At the heart of Doell West’s cozy Monticello farmhouse is usually a single piece of furniture. Her living room transforms into an art studio as she divines what exactly the piece is telling her to paint on it.
She is not concerned with matching pieces to already existing décor. Instead, her daily life revolves around shaping the work bit by bit —whether it’s a chair, an antique desk or a side table. It stays in her line of sight until one or another of its nuances catches her eye, then she takes her brush in hand and gets to painting.
“I have an art room, but I love to work in the center of things,” says West, who admits the challenges to working this way as well. “My cats really like it because they spend a lot of time sitting on top of pieces. I also have a Labrador with an active tail that likes to wipe across wet paint.”
Currently, West’s hand-painted furniture works are on display at the Gadsden Arts Center & Museum’s Munroe Family Community Gallery. Curator Angie Barry designed the “Fanciful Spaces” exhibition, which can be experienced through Aug. 29, so that the furniture is reflected in West’s hand-painted mirrors. The end result is a 360-degree view of her pieces from every angle.
“I was just amazed at how well she composes it in a visually pleasing way,” says West. “You see the pieces constantly whether your back is to them or not. That mirror’s reflection is yet another piece in itself.”
West has worked in many mediums including oil paints, blacklight photography and drawing. She began painting furniture after a car accident that seriously injured her back. Her artistic side was frustrated with the limited mobility she had during her recovery period until a friend brought her an antique brass drain embedded in a piece of wood and asked if she could paint it. The small detailed work was a perfect fit.
Furniture continues to find its way to West. Her sister brings thrift shop finds along on visits while friends will call her when they happen upon an antique piece. West typically evaluates the wood, and if the “bones” are good, she’ll bring the forlorn piece back to life in bursts of color.
“I realized how much I enjoyed taking a neglected piece that looks like it’s had its time and turn it into functional art,” says West. “The piece dictates to me the design. There’s very rarely a piece I start where I know what I’m going to do, and I enjoy watching it transform.”
West considers herself born into art. Her mother was a high school art teacher who instilled in her a sense of work ethic and dedication to visual problem-solving. She attended a graphic arts program but always found satisfaction in teaching herself new mediums.
When it comes to furniture, West looks to images of old-world donkey carts from Rome and Mexico for inspiration. Each incorporates brightly colored designs to enhance the character of the piece.
West uses a wide array of colors and remains fearless when it comes to her creativity. Every piece of furniture is first coated in opaque black, and if a design isn’t working for her, she has no qualms about blacking it out and starting over again.
“I think in terms of filling negative space when I’m working on a piece,” says West. “Everything gets based out in black before I paint because then my colors are true. When you put a yellow on there, it is a true yellow.”
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