On paper...

an artist’s success story
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Kelly Alexander-Wendorf of Belgium is an artist, but she’s far from the stereotypical starving kind.

She actually has a full-time job in the field and her art is quickly growing in prominence.

Alexander-Wendorf works as the office manager and events coordinator for her alma mater, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and creates art through paper cutting.

 One of her pieces is in the Wisconsin Artists Biennial exhibit at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend through April 24.

She applied to be part of the exhibit two years ago and wasn’t accepted, but she was encouraged to try again. She was told 300 artists apply and only 100 get in.

“That has just been opening doors to new opportunities,” Alexander-Wendorf said. “This ball just keeps rolling and getting bigger.”

The roll started when Alexander-Wendorf was growing up in Coal City, Ill.,  which has fewer than 4,000 people and, she said, is similar to Belgium.

She comes from a creative family. Her father has mechanical skills and works on engines, and her mother sews and does woodworking. She built the family’s fort and a deck on the side of their house.

Her grandfather was a woodworker and her brothers are into welding, getting their mechanical aptitude from their father.

Alexander-Wendorf won art contests at her county’s annual corn festival, which further encouraged her career choice. She first thought about illustration or interior design but chose to study print making at

MIAD, creating designs for T-shirts and doing the screen printing herself.

“I really like the idea of process and technique,” she said. “You can really build on layers. Some are multiple and some are single.”

She fell in love with paper cutting in college. Her senior thesis exhibit included a giant installation of paper images from hiking as a child hanging from the walls and ceiling with a video that played over it.

The form allows her work to stand out at exhibits.

“Paper’s not that common. A lot of places, you’re seeing paintings and drawings,”  Alexander-Wendorf said. “A lot of people are really wowed, and they want to know how I did it.”

She has participated in exhibits at several museums near and far, from the Old Town Hall Art Studio down the street in Belgium to her first solo exhibit at the Center for Visual Arts in Wausau in 2020. She applied to be part of an exhibit there and wasn’t accepted, but got a call back asking if she wanted to do a solo exhibit.

“Why not? I had enough stuff to do it,” she said.

She was part of a 24-hour exhibit “Embodiment of Cycles” at the Arts Mill in Grafton, exhibits at Alverno College and the Two Fish Gallery at Elkhart Lake and was part of the Art Servancy through Gallery 224 in

Port Washington and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

“If I can get into an exhibit or a show, that’s what keeps me going,” Alexander-Wendorf said.

Inspiration for the 34-year-old’s work comes from life. She is interested in anatomy and nature — how health and the environment are related

“My work is a way to talk about it — how we are connected to nature,” she said. “Being an artist, this is a way of talking.”

She finds photos online to make sure her artistic organs are anatomically correct, then adds in texture through layers to provide “more depth to the viewer,” she said.

Nature images come from photos. She often sketches the grasses and plants before breaking out her X-Acto knife to cut out the pieces on acid-free construction paper, frosted mylar or thin Japanese paper.

Putting the different layers together can take time and allows for last-minute changes. Some elements she thought would be included in pieces don’t work and are saved for other works.

All those extra pieces must be put away since Reggie and Autumn — the family’s cats — “like to destroy things,” she said.

Alexander-Wendorf’s favorite part is getting lost in her creation.

“The making part of it. It’s kind of therapeutic,” she said.

“You zone in. You don’t have to think too much about anything else. It’s kind of relaxing.”

Challenges come with making large pieces.

“You’re hoping that all the sticky glue stays together. As long as the paper is dry, glue stays happy,” she said. “Temperature is not my friend.”

Alexander-Wendorf is still in awe of some of her completed pieces.

“Sometimes I look at them and I just can’t believe I did that,” she said.

Doing yoga or going on walks with the family border collie Dotty at Harrington Beach State Park ­— Alexander-Wendorf takes photos there for her grassy patterns — helps get the artistic juices flowing. Then, she can work two to three hours at a time in her home studio, usually while listening to oldies, 1980s’ tunes or artist’s podcasts.

Alexander-Wendorf has her lulls and is in one right now as Clyde, her 6-month-old son, is taking up most of her time.

Her husband Buck, a Cedar Grove-Belgium High School graduate she met through a friend at MIAD, understands his wife’s passion. He is a tattoo artist at Homeward Bound Tattoo in Port Washington.

The walls of their home are adorned with their artwork.

Alexander-Wendorf is also fulfilling another interest. Coming out of college, she wanted to teach but realized she could run workshops at area galleries and schools without having to go to grad school. She loves passing along her passion to others.

For more information, visit Alexander-Wendorf’s website at kellyalexanderkma.wixsite.com/alexander or her Instagram page at @k.alexander.art.

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