Artist’s Biography

James with his first public sculpture
James with his first public sculpture

I’ve been told by all the art-powers that be that I should have “biography” of my artistic career to this point or else I would somehow be less of an artist, but, I must ask you, the reader, when does an artist’s art career begin? Does it begin when a gallery decides to show an artist’s work, or does it really begin when the artist scribbles a Picasso-esque picture of his mother on the wall when he is two? Is there artistic merit to a fist full of mashed potatoes on the ceiling? I would argue Yes! Yes, Damn it! Yes! Yes! Resoundingly YES!

But lo!  The Art-powers that be would disagree with me. They find artistic beauty in Dog Feces spread on a dinner plate, but my Mashed Potato GREATNESS was crushed, my drawing talents, ignored. The Art-establishment broke my artistic spirit at the tender age of Two. It has taken me more than 30 years intense therapy to once again find my muse.

I’ve decided to give you two versions of my Biography. The short, boring one that absolutely no one cares about or wants to read (IE: the one every gallery has on every artist in it’s stable) and the L O N G one. The one that reflects who I am, where I’ve been, and in the end, how I got where I am today.


Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1964
Moved to Seattle, Washington, 1964

Learning and Education

1967 Tossed mashed potatoes on ceiling which received horrible reviews from critics.
1970 Created butterfly out of dyed macaroni glued to a piece of shaped plywood.
1971 Ate the macaroni off my butterfly (first art criticism?)
1977 My first and only art classes: Wood, Photography, & Ceramics electives, McKnight Junior High
1977 – 1978, Lived in Tehran, Iran
1981 – My first Solo flight in an airplane (glider)
1983 – Started jumping out of airplanes (it seemed like a good Idea at the time)
1984 – 1986, Lived in Aviano, Italy
1988 – 1990, A.S. in Commercial Aviation, Big Bend Community College, Moses Lake, WA
1990 – 1992, B.A., Summa Cum Laude (yawn) in Interpersonal & Business Communication, Eastern Washington University
1992 – Traveled to France on pilgrimage to Mont St. Michelle
1992 – Explored London
1996 – 1998, Welding Technology Certification Program, Olympic College
2001 – Traveled throughout France and Belgium
1998 – 2002, Studio Assistant to Stone and Glass Sculptor Will Robinson
2000 – 2002, Assistant to Glass Artist Marilee Moore
2006 – Traveled throughout Italy
2007 – Traveled throughout Morocco and Mali (Explored Timbuktu & rode camels with the Tuareg Tribe)
2008 – Survived Cancer
2008 – Explored Washington, D.C.
2009 – Traveled throughout Turkey and Greece
2002 – Present, Full-time Sculptor (aka: no ‘day job’)

Past and Present Gallery Representation

James with sphere for future sculpture
James with sphere for future sculpture

Gallery Mack, Seattle, Washington
Friesen Gallery, Sun Valley, Idaho
The RobertDaniels Gallery, Tacoma, Washington
Two Vaults Gallery, Tacoma, Washington
DragonFire Gallery, Cannon Beach, Oregon
Tri-Art Gallery, Richland, Washington
Urban Garden Habitat, Fall City, Washington

Invitational Shows and Awards

2013, ARTrails studio tour, Centralia, Washington
2012, Charles Wright Academy Auction, Tacoma, Washington
2011, Bellevue Festival of the Arts, Bellevue, Washington
2010, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Gala, Bellevue, Washington
2010, Art for Equal Justice, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington
2010, Kitsap Literacy Spelling Bee Fundraiser, Silverdale, Washington
2009, Art for Equal Justice, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington
2008, Art for Equal Justice, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington
2008, Seattle Museum of Flight Auction, Seattle, Washington
2007, Pike Place Market Foundation, Pigs On Parade, Seattle, Washington
2007, Bellevue Festival of the Arts, Bellevue, Washington
2007, Urban Impressions, Two Vaults Gallery, Tacoma, Washington
2007, The Night Tacoma Danced, Tacoma Art Museum fundraiser, Tacoma, Washington
2006, Bremerton Unity Church fundraiser, Bremerton, Washington
2003, Outdoors Art Exhibit, Carillon Point, Kirkland, Washington
2003, Outdoors Art Exhibit, City of Issaquah, Washington
2002, Outdoors Art Exhibit, City of Issaquah, Washington
2002, Gardens of Art, Seattle Art Museum Supporters, Seattle, Washington
2002, Outdoors Art Exhibit, City of Redmond Sculpture Park, Redmond, Washington
2002, Kitsap Golf & Country Club, Bremerton, Washington
2002, Outdoors Art Exhibit, Carillon Point, Kirkland, Washington
2001, Outdoors Art Exhibit, City of Redmond Sculpture Park, Redmond, Washington
2001, Kitsap Golf & Country Club, Bremerton, Washington
2001, Invitational Exhibition, Foster/White Gallery, Seattle, Washington
2001, Gardens of Art, Seattle Art Museum Supporters, Seattle, Washington
2000, Artistic Design, Olympic Community College, Bremerton, Washington
2000, Iron Design Center, Seattle, Washington
2000, James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation Award
1999, New Visions, Café Revista, Silverdale, Washington
1999, WAVE Scholarship (Washington Award for Vocational Excellence) for sculpting
1998, Art on the Green, Coeur D’Alene, Idaho

My Life as an Artist

In collector's home
In collector’s home

This is it! This is what all this hoopla is about. Right here! Yep. . . right here. Um, here’s where this entire web page was heading. The big, dramatic life story / artistic biography for ME, James Kelsey.

Yep. . .

this is the place.

I’m not sure where to begin though. You already know the sad, sad story of the art establishment quashing my artistic muse at age two. I used to be a perfectionist too. Remember that huge news print paper from elementary school? The kind with the large area above for drawing a picture and the three-lined bottom half so you could practice your big letters and your small ones. (Do they still use that in the 1<sup>st</sup> grade?)

Oh yeah…

… I was a perfectionist. Every time I made a mistake with one of my letters on that paper, I had to throw away the entire sheet and start over. Remember how horrible it was to erase that news print? I couldn’t take the carnage of it, so erasing wasn’t an option for me.

I grew up very poor in Renton, Washington. We lived in the Renton Housing Authority project. It was nice childhood for what is was– lots of kids in the neighborhood, no abuse, and no rats (other than my brother’s pet rat named Ben). I remember my mother used to baby sit to help with the bills and stuff. Once, we made these butterflies out of dyed macaroni. We used Elmer’s Glue to stick the colored pasta to some plywood boards in the shape of butterflies. It was the Coolest thing. Very artistic. If I hadn’t eaten all the macaroni off if it a week later, I’d ask one of my galleries to exhibit it now.

Elementary school was sort of a blur for me. Okay. . . I’ve mentally blocked it out. Something about the school burning down and rioting in the hallways because they took away chili dog Wednesday. I do remember one thing though, in the 5th grade.

Remember I said we were poor? Oh yeah. . . poor. Not quite eating-raw-glue-covered-macaroni-off-a-plywood-board poor, but poor. (I’m still not sure why I ate my butterfly.) Anyway, in the 5th grade my brother and I came home from school one day and our parents announced that there was a chance that we could be moving to Africa. You heard right, the Dark Continent, the motherland for us All. Lions, and Tigers, and big-ass Insects!

I guess my father was looking at a company that might relocate us there, and little ol’ me had never left the Seattle area in my life! For the next month or so I read up on Everything African, the people, the language, all the animals, and the big-ass insects. The one thing that Really appealed to me though was the art, especially the carved sculpture. We ended up not going, but another adventure was just a paragraph away.

See? It didn’t take long to get to this paragraph. 5th grade faded into a memory as I entered the 7th grade. Middle School. The big time. 7th grade was most excellent for me. I took photography, ceramics, and wood shop. In wood shop, there was one project in particular that captured my attention. We got to cast something from Aluminum! (I know… a weird project for wood shop, but it was great). I carve “JK” out of a block of Styrofoam. It’s lost now, but if I still had it, yep, you guessed it, I would have one of my galleries exhibit it!

That really wasn’t the big adventure though. The BIG adventure came near the end of 7th grade. My parents informed us that my father had gotten a job with the company he had tried to years earlier, but instead of Africa, we were now heading for Tehran, Iran!

Living in Iran changed my life forever. Not only did it force me to see outside my little world, it showed me incredible things beyond my 14 year old imagination. The images of the people, their music and art are burned into my mind, and I hope I never forget the experience. I learned that Muslims don’t use any sort of literal figures in their art, but are experts of the abstract. I didn’t even really know what that was before Iran, but fell in love with the idea of ‘abstract’ while living there.

Fast forward: We had to leave Iran 3 years early because of the Revolution in 1979. (Waking up to gun fire in the distance was an interesting, experience in itself). We came back to Renton and 1/2 way through the 10th grade (16 years old) I fell in love, dropped out of high school, ran away from home with the woman of my dreams (I was young and oh-so foolish), got my G.E.D., and got a Job cleaning a McDonalds on the graveyard shift.

Oh, since it’s such a big part of my life, I’ll include this little tidbit here. All my life I have been enthralled with flying. As a little kid, I used to stand waving at the small planes flying over me. Living near an airport made this activity never ending. In the 9th grade I wrote a huge report on hang gliding and announced the amazement of my classmates that, given the choice, I would rather have my pilot’s license than, GASP, my driver’s license. They knew I was insane from that moment on.

So anyway, there I was, working at a McDonalds and deciding to take flying lessons. There’s a town near us, Issaquah, which used to have the best airfield (it’s a Costco and shopping center now). It was a grass strip that supported sky divers and sailplanes. While learning to fly gliders, I decided that cleaning up the kitchen and bathrooms at McDonalds was a poor career decision, so I joined the United States Air Force a couple of months after turning 18. (Oh, forgot to mention, I got married at 17, but no kids…everyone always assumes a baby was the reason; it wasn’t (stupidity was).

I join the air force and find myself a as Fire Fighter living in Northern Italy. ITALY!!!!! Even a blind, deaf, mute can’t avoid the art in Italy! My downstairs neighbor was a painter, but at that time, I didn’t consider myself very artistic, but I did love all the local art. I used to take a 30 minute train down to Venice whenever I could and just wonder around the city.

Fast forward: We had a son in Italy, but he died. It was the Air Force doctors’ fault that he died, but we couldn’t do anything about it. (Apparently, the military is pretty much immune from being sued or prosecuted for anything.) Came back to the USA and ended up in Spokane, Washington to finish up my air force career. Got divorced. Got engaged. Went to college and became a commercial pilot. Went on to Eastern Washington University and graduated top of my class in Communications Studies. (I was the first person in my family tree to EVER get a college degree.) Somewhere in my college career, I split up with my fiancé, and promptly found the third woman of my life.

Somewhere in all of this I moved back to Seattle and bought a home in Port Orchard, Washington. (For those of you not from here, that’s across the Puget Sound from Seattle.) A few years back I thought, ‘you know, I’ve always wanted to learn how to weld. What if I become a sculptor?’ It’s something I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do, but had always been told not to give up my day job. . .

UPDATE: 15 May 2005

James in Seattle
James in Seattle

As all my die-hard friends know, my studio has been built for nearly two years now. My artistic career is really doing nicely. I’ve recently become an artist with Tri-Art Gallery in Eastern Washington; I’ve just completed my largest (18+ feet) public commission to date; and I am turning my little 3 1/2 acre plot of the Earth into a sculpture garden.

If things go as I’d like, I will create a Not-for-profit sculpture center where I can invite artists from around the world. I want them to have the chance to create and SHOW (and sell) sculpture here in the USA without having to incur the expenses of shipping large art, or, hopefully, even have to pay for room & board. I will need funding to purchase adjoining property in order to have the space for such an endeavor, but it will happen. If you’d like to be involved in this project from an artistic, administrative, or financial position, please contact me.

UPDATE: 15 September 2007

James is a mussel man.
James is a mussel man.

In full Pacific Northwest mode.

Holy crap. (Can a professional artist say ‘crap’ on his website?) It was recently pointed out to me that I had TYPOS in this rant and, as Icorrected them, I came to the ‘end’, May 2005. . . Has it really been two years since I updated this? Well, let’s see, I’m not with Tri-Art Gallery any longer, but since Tri-Art Gallery doesn’t exist any longer, I suppose it makes sense. My studio is still humming with activity, although now I’m working solo since my (now ex) wife needed to follow a new path in her life. I have three cats, and friends, and love, and new commissions to keep me moving towards my goals in life. I visited Italy this year and I’m planning a trip to North Africa in the near future. I have new, hopeful connections appearing in my life – Hospitals, Credit Unions, and Manhattan (yes, it’s true, ALL of Manhattan wants me!), so my next update could be wildly exciting or soul-crushingly depressing. (please– stand by. . . . .)

UPDATE: 26 June 2008

Whew! It’s only been 9 months since my last update, so I don’t have to begin THIS update with “holy crap”, since apparently saying such things are not very “professional”, and I’m continually reminded that my entire website isn’t exactly professional. Sure, Microsoft or The city of Elk Droppings or the Slaughter County Arts Commission may not say ‘crap’ on THEIR websites, but I’m not them, am I? There is a long history of artists being rebellious, and if my only act of artistic rebellion is typing ‘crap’ in an insignificant little on-going bio on the internet that nobody reads, well then, crapity crap crap.

But as I said, it’s only been 9 months so I don’t have to say ‘holy crap’.

Hm, so, what’s new. . . what’s new. . . I got the opportunity to travel to Morocco and Mali in West Africa. Wow. I even ended up four miles out in the Sahara Desert past Timbuktu! That’s right, I went 4 miles PAST the end of the earth. What did I learn? It’s hot. Very, very Hot. (Oh, and the Tuareg are an incredibly gracious and wonderful people.) Morocco is nice too, fantastic even. Ask to see my 20 minute photo montage set to music the next time you’re visiting.

In other news, I completed a wonderful (if I do say so myself) Commission for the Bremerton Arts Commission. I’m proud to say I was the first sculpture project for them and as far as I know, they are very happy with how it all turned out. You can see click here to see Tides of Justitia.

For the last couple of months I’ve been getting ready for the Bellevue Festival of the Arts that takes place in less than 30 days. I took most of the extra funds left over from the Bremerton commission to purchase materials for sculpture, so I’ve been in a rare place of having all the materials I need to build new works! Of course, now my household money. . . you know, that cash for say, buying FOOD and paying the mortgage. . . is into the 6-weeks-to-zero countdown, so we’ll see how THAT goes. Who knows, the next update to this may be from the local public library. . .

UPDATE: 11 December 2013

James after installation of "Touching the Intangible"
James after installation of “Touching the Intangible”

Fuck. I mean, if I can say ‘holy crap’ for not updating my profile for 2 years, surely 5 ½ years deserves a solid ‘fuck’, doesn’t it?

What’s New, you may ask? Other than me still calling myself an artist, the question really is, ‘What Isn’t New?’! To be quite honest, there has been the GOOD, but also the bad and even a bit more of the ugly than I like to think about, but we’ll start with THE GOOD!

The Good

I think right about the time I last updated this Biography, the tablecloth was about to be pulled out from under the beautiful table setting of an economy- 2008. That’s just a foreshadowing of the bad and ugly though, at the time, I was blissfully ignorant.

I don’t want to just list every piece of art that I created since then; I mean, how BORING would that be, eh? Speaking of ‘eh’, I do happen to speak Canadian—GOOD THING TO! I sold a beautiful sculpture called “Tsunami in Steel” to Canada (2008)! Okay, maybe not to the entire nation of Canada (Richmond, B.C. actually), but enough to Canada to be labeled an INTERNATIONAL ARTIST. I now also have a piece in a private collection in Norway (2013), lest you have any doubts about my International Artist status!!!

Okay, okay… I don’t want to go on and on about my sculpture (this is supposed to be a biography, not a resume). As long as it’s still all about ME I’m good with it. Me! Me! Me!

Here’s a short paragraph listing some stuff. . . I have two pieces in the collection of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. I have a nice sculpture on the Puyallup campus of Good Samaritan Hospital (Multicare). And I have three (count ‘em) THREE new sculptures at I.P. Callison and Sons, Inc. (Suffice it to say, if you taste mint in ANYTHING, chances are very great that the mint oil is from them.) I also have 5 major sculptures in a Private Collection in Lakewood, Washington, 2 pieces in Bainbridge Island, Washington, a beautiful 8’ sculpture on Yukon Harbor, Washington and a myriad of sculptures sold as part of the ‘Down Payment Project’ (which has been renamed, the ’New Roof Project’ (a few sculptures are still available!).

The Bad

I suppose the first ‘bad’ is a Good. A few months after my last update in 2008 I was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma (skin cancer). It’s the deadliest cancer in the world mostly because so many get it and so FEW take it seriously until it has metastasized (spread to lymph nodes). I owe my now-ex girlfriend my life for finding it on my back and telling me to go in to have it checked (and to VISA Card for being my version of health insurance).

In 2008 I also created a GREAT concept right as the economy crashed. I dubbed it the “This Is NOT Junkmail Project,” and you can read all about it by CLICKING HERE (There are 4 left.)

The Ugly

So, if you’re keeping up with this ‘artist bio’ that has aspirations to be an autobiography,  you’ll remember I was divorced in 2007, and I was doing fairly good at keeping everything moving onward and upward. Even after the Great Recession began in 2008, the career and life kept a relative even keel, but the economic storm wouldn’t subside, and while after 5 years, calm and sunny days could be seen on the horizon my boat was overcome. In late 2012 it was obvious I would have to move after 13 years at my home and studio.

I did everything humanly and ethically possible to keep my home, but the water was pouring in faster than I could bail it out, and I wasn’t anywhere near a safe harbor… (Like my sailing metaphor? Oh good… it continues later!)

An artsy-fartsy photo to just plopped in to break up this huge amount of text. (Detail of “Beginning Again Once More”)
An artsy-fartsy photo to just plopped in to break up this huge amount of text. (Detail of “Beginning Again Once More”)

And Back to THE GOOD

I wanted to stay on the West Coast of the United States, and looked for every possibility… From buying something new on very limited income, to sharing studio space with another artist, to selling everything and buying a sailboat to circumnavigate the earth (and pick up my career in a few years when I returned).

Through a strange series of twists and turns (which included traveling 100 miles south to take a look at a Craigslist trailer that could haul my sculpture when I had to move) I found a 6,700 square foot (625 square meter) building. It was in bad shape, but the price was right and I thought the company might finance it if push came to shove.

I made an offer on it… I offered SCULPTURE in exchange for the place. There was no heat, no plumbing, the roof leaked badly, the mortar was rotten from many years of neglect and the place was covered with the most offensive of graffiti imaginable.


My real estate agent (bless his soul) must have been rolling his eyes at my “offer”, but he approached the owners with optimism and professionalism, and sealed the deal!!!

The last of my art, equipment and personal possessions was moved in on March 1st, 2013. I can’t thank my minions… my FRIENDS enough. They were amazing. It took more trips than I can remember yet they showed up early in Port Orchard and left Centralia (my new location) late… sometimes VERY LATE. They helped me move, yes… but they lifted my spirits and kept me going through a time off immense sadness and loss.

They are the most wonderful friends and You Guys (and Gals!) know exactly who you are!!!! Thank you.

This year has been hard… my most difficult year in my 16-year art career… the move, the loss, the still-recovering economy, and maybe hardest, my Friends so far away. I’ve replaced 75% of the roof (there’s A LOT of roof up there!), I started re-pointing mortar (once I learned what “re-pointing mortar” was), painting, landscaping, re-zoning from heavy industrial, and in general trying to make this new place “home”…

“Home” in my spirit.

“Home” in my house.

“Home” in new friends.

I’m nearing 50 years old, and had not planned on re-inventing my life at this time; does anyone ever really plan that sort of thing?

I do the best to always see the proverbial glass as 1/2-full. Some would say I’m overly-optimistic in this regard; that leads me to a humorous question I ask of friends… and you, gentle reader, ARE my friend, because no one else in their right mind would read through this tome of a ‘biography’. The question is this, “What *IS* the difference between “Optimistic” and “Delusional”? Feel free to post a comment here and answer it for me; I’m still seeking the answer myself, but until I do, I let my delusional optimism rule my world and tint everything I see with rose-colored glasses!

I have short-term goals of making this new place home, but I have a dream of more as well… continuing my Art Career of course…. Yes…. But I have a DREAM that I’ve had since I was 8 years old- to sail. . . to sail LONG distances and to DO IT WITH FRIENDS. I have my eye on a boat; it sleeps 11 and has the ability to sail anywhere in the world. One friend desperately wants to go to Cuba, another to Ireland and Denmark. I want to explore Patagonia and even Antarctica. . . And New Zealand, and Dubai, and Zanzibar, and the Black Sea, and Egypt and . . .

Stay tuned . . . . . .

“Alas poor Yorick, I knew you well” – the shiny-sphere, looking-into-the-future version. . .
“Alas poor Yorick, I knew you well” – the shiny-sphere, looking-into-the-future version. . .

This Biography is a work in progress, and I’ll be revisiting it from time to time, not that I expect YOU to ever come back and read it again. If you’ve gotten this far, I’m very impressed! Thank you.

If you have questions, E-Mail me and I will respond to you personally.

Thank You,

–James Kelsey

2013, ARTrails studio tour, Centralia, Washington

2012, Charles Wright Academy Auction, Tacoma, Washington

2011, Bellevue Festival of the Arts, Bellevue, Washington

2010, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Gala, Bellevue, Washington

2010, Art for Equal Justice, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington

2010, Kitsap Literacy Spelling Bee Fundraiser, Silverdale, Washington

2009, Art for Equal Justice, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington