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Right at Home

Musician and artist Nelly Kate finds kindred spirits in Richmond's creative scene.



For musician and artist Nelly Kate, next year will be the year of "no." She plans to take on no more work, a considerable change from the whirlwind of activity that's defined her time since arriving from Staunton in February 2011.

At early shows at the now-defunct Sprout and the Listening Room, Anderson built a devoted following for her multilayered sound: singing, playing keyboard, percussion and looping. "This community was so nurturing and really embraced what I was trying to do and helped push me along," she says.

But after an arduous cross-country tour, she found herself burned out by the difficulties of lost bookings, incorrect dates and small audiences. "After the hardships of that trip, I had to step away for a while," she says. "It doesn't mean I'm not writing music, I'm just not making a huge effort to play shows. I realized I'd allowed the idea of the tour to be all-encompassing, rolling everyone into one ball, but the people here still wanted to hear my work."

She fell into a perfect fit with musician Brent Delventhal of local surf rock band Warren Hixson, who'd been recording her album for the better part of this year.

"We had a mutual respect for each other's work, so it was easy and seamless," she says. Before long, she was playing shows as a part of Warren Hixson. "It's been an awesome experience. I love being an accessory and not the one who has to make all the serious decisions."

Music is only one focus, as evidenced by her current shop show at Quirk Gallery, "101 100 10-1," an exhibit featuring 20 small works and one large-scale piece. Unlike past shows where her work had a decidedly socially conscious focus, Kate now backs off the blatant messages. "Instead of images of starving children," she says, "I'm using references instead of pushing that. That's what this show is about, three months of marinating and distilling to get to this point. I'm trying to push myself to do something more accessible."

The small, colorful pieces, which begin with a watercolor wash and are finished with pen and ink, reflect consumer culture with such wide-ranging images as sugar, cigarettes, corn and cotton — Kate's favorite of the group — and are priced to be affordable. "Sometimes peers give you a hard time about it," she says. "But it's so rare for us to cross over."

When not making music or art, Kate can be found at Black Iris studio on Broad Street, where she has a residency assisting sound artist Benjamin Thorpe with promotion, booking shows and curating art on the walls. Their goal is to hang work with socially driven themes and then do parallel programming scheduling music and discussion to complement it.

She's also passionate about a sound project she's doing with artist Jordan Bruner for a piece by Eve Ensler. "I don't know if I've ever been in a more beautiful space with more brilliant people in one place," she says. "I'm not getting paid for it, but I feel like I'm living the dream."

An upcoming project, a sound installation show at Black Iris, will allow people to "borrow" recordings that can only be listened to at six sites, an attempt to re-invigorate dead areas of the city by shaping perspective.

Next year, her goals are simpler. "I won't do anything all year that isn't good for my well-being and the advancement of my dreams," she says. "Explore, experiment, wander — more than anything, I want those things encompassed in a real vision for myself." S

"101 100 10-1" runs through Nov. 30 at Quirk Gallery, 311 W. Broad St. The sound installation show is Dec. 6 during First Fridays Art Walk from 7-10 p.m. at Black Iris, 321 W. Broad St. Kate opens for Stephen Vitiello and Molly Berg at Black Iris on Dec. 7.


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