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Creativity and passion part of artist Carmen Neely's path
Belmont native earns residency at McColl Center
Published Thursday, July 4, 2019 6:58 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Carmen Neely, who grew up in Belmont and earned an undergraduate degree at UNC Charlotte, is a summer artist in residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation.

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Pursuing art professionally was always in the cards for Carmen Neely.

She is one of six residence artists at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation during the summer, although she didn’t intend to follow this path growing up.

“I am interested in the language of gestural abstraction and the idea of a gesture as a document—sort of a document of lived experience,” Neely said. “The way that I think about gesture and painting comes from a background I have with collecting a lot of objects in the world, to hold onto memories, to feel connected to people when I’m away from them, to remember places and events. Sort of holding onto the gesture and honoring it and remembering it in the way that I approach a lot of processes in my work is directly tied to that.”

Neely, who grew up in Belmont, began her undergraduate journey at UNC Chapel Hill before landing at UNC Charlotte, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Four years later she earned a master’s in fine arts from UNC Greensboro.  

“I was very, very far from practicing art at the time I started college,” Neely said. “I had always been making things, but really didn’t have examples in my life of people who were seriously pursuing that as careers in any way, or were carrying that into some sort of active professional practice. I didn’t even consider it as a possibility.”

Neely’s final semester at Chapel Hill included a photography elective, which changed her trajectory.

“I was changing my major like every semester I was enrolled as a student there, and that final semester there, I took an elective photography course,” she said. “There was a graduate student teaching that course. I all the sudden was in this studio art building, surrounded by people who were really serious about their craft. [I] recognized that there is an option to pursue art in higher education, which I hadn’t ever considered or been aware of before. That completely changed my path.”

Neely’s time in Greensboro led her back to Charlotte—one quite different from what she remembered after nearly six years elsewhere.

“I went to an art opening [June 26],” Neely said. “It was packed, and I was talking to people about how maybe six-seven years ago, you wouldn’t really have more than one art event happening in the city in a week. There are lots of different things going on right now, and that’s really exciting—to come back and see that growth and to be here at this moment.”

Neely is working on a series of paintings at the McColl Center for a solo show in New York in November. She is also working with other local artists to incorporate embroidery into her practice.

“I’m represented by Jane Lombard Gallery, which is in Chelsea, and this will be my second solo exhibition with them,” Neely said. “I went to New York for spring break in my final year in graduate school and met a curator at the armory show who was curating a group show with this gallery. It was just destined. I was just in the right place at the right time and just going and putting myself out there. We’ve been working together ever since.”

Art requires constant application inside and outside the studio. Neely needed it in applying three times for space at the McColl Center.

“I’ve applied to be here many times before this summer,” she said. “Artists, we’re all constantly applying to residency programs.  You’re doing that and going back and applying over and over again because you know that space is significant, and the experience you can have there will be significant to your practice. That’s why I’ve been consistently pursuing coming here for a few years.”

Advice to further her creative reach, which Neely carries with her, came from her undergraduate experience.

“All of us get rejected, and it’s a part of being in the creative field, putting yourself out there like that,” she said. “But something that an undergraduate professor told me was that ‘if you’re applying to things, and you’re constantly getting everything, you’re not reaching far enough. You should be getting rejections, because that means you’re trying to evolve beyond where you are now in your professional life or practice.’

“From that perspective, the rejection is kind of like a badge—you’re reaching. You’re stretching.”

For more information about Neely:  http://carmeneliz.com

For more information about the McColl Center: https://mccollcenter.org


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