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Local artist reflects on community, opportunity

by Jackson Thompson

Lisa Kesler is a printmaker, painter and an award-winning artist as well as a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate. She has left her mark on Champaign-Urbana and made an impression among her artistic peers.

For Kesler, it was her high school art teacher that helped her realize that art was a possibility for her future.

“She made it seem achievable to me,” Kesler said of her time growing up in the 60s, “When I thought of artists, I just thought they were men, which they were and and they weren't, that wasn't something I could do.”

“But then when I finally realized, oh, I could go to school and I could study this and it started feeling like okay, this could really be, you know, a career for me.”

She has been a professional artist since receiving her BFA from U of I and her MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Her work started being exhibited in Seattle in 1995, and ever since returning to Champaign she has had her art posted on billboards and on walls around town, having contributed more than a few murals to the city.

But she has also been an active participant in the Champaign-Urbana art scene as recently as this month.

Kesler took part in the 2023 Boneyard Arts Festival — an annual weekend-long celebration showcasing the community’s creativity. Having done so since 2008, this year she once again opened her studio and home to the public. She did so in collaboration with two other artists, jeweler Nisa Blackmon and clothing designer Allegra Raff.

“I knew her first as a printmaker,” Blackmon said, “I’ve seen her more at festivals and things and then coming here and seeing the work in her home, I’m very impressed.”

“I feel like I don’t think of myself as someone who’s really out there,” Raff admitted, “[Kesler] messaged me, I think she was aware of my work from maybe other events around town like before. I like her work. A lot. It’s interesting.”

And for Kesler, it was important having these two women with her, showcasing their art alongside her own.

“I specifically invited those two women because I did feel like the three of us and our work collectively would work well together and they each do something completely different. You know, I'm a 2D artist: paintings, prints. and then Nisa is metalwork and jewelry and then

Allegra is a clothing designer. so our work is completely different.”

As a full-time artist, Kesler has admitted that the success of the years tends to vary wildly from one another, and she finds it important to owe her success to where it is due.

“I ended up with a house that used to be my grandparents’ I inherited so when I sold that, I was able to move…into town. And so this is, for the most part, a result of my parents being gone,” Kesler said. “I don’t want to claim that this is because of anything I’ve done in my career. But I feel like my responsibility, though, is not to squander what I’ve been given, and not squander opportunities I’ve been given and to do everything I can, where my art is concerned.”

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