S&H editor Ben Nussbaum spoke with New Hampshire-based artist Kim Ferreira about foxes and racoons, happy paintings, phonographs, and more.
Tell me about your evolution. Have you always been drawn to images that have a playfulness?
Definitely. My paintings have always been very quirky, I guess I would say. In the early part of my career, I mainly did self-portraits, using myself as a model. Using different props and things to play different characters inspired by history, literature, and my everyday life.
I did a series of myself as different saints early in my career. For example, Saint Casilda is often depicted with a bouquet of roses and a baguette. I had a bag of Wonderbread and a single rose. Just sort of playful, but also rooted in art history or literature.
I’m not doing self-portraits anymore, but my current work is still very playful and personal—memories of my child- hood and the people closest to me. The historical element is still there as well. The backgrounds of my current paint- ings are direct references to French Rococo paintings of the 18th century.
Actors say comedy is harder than drama. Are happy images harder to create than serious images?
I don’t set out to try to make a happy painting. I just have these ideas that pop into my head. ... I don’t know how to answer that. I have a hard time with the state of the world, so I think of this work as sort of an escape for me, a way to focus on positive things. What are things that are really pleasing to me, that bring me joy, that make me happy. And then I sort of depict that through these animals doing different things that bring me joy.
A lot of the artists I follow on social media are sort of activists. And I think sometimes, “Oh gosh, I’m creating these cute, playful paintings, and there are so many horrible things happening in the world. How can I do more activism?”
But that’s just not who I am. It wouldn’t feel right to me.
I’m creating this sort of utopian, positive world that I guess I’d like to envision at some point.
You could paint a polar bear some- how suffering from global warming. It’s not that you don’t care about global warming ...
I was working on a commission last summer and it was animals from a one-year-old’s mobile. And it was the specific animals that were present in the mobile, and they just happened to all be endangered species. The way I put them together it really felt like an endangered species art print ... it just didn’t feel right. I’ve never really tried to do that. I don’t tend to go there.
I think about it a lot. The artists I follow, I love how they cope with that kind of thing.
Well, I imagine it’s really hard to depict something that can make someone else feel delight.
I think it’s just different personalities, too. It’s part of my personality.
Even in the most horrible circumstances I’m looking for the silver lining. It’s like a self-preservation thing. Maybe it’s just ingrained in me. I love painting, it’s my escape, it’s something I need in my life. ... When I stay true to myself, it seems to just be the best path.
Do the characters in your art mean something—the animals?
It’s more what they’re doing and the objects. Certain objects I’ve painted over and over and they symbolize different things to me.
I’ve painted a lot of phonographs—representative of music and the joy of music. Lots of monarch butterflies, representing change. The rainbow—I struggled with infertility and wasn’t painting at all. Emotionally I was having a really hard time, and then
I did get pregnant and we had our daughter. That’s really when the whole Joie de Vivre series started. I was home with her and she was napping ... I thought maybe I’ll just paint for myself. I had this urge to create.
I was so happy and I’d been through such a dark time. So I’ve done a lot of rainbows that represent this beauty and joy that follows this really dark and scary storm. A lot of the people who collect my artwork seem to see that. There’s sort of this struggle and this joy component. I don’t know if you can see the struggle in all the paint- ings, but there’s a seriousness to them. They’re not overly cutesy, I hope. It seems like the people who really enjoy them pick up on that.
How do you pick the animal? Why is it a chipmunk drinking tea and not a fox or a racoon, for example?
Well, it could be a racoon. Sometimes I’ll do very similar versions of paint- ings and switch out animals. There are some animals I favor. Racoons, squirrels, groundhogs, chipmunks—they have almost hands.
I definitely wouldn’t have a fox grasping onto a cup because they don’t have the same hands. There’s certain things I just wouldn’t do because it wouldn’t look right to me. ... To me, it makes sense. In my world, I have rules for myself.