September 3rd, 2009

Kieron Williamson‘s artworks are filled with light, perspective and dimension. The palette is pleasing and the composition is well designed.  Watercolors are never easy to master, and yet this artist has defined his own look at a tender (and almost unbelievable) age: six. I don’t know about you, but at age six I was freely experimenting with finger paints and glitter, not mastering watercolor.

These paintings of harbor scenes, rural vistas, animal portraits and landmarks, have shadow and reflections that demonstrate an ability well beyond his young age. This summer, he is preparing for hist first exhibition near his home in Norfolk, England. I’m sure he’ll have to look for a larger gallery, with all of the fuss and publicity that he is receiving.

His mother, Michelle, said, ‘Until last year he didn’t draw anything and in fact we had to draw dinosaurs for him to color in. The turning point was when we took our first family holiday to Devon and Cornwall last May and he liked the boats and scenery. He asked for some plain paper and started drawing his own stuff. At the time, they were like the drawings of most five-year-olds, but he really took off after going to some art classes. We often think about why Kieron has chosen art in this way and I think it’s because we live in a top-floor flat and we have no garden or outside space, so perhaps he’s had to create his own scenery.”

The young artist agrees with his “Mum,” saying, “‘I like painting because it’s fun and inspiring. It makes me think of places I can’t see. I’m going to send one of my pictures to Prince Charles. I’ve already sent one to the Queen but I haven’t had a reply yet. ”

It’s unusual for such a young artist to have such a great deal of definition. His ability to paint in a stylistic way is remarkable, as most children his age would be less precise and patient, splashing paint all over the paper.  His talent was recognized by a family friend, artist Carol Ann Pennington, who offered to give him lessons at age five and from there his talent has grown.

Another favorite (and controversial) young artist is Marla Olmstead, of Bridgehampton, New York. Her paintings are gaining huge popularity amongst the public and are currently on display in several museums. She’s had many sell-out shows in the New York area. But she’s only a child! Olmstead quickly rose to fame at the age of 4.  Soon after her first art show was hung, a “60 Minutes” episode showed the public that the authenticity of her work was under doubt.  Some of that controversy has since disappeared since, and she is back in demand with art collectors, selling original paintings for tens of thousands of dollars. This young girl is sweet and innocent, and painfully shy, and is said to be the quietest one in class. And she’s clearly adorable.

But here’s the controversy: Marla paints alone, and sometimes under the supervision of her Dad; and, her painting process has only been documented a few times. The 2007 documentary “My Kid Could Paint that” highlights this discussion: did Marla complete the paintings by herself or did she do so with her parents’ assistance and/or direction? And what does this say about the nature of contemporary art and abstract expressionism? What about the value of works by accomplished artists, as opposed to art world newbies?How do we decipher between the two if they truly look alike?

I think that there will always be more value in works by artists who have truly studied and lived their art. What can a child have to “say” about their world, their experiences, their desires? Not much, yet. Child artists like Marla are fabulous for PR and marketing schemes, but will the value of a $300,000 work of art by a four year old last? Is it only as valuable as any of the other “ploys” in painting such as painting with wine, applying crystals and diamonds to art to make the surface “sparkle,” or even those “paintings of light” by a certain mass-marketing-genius?  Everyone has to have a place from which to start, and Marla certainly has a giant leap ahead of most!