Plein Air Painter Cheryl Keefer
By Frances Figart
As a budding young artist of 13, Cheryl Keefer took her first painting class and dreamed of having her work in an artist studio like the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Washington, D.C.
Today, a studio artist in the River Arts District, she creates mostly plein air oil and watercolor landscapes influenced by the likes of Sargent, Matisse, O’Keeffe and Picasso, her muses while studying for degrees in Art History and Art Education at the University of Alabama and Graduate Painting at Virginia Commonwealth University. If you wander into her workspace in NorthLight Studios, Keefer will tell you that she was raised in a pine thicket in rural Alabama.
The Laurel: What was your childhood like and what are your earliest memories of being outside?
Cheryl Keefer: There were not a lot of exciting things to do or places to go. I spent many an afternoon after school playing ball with my baby brother and attempting to torment my sister. I have nine cousins around my age and we spent most weekends on our grandparents’ farm building forts in the hay barn, fishing in the pond and having egg battles in the chicken house. My grandparents taught me how to pick beans, get up the cows, make biscuits, can, quilt and sew—all of which I enjoyed doing with them. It was entertaining! I also had lots of quiet time when I would reflect on nature, how beautiful our world is and how blessed I was.
The Laurel: How did your interest and talent in art develop? Did it come naturally or was it a struggle?
Cheryl Keefer: My mother was a teacher and my father an insurance salesman. They collected antiques. I found my love of art through books and the antique paintings that hung in our home. My parents were supportive and supplied me with art materials from an early age. I don’t think I was a child prodigy; I struggled with making paint say what I wanted it to—and still do! But I wanted so much to show my feelings about beauty in the world that I persisted to put paint on canvas.
The Laurel: How did you center in on an Impressionist style?
Cheryl Keefer: By the time I went to college, I had a good grasp of art history and always found it fascinating that a culture’s art reflects that culture. As a disciplined student, I was assigned projects of various painting styles—photo realistic to expressionistic to abstract. Each project taught me something different, which culminated in a style that is uniquely mine. The expression of moods and feelings are what my paintings are about.
The Laurel: How do you get the idea or inspiration for a piece? What are your creative catalysts?
Cheryl Keefer: Ideas come every time I step out of the house, and every time sunlight peeps through a window. Going out to paint en plein air, I find joy in the magnificent world and how it is designed. I love painting the beauty in familiar scenes, the beauty in things and places I see every day—like Patton Avenue.
Small studies from life are often a gratifying step toward a larger landscape created back in the studio. A lingering sunset, a misty mountain, rocks glistening in a stream—any of these may inspire a piece. I delight in the way the seasons, atmospheres and changing light alter and enrich scenes and views. Light and weather bring dramatic changes.
Human interaction with urban environments intrigues me, too. With cityscapes I explore this theme in which buildings, vehicles, people, streets, sidewalks, trees and plants combine to reflect the city’s mood. Urban lights can impart a carnival feel at night, while rain and figures with umbrellas may add either a somber or joyful note.
The Laurel: You often paint the same place more than once. Why?
Cheryl Keefer: I paint the same streets over and over again because I find that once the composition and the scene is relatively familiar, I can explore more with materials and techniques to get closer to mastery.
Did not Monet paint Notre Dame, haystacks and water lilies multiple times? Pissarro painted the Champs-Élysées over and over again in all kinds of weather. Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings are a series, each unique, and Jim Dine still explores the bathrobe motif. I don’t know how many times I will paint Patton Avenue before I am finished with that theme.
The Laurel: What do you feel when you are making your art?
Cheryl Keefer: I know without a doubt that I was born to paint. Painting makes me still, empties me out, quiets my thoughts—so that I am…listening. I want to stimulate the viewer’s imagination. I want to spark memories. In fantasy, I participate in the viewer’s joy.
The Laurel: Are you always creating, or do you go through periods of less productiveness?
Cheryl Keefer: Most days I long to paint just about anything, anywhere. I’m pretty steady at the easel, but after a show opening I will take a couple of weeks off, usually thinking I don’t ever want to paint again. But when I truly listen, the voice inside urges me to paint. It’s a long process for most artists. It isn’t always easy, even with encouragement. I think persistence and enjoying the process is key.
The Laurel: What ever became of your childhood dream?
Cheryl Keefer: I’m living it. I grew up dreaming of being part of a working studio where the public can visit the artists while they work. My dream is being realized through painting in my studio in the River Arts District, and being able to share my paintings with people who visit my studio and galleries. I know that God has led me down this road, and I am grateful.
Upcoming Shows and Exhibits
- The Fifth Anniversary Celebration of NorthLight Studios, 357 Depot Street, Asheville, Thursday, November 10, 4:30–7:30 p.m.
- Annual RAD Studio Stroll, NorthLight Studios, Saturday and Sunday, November 12–13, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- “All Squared Away” Small, Square Paintings, Asheville Gallery of Art, Opening Reception on Friday, December 2, 5–8 p.m.
- December on Depot Street, Saturday, December 10, 4–8 p.m.
You can find Cheryl Keefer’s work in NorthLight Studios at 357 Depot Street in Asheville’s River Arts District, Asheville Gallery of Art at 82 Patton Avenue and Seven Sisters Gallery at 117 Cherry Street, Black Mountain. Learn more about the artist and her work at cherylkeefer.com and northlightstudiosasheville.com.