“Curiosity is what brought me to where I am today,” says collage artist McKenzie Keenan, who owns and operates an atelier in Brevard, Heart of the Matter Gallery. But getting to where she is now also took a determined willingness to leap outside her comfort zone.
“I only came back to my art in this full-time way six years ago,” Keenan explains. She was a practicing artist earlier in life, but put that interest aside in order to focus on providing for her son. “Once he was out of college and in the Peace Corps, I decided to go back to my art professionally. To some it seemed like a risk. But to me it seemed a necessity.”
Still, it was a rigorous transition for Keenan, who has an MBA and spent most of her career within the rather predictable cocoon of corporate America. “I began traveling around doing art shows and trying to figure out how to make a living. But I never allowed myself to get into a mindset of ‘This is too hard,’ or ‘Oh, it rained.’ I figured, why not stay positive?”
One affirmation came when the Frank Lloyd Wright Museum at the Fallingwater house placed an order for silk scarves Keenan designed. But the direct path back into her revived life as an artist was sketched on the outside of a notecard.
“All my life I would create and send handmade cards. Then a lightbulb came on, and I started making and selling notecards as original pieces of art. Even when I create a set of notecards that have the same paper and basic design, each one varies a little bit, so you get an original collage on each card.”
Keenan also handcrafts items such as eyeglass cases, brooches, and wall art — often playing with geometric shapes like circles and squares to convey a sense of rhythm, balance, and flow. Some of her larger works suggest a nod to the concentric circle paintings of abstract-art pioneer Wassily Kandinsky.
She also enjoys creating a unique “community collage” opportunity for participants who visit her studio on gallery walks. “Materials are provided for each person to create a 4-inch by 4-inch square,” Keenan explains. “No scissors are provided, only tearing is allowed. My task is to then assemble the squares in a composition.” At the end of the impromptu creative experience, the completed piece is raffled off and one lucky participant gets to take it home.
McKenzie Keenan, Heart of the Matter Gallery, 27 South Broad St., Brevard. See mckenziekeenan.com or on Instagram: @mckenzie.keenan.designs. Heart of the Matter’s resident artists will collaborate with artists from Red Wolf Gallery and Artists @ Work for Brevard’s Fourth Friday Gallery Walk, 5-8pm on November 23, creating new works inspired by Vermeer’s masterpiece “Girl With the Pearl Earring.” For more information, see heartofthematter.online.