I haven't worked as a geologist for years, I enjoy looking at rocks, learning about local geology, and incorporating the colors and textures of rocks into my paintings. I also worked as a computer programmer in Anchorage and Juneau.
Q: How does that career influence you as an artist?
A: Programming involves problem-solving and building something that somebody uses. Painting is also about making things and solving problems with the painting as you go, but the goal is less defined, and there is freedom to go in any direction as you try for the result you are imagining.
Q: Do you set a specific time and place to create your art, or do you wait for inspiration to strike?
A: I've always painted in a studio space at home at any and all hours of the day. I generally have at least one painting in progress and lots of ideas for future paintings. Painting is always a learning experience, and I always feel hopeful about future paintings turning out better and going in different directions.
Q: What inspires your work?
A: The natural world provides most of my inspiration. I like to switch between landscapes and paintings that are focused in on pebbles, flowers and birds. I want to get less literal in my work and a bit more whimsical or abstract. Lately, I've been carving designs in soft rubber to make stamps that I can use to print with acrylics. Then I paint both transparently and opaquely over parts of the stamped image, and continue with layers of stamping and brushwork to create interesting effects.
Q: How does Bellingham compare with other places you've lived?
A: I've met some really talented, friendly artists since moving to Bellingham. I think most artists are happy to have other artists around and to have new artists coming in to their area, because the more art that is made and viewed, and hopefully sold, then the more the whole art scene will thrive in an area. It seems that in Alaska artists often feel remote and removed from the larger art world, and so they tend to get together and form groups to paint and show together.
A: In Alaska I spent a lot of time hiking, cross country skiing, and sea kayaking. In Bellingham I do a lot of walking and enjoying the view out over the bay. I've also done some great hikes in the Cascades, where the wildflowers were amazing this summer.