Madison artist creates stories through oil paintings

Kelli Hoppmann uses art to bring stories to life
Madison artist creates stories through oil paintings
Courtesy of Kelli Hoppmann
"The Hen House I" by Kelli Hoppmann

Kelli Hoppmann begins each of her vivid, allegorical paintings with a theme: “Love, politics, nature, social structures, death, life, suffering, redemption, why that lady looks just like her dog … whatever is going on that day,” she says.

With a concept in mind, the Madison artist thinks about its manifestations in human behavior and starts drawing a composition. Once she’s satisfied with where everything–human figures, animal heads, tall trees, intricate patterns–is placed, she’s ready to paint.

For the past 30 years, Hoppmann has returned to quintessential human experiences as launching points for her mesmerizing oil paintings. Theresa Abel, owner and art director of Artisan Gallery, has been a fan of her work for even longer.

Madison artist creates stories through oil paintings

“Her work is built on a foundation of art history layered with personal stories from her life and often coupled with commentary of current social and political issues,” she says.

While Hoppmann is often called a surrealist or magic realist artist, Abel thinks those aren’t completely apt descriptions. “Years ago, I began referring to her work as staged realism,” she says. “Her work has a theatrical quality, her figures are often in elaborate costumes, sometimes the pictorial space is shallow like a stage set and she is telling you a marvelous story.”

Hoppmann’s new show, running June 9 to July 23 at Artisan Gallery, is called “Dirt and the Clear Blue Sky,” a reference to the diverse elements of life. “Between dirt and the clear blue sky is life, sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, sometimes tender, or surprising, or scary, or ridiculous, or beautiful,” she says.

“I bring my observations and experiences to the work and hopefully leave enough room for the viewer to bring theirs,” Hoppmann says. “I think that is what art does. It connects human experience.”

A Celebration of Craft

Madison artist creates stories through oil paintings

Wisconsin has a long and branching legacy of surrealism that reaches back to the 1930s and ’40s and has produced such artists as John Wilde, Norbert Kox and Gina Litherland.

Artisan Gallery has long been an important champion of contemporary surrealist and regionalist art, but by no means limited to those genres. In fact, the Paoli gallery celebrates its 30th anniversary this month with a group show featuring work by 30 gallery artists who, working in a wide range of media, have played roles in its success.

“It is important for us to show work that honors craft, whether that be ceramics, woodworking or painting,” says owner Theresa Abel. “Alongside those technical skills, we look for work that has a unique and relevant point of view.”

Madison artist creates stories through oil paintings

Katie Vaughn is a contributor and former arts editor of Madison Magazine.