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Artist Shelby Keefe Captures Milwaukee's Beauty

Nov. 9, 2011
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The Pfister Hotel's third artist in residence, Shelby Keefe, started painting at a young age. As a child she often made doodles and drawings. Keefe followed that passion in college, completing a BFA in graphic design at Cardinal Stritch University in 1981. In the early 2000s Keefe decided she'd rather be painting than working in graphic design, and in 2005 she retired as a designer to concentrate on light-filled portraits of Milwaukee cityscapes. In April 2011, Milwaukee's historic Pfister Hotel awarded Keefe its artist in residence position, giving her an opportunity to grow as an oil painter and art teacher. On a Sunday afternoon sitting in her hotel studio, Keefe explains how the Pfister residency is influencing her career.

What led you to apply for the Pfister's artist in residence program?

Recently I have been steeping myself in the plein air tradition [painting outdoors] and traveling for plein air competitions around the country. I enjoy being outside and painting beautiful cityscapes. At these plein air competitions, I have a chance to rub up against other artists for encouragement and inspiration. The Pfister residency would give me a chance to explore that more, with an opportunity to present this work to a larger audience.

What have you been working on recently?

Right now I'm working on a show opening Nov. 11 at the Peninsula School of Art, their “30 Paintings in 30 Days.” With these 30 paintings I went back to figurative work and put people into the urban landscape. I know now I need to put figures into my Milwaukee landscapes as well. So my photographs that I do work from—because we live in Milwaukee and it's hard to paint outside all winter—need to be more intentional and capture these figures where they appear in the streets. It's been a real joy and expanding experience to put people into the landscape.

Will this new work influence your final painting for the Pfister's permanent collection?

The last big project before I leave in March will definitely be a legacy piece, although what that might be specifically will be a surprise. I know it will be of Downtown, a cityscape with the Pfister—a culmination of everything I've learned being here. And now because of the “30 Paintings” project, I will most likely be incorporating the figure, putting people into that cityscape. With this new perspective I've been working with, I know this 30-day project will change that final piece.

What have you enjoyed most about the Pfister artist in residence studio?

My painting here has been more productive because I have regular hours, Wednesday through Saturday. So I'm always working when I'm here. I also love the people who work at the Pfister because it feels like family. I will miss that when I leave. It's fun and rewarding to see the same people, and then those from all over the country, the world, who come to stay at the Pfister. It's been gratifying that they buy paintings of Milwaukee. I'm showing Milwaukee in a beautiful and colorful light. I'm an ambassador for the city.


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