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Painting Without Boundaries

'Conformity' is not in this artist's vocabulary

Many talented artists struggle to define the intrinsic nature of their creative process. Not so for Steve Kippels. The noted Lake Oconee artist/architect, skilled in several art mediums but mostly recognized as an award-winning watercolorist, defines a clear path for creating his art.

“Painting is how I reach out to embrace joys in my life,” Kippels explains. “I paint things that move my emotions and linger in my memory. As an architect, I work to meet the needs of my clients; but as an artist, I paint for my own pleasure.

“You could say the key to my art is I paint without boundaries. Some of my paintings are highly detailed. Others loosely rendered. But always, I paint what I feel without restrictions of style or genre or concern for pleasing others. For that reason, I do not take commission assignments. And though I sell my work, that is not my goal.”

Memorable moments

Some of Kippels’ paintings capture emotive moments with family. One example, Sand Flea Diggers (below), is currently exhibited at the 2021 Georgia Watercolor Society National Exhibition.

Others are more casual renderings of life in Georgia’s Lake Country. Kettle Corn Man (below) captures the artist’s intrigue with the scene of a food vendor stirring kettle corn with a boat paddle at Bostwick Cotton Gin Festival.

Greensboro Railroad Station (below) is his nostalgic look at a local landmark.

Fall in Madison (below) pays homage to Main Street in the beloved, rural Georgia town.

At the Pool (below) celebrates a happy afternoon with neighbors at theLake Club.

Bite (at left) catches sparkling sunbeams bouncing off rippling water.

Personal Moments

There are also paintings of private moments that are his alone. Terry (below), a portrait of the artist’s 14-year old dog, looks back at him with loving eyes that speak volumes about devotion and the oneness between the man and his dog. Daffodil (not pictured) captures sunlight penetrating translucent petals of a daffodil blooming in his yard. Good Morning, Lake Oconee (not pictured) reflects an awe-struck moment when a sunrise engulfs him in radiant morning light. And Tomatoes (not pictured), first recorded as a proud photography moment in his summer garden, was painted one dreary day last winter as an elixir against the cold. It captures Kippels’ delight in the juicy, acidic red-orange color of ripe tomatoes.

Some of Kippels’ paintings are street scenes that span America and the globe and illustrate his pleasure in the contrast of visual opposites. Under the Brooklyn Bridge (below - 2019 GWS National Exhibition) juxtaposes straight lines against curves. Lalla, Tangier (not pictured - 2018 GWS National Exhibition) studies intricate, tactile contrast of textures and the multi-layered folds in clothing of a Berber woman selling cilantro in Morocco. Dark Walk, Croatia (not pictured) explores light and shadow as tools to create mood.

Pensive moments

The artist is asked to comment on the intrinsic nature of some of his paintings.

“In my recent painting, Sand Flea Diggers, the intense concentration of my three grandsons, their colorful suits, and their individual poses reflected in the water captures my heart. I hope this painting, and others, are cherished as my legacy when I’m gone...a piece of myself left behind.

“In Bite, my overall composition of weathered wood, minnow bucket, fishing pole and multi-colored, transparent watercolor washes brings focus to a sparkling circle of sunlight reflecting off rippling water. This painting expresses my pleasure in the simple beauty of that moment and my joy when fishing. I consider it one of my best paintings.

“In Good Morning, Lake Oconee, the colors, trees, and boat don’t look at all like that, but express the intensity I felt at the time,” Kippels explains. “In the street scene, Fall in Madison (Olmsted-Georgia Color Plein Air Competition, Fall 2020), the gold awnings and purple shadows reflect crisp fall air and my urge to sit outside and enjoy a cup of coffee. In contrast, Dark Walk, Croatia, is heavy with my sense of mystery in that ancient city. To create drama, I cloaked the scene in soft darkness of a moonless night.”

Immersive moments

“For me, painting is a ritual,” the artist continues. “I prepare the materials, mix colors, then center my total focus on the act of painting. In effect, I go inside my painting process to achieve a higher level of concentration and an easy flow of creativity. Everything falls away in a meditative state I call ‘getting in the zone.’ That is when I do my best painting and enjoy the painting process most. I paint weekly with 15 local artists; we often become absorbed ‘in the zone’ of creating art.”

Evolving moments

Kippels has been drawing since childhood. “I first loved pencil, then pastels, and later, pan watercolors. In high school I took private art lessons, learned to paint plein air with my first tube watercolors and 140 lb. paper. We painted on the old docks of Pensacola where I gained an affinity for painting abandoned buildings.

Also, in high school, I took a workshop with nationally acclaimed watercolorist/author Elliott 0’Hara. I wanted an art degree, but he advised, ‘Get a career to earn a living; paint for fun.’ My father suggested architecture, and my watercolor skills helped me gain admission and earn a Batchelor of Architecture Degree from Auburn University. I’ve used my drawing/watercolor sketches throughout my career.”

Among Kippels’ local architectural design credits are many Lake Oconee gated community homes, Pike's Garden Center, Singleton Marine, Reynolds on Lake Oconee Corporate Offices, Lake Oconee Eye Care, Water Sports Central Boat Dealership, and Oconee Cellar Wine Store.

Kippels joined Georgia Watercolor Society in 2017, was accepted in GWS’ National Exhibitions in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021. Notes Kippels, “In 2019, I received my Signature status, and joined the GWA Board of Directors in 2020. Exposure to nationally recognized watercolorists has enhanced my techniques and broadened my perspective on watercolor.”

See Steve Kippels’ art at Artisans Village Art Gallery, Eatonton; Festival Hall, Greensboro; BankSouth-Lake Oconee; Greensboro; and his Facebook page at stevekippelsart.

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Article written by Judi Martha Collins, published in the May/June 2021 issue of Lakelife magazine.


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