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Artist Spotlight: Sean Kammerlohr

We are excited to announce our new Artist Spotlight series, where we regularly feature a story or interview highlighting a local artist and member. 

We are thrilled to introduce Sean Kammerlohr and share the interview we recently conducted. 

Q&A Interview April 2024

Q: How would you describe your current art and the path that brought you here?

Sean:  "
I am becoming known as “the tree guy” because I paint a lot of trees. I admire them. I have planted, transplanted, cared for, and maintained many trees over the years, including a walnut sapling a squirrel planted in our garden box at an apartment years ago. Wally spent over a year in a pot until we bought our first house in Topeka, KS, where he was able to be permanently planted. I feel a strong bond with trees. Trees are friends.

When my wife Halee and I moved out here from that first house in Topeka in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, I was unemployed for several months before finally getting a contract position with the state. I missed the rugged, thorny terrain and open skies of Missouri and Kansas. So, with lots of time on my hands, I started rendering photos I had taken over the years of scenes from back home that I always intended to paint.

By the time my contract position was up the next year, I had honed my painting skills enough that Halee and I decided it was time for me to take my shot and paint full-time. So, that’s what I did and have been doing these last three years: painting, improving, competing in plein air competitions, displaying pieces in galleries and shows, and trying to sell my work. One of the first things I did in that endeavor was join Associated Artists of Winston-Salem (AAWS)."

Q: How long have you been an Associated Artists of Winston-Salem member, and why have you stayed involved?

Sean: "
I have been a member since the fall of 2021. My first exhibit was at the Wachovia gallery in the Masonic Center of Winston-Salem that winter. Margaret and Myrna encouraged me to sign up for the Community Exhibit program, which I immediately did. It wasn’t long before I had pieces displayed in Bernardin’s Restaurant.

Over the last two and a half years, I have tried to volunteer as much as I can. As a full-time artist, I work from home, so I usually have the time, and I like to feel useful. I have come to enjoy hanging shows and often volunteer for the task. I have attended some workshops offered through the association, and my work has been displayed at many community exhibit sites and gallery shows. I even sold a large piece in last year’s Spine Center show (thank you, AAWS!!!)! I am grateful for all the opportunities AAWS has provided me. It was a great first step in my career as an artist, which, like all of you, really started a long, long time ago."

Q: How long have you been doing art, and how did you get started?

Sean: "In the early 1980s, when Star Wars was just beginning to take over the world, kids like my older brother and his pals were drawing spaceships. They designed and drew robots, fighters, and whole fleets of ships, and I wanted in. That’s how it started for me: designing and drawing spaceships and robots in 2nd grade.

I wasn’t introduced to oils and acrylics until high school. When I first blended oils, I was enamored. Slow gradations of one-color blending into another are still my favorite things to paint.

As I am sure is true for a lot of us, there were many years when I was not creative at all. Work and life get in the way, and the last thing you want to do is sit in front of an easel. During those years, I would try to paint at least watercolor Christmas cards as gifts for my family. As a single, noncustodial parent working two jobs to make ends meet, it was often all I had to give anyway. So, poverty inspired me to paint snowmen for gifts. That is how my line of Frostie cards was born. Each year, I would paint another scene chronicling Frostie’s journey across the earth. I still paint Frostie scenes around Christmas.

Eventually, I got tired of struggling with service and labor wages and went back to college to earn a BA in philosophy and an MA in communication and leadership. Those degrees would land me jobs in the Kansas and North Carolina state governments, but art still wasn’t a priority for me. 

Then in 2018, my Aunt Sissy died from cancer. Though I had not touched oils in fifteen years, the sunrise on the morning I got the call from my mom that Sissy had passed overwhelmed me with the desire to paint it. A thought came to me as I saw pillowy red clouds blushing from the rising sun. That was, of all the sunrises we see in our life, there will inevitably be a first sunrise that we will not see. That red sunrise was Sissy’s first. And I had to paint it.

I broke out my old oil set and started this journey. So, when we moved here two years later, and I began painting scenes from home, it was because I had gained enough confidence to do so in the prior couple of years. Starting with that sunrise, who knows how long it would have taken me to get back into painting regularly without that catalyst."

Q: How does Winston-Salem inspire your art?

Sean: "
Joining the association and meeting other artists in this area has helped me feel like I am part of a community. It is nice to chat with other artists living in town who share the same struggles and to meet up at Broad Branch Distillery for some rye whiskey and commiseration on said struggles!

I also developed a friendship with the owner of Casa Shanti, which turned into a wonderful opportunity. Halee and I are Nature people, and we are always looking for a good witchy shop for our rocks, incense, and other such items. Casa Shanti became our favorite shop. When Zachari opened his second location on Trade St., he approached me about displaying my work in that shop. I was thrilled!

A year later, I have eight pieces displayed at Casa Shanti on Trade and have sold several as well. Also, Zachari encouraged me to expand my skill set by suggesting scenes I had never painted before, like the big raven painting I did specifically for the shop. Now, I have a line of mystical paintings that I do solely for display there. How’s that for inspiration?!?"

Q: What's next for you in your art?

Sean: "While researching for my master’s thesis about why society at large has failed to adopt environmentally responsible behaviors, I found one of the biggest reasons is a disconnect between people and Nature.

Tree Friend Fine Art is about connecting people with Nature. It is my attempt at addressing the prevalent mindset that Nature is somehow “less than.” So, when I paint trees, it is often with a dash of anthropomorphism. I want the viewer to see trees as individuals. I want them to wonder what the tree is thinking, feeling, and dreaming. I want them to consider the tree, flower, and animal as being equally deserving of life as they are with the hope of changing how people view Nature. Bridge the gap; save the world.

The goal of Tree Friend Fine Art is to eventually become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on tree conservation. The tentative idea is to use a portion of my art sales to fund the planting and maintenance of trees. The largest variable in that equation is art sales. So, that is my focus going forward. Continuing to paint, improve, compete, display, and market (ugh…). Make enough of a name for myself and my work to be profitable enough to buy trees and plant them. So far, I have the painting, improving, competing, and displaying things down. That just leaves marketing and sales. The least enjoyable aspect of art for most artists!"

Q: What's one random fact about you that might surprise people?

I have a kind of mental disorder called synesthesia, which literally and figuratively colors how I see the world, think, and process information. Synesthetes are often adept at the arts. I am both musically (saxophone in high school) and artistically inclined.

Synesthesia is like a melding of the senses. Sounds can produce colors, tastes, and smells. Smells can produce sounds, feelings, and tastes. For me, loud noises can be nauseating, and extreme pain causes everything to turn orange. It is a wide spectrum. What we all seem to have in common is that our letters and words are colored. Most people see black type if they visualize a letter, number, or word in their mind. My alphabet, all words, numbers, and equations are all colored. A is green. B is orange. C is yellow, etc. I use the colors of numbers to do math. I remember words and numbers based on their color patterns. I identify people with the colors in their names. I will even choose to use some words over others based on their color combinations. It is why I prefer “grey” to “gray.” Because to me, the colors in the word “grey” are absolutely beautiful!"

To learn more about Sean and explore his art further, you can visit his website at Tree Friend Fine Art.

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