AJ (Alicia Jean) Vanderelli and I first got to know each other through the Art and Artists of 614 Facebook then kept running into each other at events and shares Studio #227 with artists Christopher Tennant, Ashley Pierce and Lauren Mudd Conrath at 400 West Rich so we’ve crossed paths there, too. After seeing her work in a few shows, I decided it was time to interview this lady!
And it seems that this is a perfect time to do it as she will be opening the doors to The Vanderelli Room at 218 McDowell St in Franklinton November 14th (more about this so read on!)
Born in Los Angeles, CA, she moved to Panama City, FL when she was 4 years old and lived there until she turned 18. The family moved to PCB because her grandfather, a Colonel and dentist in the Air Force, was stationed there… “He was strict, had high expectations of his children, a heavy drinker and “called it how he saw it”. Although his brutal honesty was the main source of my mother’s depression and heavy drinking, I found his honesty to be refreshing. I am not saying he never hurt my feelings, but after the sting of his words, I figured out that he was right…Poppi would always preach about staying away from boys, keeping my legs crossed,and the importance of getting an education.” But along with those attributes, he accepted her as an artist. However, he always wanted her to have a “fall-back plan” because he had several degrees, was fluent in sign language, attended Gallaudet University for the Deaf, even though he was not hearing impaired…in her words: He was truly amazing!
Having grown up in an emotionally charged household where life was ‘a lot like an intense Showtime series’, (divorce, a variety of abuses, death, etc.)… AJ didn’t really have a plan after graduating from high school in 1993. That led to a lot of time drugging and drinking in a beach community that catered to MTV, spring break, and partying. So, her mom decided it was time for AJ to move to Greensburg, PA (outside Pittsburgh) to live with her father. This move made a huge impact on her growth as her dad agreed to assist her while she attended community college and got her life on track. At that time, she discovered new literature, music, culture and art…. an exciting time for her!!
Her life in Greensburg didn’t last very long, though… over the course of 10 years she bounced around, living in Panama City, Columbus, OH, Orlando FL, Atlanta, GA, Pennsylvania (again) and then in 2003, she settled down in Columbus (lucky for us!!!) BUT she still did NOT have a plan even though she had an associates degree from community college and had no real idea about what she wanted to do with her life…sooooo, she started painting more and writing less… I had a fear of commitment. I was still lost.
Then her grandfather broke his hip and ended up in a nursing home. That meant she had to go visit him because she knew a man like him, with a strict routine to his days, would decline quickly without his beloved daily grind. Her l last visit with him was that ‘kick in the pants’ she needed to make a commitment. They worked crossword puzzles and spent time talking about his travels. Even though ‘he was a pain in the butt, he was a huge inspiration’ to AJ. She had to prove to him that she could commit to something so she applied and was accepted into CCAD where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BFA in painting (at the ripe old age of 33!! LOL!) as a tribute to this special man. She subsequently applied to Indiana University of Bloomington to get her masters… buuuuut, she got married and bought a house instead. And the rest is, as they say, history!
Despite this sideline to her career dreams and a subsequent divorce, she began creating art on a regular basis and made this her life.
Being a figurative oil painter, she identifies most with artists such as Caravaggio, Joseph Wright of Derby, Otto Dix, Artemisia Gentileschi… “I find that I am attracted to discovery and the subtlety of satire. My story within a painting is generally subtle. What I enjoy most about art making, is encouraging the viewer to spend a little more timewith my work. I find that one usually “gets it” after they visit one of my paintings more than once.”
Inspiration comes from her environment and the people within it. She is very affected by the energy of those around her which she states can be a hindrance at times. If there is too much emotion from one spectrum to the other, she requires processing time. Usually that is when she finds herself going through a bit of a “slump”,unable to make art, but everything around her will be organized and clean! (Can she come to my house when she’s in a slump???)
AJ truly believes that without the support of her friends in and out of the artistic community, she would not have accomplished half of what she has over the last several years. That being said, she realized the importance of community living when she lived at Milo Arts, an artist community on Cleveland Avenue, that was housed in an old elementary school owned and run by Rick Mann. Artists who live there vote on who can rent each living/work studio (each space is different, having bathrooms, full kitchens, lofts, etc.)…similar to co-op dorm living. Her studio had a fridge, double utility sink, gigantic windows with 9 ft. ceiling and 900 sq. ft. of wide open space. Pretty much an artist’s dream (except for sharing a bathroom with a ‘bunch of smelly men’ LOL!) Roomies would sit on the roof to watch fireworks, have huge bonfires, have bands and participate in late night critiques. AJ thought the best part was seeing others who were like minded and made art 24/7. The whole experience was the catalyst that she needed to develop relationships within the Columbus art community. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she got to meet Christopher Tenant, Alex Bandar (prior to CIF’s inception), Sister Thoma Swanson, Andy Mass, West Hardin and Craig Carlile to name a few prominent artists! Since moving out of Milo in 2010, its concept has resonated with her. ‘We all have a contribution and owe it to one another to share ideas, provide feedback, and help when we are able to do so… I am a firm believer in You get back from the universe what you give’.
When asked about her art and techniques, she indicated that she usually does a lot of glazing in a painting. While at CCAD, she learned about the copal painting medium called Taubes that is a resin added to oil paint. There are 3 benefits to using this: uniform consistency to the paint and facilitation of the blending of colors; it enlivens the color and adds brilliancy; and it adds durability and strength to the paint body. Over the years of using this medium, she’s learned that you cannot rework a painting once it is dry because the oil will no longer bind to the surface. She’s also learned that trying to take a good photograph requires assistance from the Ralph Corriveaus of the world…LOL!
AJ currently has work for sale at Celebrate Local at Easton, Strongwater Food & Spirits in Frankllinton, The American Motorcycle Museum in Pickerington, the Arts Community Center in Sharon, PA and on the 2nd floor gallery in 400 West Rich. The coming months will keep her busy with a small works group show at The Oak Room in December with an artists’ reception on December 6th. Then she will be showcasing her work in the It’s Saturday Morning Somewhere exhibit opening January 17th at The Vanderelli Room. Oh….let’s talk about this ‘room’!
In May of this year, AJ moved into a building across the street from her studio space at 400 West Rich. After seeing the inside of the building, she felt that it had the raw ingredients to be a gallery space even though she never thought she would run a gallery.
It wasn’t in my “plan” to run a gallery. And then I started weighing the pros and cons. I already had a job that I enjoy tremendously…that uses a lot of energy. I was in a relationship and that requires energy. It was such a mental struggle. But it was the building…the sanctuary…the location that longed to showcase the creative spirit. So after much debate, I decided to take a chance and do it…In Mid-September I began prepping the building. And I am almost ready for our first show on November 14th. I am not going to lie,I am exhausted. My job responsibilities increased at work in October, I have been spending all of my free time working on the building… ripping up carpet, adding and removing walls, painting floors, so yeah, I haven’t had much of a social life over the last two months but I see progress! And it helps knowing that soon, my favorite artists will have a huge space to show their work. The Vanderelli Room gallery is a 1500 sq.ft. room with 9 1/2 ft. walls and a pitched ceiling. There is plenty of wall and floor space and a stage to house both 2D, 3D, and the performing arts.
On November 14th The Vanderelli Room is hosting their very first show titled “The Dream and The Dreamer” with music by Stone Jelly. I am extremely excited about the artists who are participating! Amandda Leigh Tirey, Michael Bush, Cody Heichel, Christopher Tennant, Andrew Lundberg,Ralph Corriveau, Ralph Walters, Michael Halliday, Angella Jann, Cyrus Fire, Christin Hutchinson, Lisa McLymont, Stephanie Rond, Tom Kelly, Amy Leibrand, Jay Moffett, Peter Clay,Lou McAfee, Ric Stewart, Walter Herrmann, Cyndi Bellerose, Catherine Bell Smith, Jerry Strine and Rob Jones . Everyone is so talented and respected in the art community! I am humbled and grateful…
Asked about the direction she sees her art heading in the future, she said, “I don’t spend too much time in the future. As of now, I hope that interest in The Vanderelli Room continues to increase and we have the artists, who show here, sell their work or gain public interest… as for my personal work, I want to continue to grow and explore and develop. I will make art as long as my mind and body allow me to do so”…
Contact for readers:
Her website is currently being updated
Facebook: AJ Vanderelli, Alicia Jean Vanderelli (artist page) or The Vanderelli Room (gallery page)