KAPA‘A — Kelly Keane doesn’t enjoy nature. She revels in it.
She delights in the way grains of sand feel in between her toes, the cool touch of moss and how a setting sun gives off golden glints on the water’s surface.
“My experience with Kaua‘i is not just waves of palm trees,” Keane said.
Keane sees the natural world as sacred and divine, and she expresses the beauty and femininity of nature in her paintings.
A collection of Keane’s work is on display at Art Cafe Hemingway in Kapa‘a.
The newly opened cafe and coffee bar offers a fine art gallery on its second floor, which showcases a collection of local and European artists.
“I feel honored they chose me to be their first artist,” Keane said.
The gallery houses three different collections of Keane’s work — and while each collection shares a common theme of nature and the goddess, each has its own distinctive feel.
The Family Collection includes paintings that Keane’s parents brought to Kaua‘i from their home in Washington.
“These are personal,” Keane said. “I did these in a cabin in Washington. One winter, I stayed there just to paint.”
The oil paintings features images of nude women. One is lying underneath a blanket of autumn leaves. Another is standing in a cool lake frozen in a moment of contemplation. A different subject is curled next to a mossy rock.
“Part of my intention is to liberate female form,” Keane said about her decision to paint her subjects nude. “It’s not about me at all. It’s about the goddess — that basic force in nature that is feminine.”
The Waterfall Collection is composed of five paintings in muted colors depicting a woman standing underneath a gently rolling waterfall, allowing the water to rinse over her body.
“I was cleansing my soul when I did these,” Keane said. “I got this train of thought of being in a waterfall and how it’s cleansing, peaceful and refreshing.”
Keane uses oils for her paintings, but brushstrokes of latex paint diluted with water gives each piece a watery effect.
In The Postcards Collection, the artist transports viewers to the gentle shores of Kaua‘i with a series of paintings depicting Keane’s favorite places, including Moloa‘a Beach, Ho‘opi‘i Falls and Polihale.
“This is my first real show when I decided to be an artist,” Keane said while surveying her own work. “I joke that I got distracted with saving the world.”
Keane grew up on the western shores of Washington with her parents and younger brother.
She was always artistically inclined — her mother likes to tell people Keane’s first work were sketches on the walls of their Washington home when the artist was 2.
When Keane enrolled at Western Washington University , a sustainable and eco-minded college, she designed a degree that combined aspects of sustainable living, feminism and art.
“At one point, I felt more valuable as a farmer than an artist,” Keane said about her decision to step away from the canvas.
She traveled to India, Scotland and Ireland, but could never completely separate herself from art and nature.
“I grew up boating, hiking and skiing,” Keane said. “I was very into nature. I was that quiet kid who would wander into the woods.”
Keane moved to Kaua‘i two years ago, where she finds “endless inspiration.”
She ventures out with her camera and a model to take photographs, which she refers to while painting.
“It’s a challenge to allow the painting to emerge,” Keane said.
“The point is to express femininity in nature and being a woman in nature, but paintings have a life of their own. If someone can look at it and be soothed by it, I’m OK.
“I’m not here to sell a painting,” Keane adds. “I’m here to see if I’m on the right track in my life.”
Keane’s work will be on display at Art Cafe Hemingway from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday until April 1.
Keane will be at the cafe from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through the run of the exhibit. The gallery is located at 4-1495 Kuhio Hwy. in Kapa‘a.
Visit www.kellykeanefineart.com for more information about the artist.
• Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@ thegardenisland.com.