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San Diego, CA, USA


Kelly Marshall followed her BA in Applied Art and Design with a career as a special education art teacher, helping students of diverse abilities in the classroom and her children’s art studio. Marshall recently completed the first intensive of a Low Residency MFA program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Visual Studies. She lives with her family, runs a studio classroom, and paints from her professional studio at Art on 30th in San Diego’s North Park.


As a multidisciplinary abstract artist, my work frequently reflects multiple instincts, pulling into single piece ideas and feelings from opposing extremes. For most of my life, my artistic passion has been governed by my interest in social justice issues—from feminism and the invisible workforce to disability rights and health care. I’m driven by my belief that hard work can prevent us from returning to the systemic inequalities of the nineteenth century, and abstract painting allows me to wrestle between two worldviews: hard anger over today’s injustices versus a softer appreciation for the hope that social justice work creates.

My personal life has encompassed similar extremes. I have experienced painful losses, sexual violence, and financial insecurity. But I also have the joy brought by my beautiful children, my graduate studies, and my art career. When I paint, these contradictory experiences come together into an obscure puzzle. Bright splashes of color spill across a background of grey shadows. Squared patterns compete with scrawls of looped color. Dense and textured lines drip beyond their boundaries, gesturing toward the contrasting polarities that all of my work investigates. Whether through the integration of lines of poetry, portraiture, collage, or botanical overlays, all of my abstract work breaks down the certainty I wish I could feel about our world, but don’t. Instead, my paintings engage with the complicated moment in history we are all facing, and that most of us also face privately. These are moments that can feel simultaneously desperate and filled with inspiration about the change that might be possible.

"I have always been an artist. As a young child, my nickname was “Busy”. By age 2, I had earned quite the reputation for painting the walls and getting into anything and everything in order to create. My parents had very limited financial resources so the only art training I received prior to high school art classes were the opportunities I found myself through my own creative endeavors. Many of which were epic disasters, including but not limited to sculptures made of Barbie hair, mom’s nail polish “portraits”, DIY clubhouses, and more. As an undergrad living at home and helping to pay the family mortgage, I went against my parents wishes to pursue my BFA. My parents were very well-intended with their efforts to dissuade my pursuits of fine art. Their lives were fraught with challenges and they were concerned about my ability to support myself. My art education at San Diego State University was top-notch in terms of art practice. The classes were hard and the professors were cutthroat! I am still proud of my graduation standing of “distinction in the major”.

Immediately after college, once my student debt came out of forbearance, I was hit with the reality of attempting financial independence. I needed a job with health benefits and enrolled in a teacher credentialing program. I taught Special Education, full-time, for a decade which required a degree of creativity on par with anything in the creative field. In 2010, my youngest child was born with a number of serious health challenges. Between the constant doctor’s appointments and therapies, in addition to parenting our 4-year-old, I took a leave from my teaching position. The challenges of being a mother during this time were truly indescribable. Ambulance rides, hospital stays, medical mysteries, and a general sense of loss for the normalcy of childhood my son was missing were a constant source of deep personal reflection.

In 2011, I opened a full-inclusion children’s art studio, in order to marry my love of teaching and the arts. It was during this time that I finally allowed myself permission to pursue my own creative possibilities. I had never really considered that I was capable of a career in the arts but through my journey as a mother and educator, I finally saw a path. My first sales happened in 2017 when a local interior designer sourced my work for a couple of projects. Since then, it’s been a roller coaster of trial and error as well as finding my voice. A dream came true when I was accepted into a graduate MFA program at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland where I am currently a candidate! My work reflects the struggles of motherhood, gender equality, and drive for self-expression."

IG: @kelly_marshall_fine_art

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