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Local Artists Live: Nystasha Kelly + Chris Hardy
March 27, 2021; 10:00 AM–10:30 AM CDT
This weekend’s Local Artists Live features the winning mural artists for the MMFA’s Community Togetherness Project, Nystasha Kelly and Chris Hardy. The mural—which will be installed in the MMFA’s outdoor Education Courtyard in April—emphasizes community growth, highlights Montgomery’s diversity, and celebrates the overwhelming kindness experienced across communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chris Hardy is a designer and illustrator originally from Birmingham and currently resides in Montgomery with his wife and children. Chris “grew up in the church,” and spent a lot of time outdoors, wandering his childhood neighborhood. The only boy in a household of eight women, he feels like “they shaped [his] demeanor, [his] humor, and much of [his] worldview.” Chris has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Liberty University and a Master of Fine Arts from Vermont College of Fine Arts, both in graphic design. He seeks to make art that is both beautiful and functional. Chris often draws from his passion for history as he crafts modern narratives—including images from Black vernacular, pop culture, and sports—to invite viewers into conversation.
Nystasha Kelly is a graphic designer and photographer whose artistic visions keep her attuned to both the design as a whole and the message she wants to convey. She grew up in Hope Hull and was initially introduced to art by her father, who loves to draw and paint. After graduating from Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School, she became interested in graphic design while attending Alabama State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in the subject. Her art emphasizes the value of feeling comfortable in one’s own skin and questions the idea that society dictates confidence.
During the pandemic, both artists found themselves shifting their focus, discovering positivity while navigating a complicated climate. Chris found himself working more due to fewer distractions, yet he has also been able to spend more time with his family, which he described as “a bittersweet experience.” Nystasha felt that this time brought out the best in her, maturing her “mentally, spiritually, and soulfully,” and enabling her to realize the scope of what she can accomplish, as an artist and in life.
Continue reading to learn more about Nystasha and Chris, and tune in to enjoy their feature on the MMFA’s Instagram account from 10–10:30 AM, on Saturday, March 27, 2021.
Above: Nystasha Kelly, Liberation, 2019, oil in canvas, 36 x 36 in; Chris Hardy, Where on Earth is Justice?, 2020, digital illustration, 18 in x 24 in
This program is part of the series:
Meet the Artists
What is something you appreciate about living in the South?
Nystasha: My favorite thing about living in the South is the warm weather it brings.
Chris: The South is imperfect. Malcolm X says in his autobiography that no one is stronger than Georgia negroes. I think this applies to all those that stay in the South. I love the way that Black Southerners craft their own understanding of the world around them and attempt to live unhindered. For instance, look at Sun Ra or Royal Robertson. They operate differently from most of society, and I believe a large part of that can be attributed to their Southern upbringing.
Are there any particular works of art in the MMFA’s collection that inspire you, or any artists whose works you admire?
Nystasha: As a kid and still today, I have always adored the ArtWorks Gallery. I love the idea of being able to touch and explore different materials and techniques to create art. I have always been deemed as a hands-on person. I commend fine artists who take the time to make things with their hands. It is very fascinating to see what our hands are capable of once material meets the hand. I admire Patrick Dougherty’s Rough ‘n Tumble and Karen LaMonte’s sculpture Reclining Nocturne 3 [both currently on view in the Caddell Sculpture Garden].
Chris: I respect Yvonne Wells’ work because of the way she uses source material. Design involves a lot of history being renewed and repurposed. I love the way she does that in her work. She’s a really funny person as well and I like the fact that she can be lighthearted even when some of her subject matter is heavy. I’m also a huge fan of Jacob Lawrence. He uses a lot of design-like techniques to communicate his message. The limited color palette, geometric shapes, and repetition make his work iconic.
What piece of art that you have created is your favorite, and why?
Nystasha: One of my favorite pieces of art that I have created would be a self-portrait I painted. The yellow background expresses peace, serenity, and liberation. What I feel when I see the painting is how I felt when I first painted the painting.
Chris: In 2017, I did a crosswalk on Mulberry and it was a great experience because it allowed me to do something whimsical and not as uptight as corporate branding or signage. Furthermore, it allowed me to use design to delight and humor the community.
Do you have an all-time favorite work of art, and have you seen it in person? If you have, how did you feel in that moment?
Nystasha: One of my all-time favorite out artworks I would love to see would be The Bean, located in Chicago.
Chris: I don’t. My interests change over time and I can’t remember if I’ve seen something I favored in the past. I will say that seeing Jacob Lawrence’s work in person was encouraging. His work wasn’t extremely elaborate and it made me feel like I could create meaningful art. I do look forward to seeing Hebru Brantley’s work in person.
Tell us about your most preferred place to be on Earth. What role, if any, has the energy of that place helped shape you as an artist?
Nystasha: My most preferred place on Earth is the beach. When I’m there, I am at peace. I love to hear the ocean‘s waves and the feel of the water. Being there is like being in a painting itself.
Chris: I like being wherever home is. Being a father and husband has made me embrace the idea of loving home more than anything, and it has taught me the importance of time.
What drives your creativity?
Nystasha: Life experiences play a role in my creative drive.
Chris: Opportunities to share.
What is your preferred medium?
Nystasha: My preferred medium is photography.
Chris: I like paper. Paper with India ink, acrylic, watercolors, technical liners, or even ink pens. I just really like paper.
What advice would you give to beginning artists?
Nystasha: Advice I’d give to a beginning artist would be just to keep going, never feel that you need to create art for others’ approval. Always create it for the pleasure of yourself. When you do that, your true artist’s sense of style kicks in. Be unapologetic.
Chris: Just keep swimming. Direction is overrated when you’re starting and it often arrives through exploration.
What excites you the most about the growth of Montgomery’s art scene, and how might we further these efforts throughout our community?
Nystasha: What excites me most about my Montgomery is seeing how it has progressively grown since the early 2000s. Coming up in Montgomery County, I never really [saw] any type of artwork like murals or anything around the city of Montgomery that’s art-related, but now it is nice to see murals downtown like never before. Being able to connect with the generation of kids that are coming up today would truly be helpful to further efforts throughout the community with art, making it more available to them.
Chris: The opportunity to tell unique stories about the people and places that have made this area. That excites me. Every artist has a story to tell. I would continue to partner with artists to create murals and creative spaces throughout the city. Find ways to connect with the young artists who may never step foot in the museum and bring the experience to their neighborhoods.