Art is unlike any beauty. An artist's amalgamation of simple colors, shapes, and sounds, depending on which medium is chosen, has the potential to reach deep into the soul of another and cause a spark. I came across @enlightenmentbarbie while scrolling through Instagram and was immediately captured by Gillian Keller's uniquely bright aesthetic. Because of the immediate connection I felt to her art, I knew that I had to make a connection to her through Contagion Media.
After being born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Keller (AKA "Enlightenment Barbie") grew up in Washington and Montana, where she experienced a drastic change in her perspective on religion before returning to San Francisco to finish her art degree as a new person. Now she creates incredibly elaborate, psychedelic portraiture. Featuring symbols from multiple religions and mythology, Keller's work should not be taken as a political statement, but as a mere reflection of her "inner journey."
"There’s definitely a strange inner fear that, in this selfie, social media culture, making self portraiture would come off as vain or self-indulgent, but all I need to do is look to Frida Kahlo to realize that the richness of the inner journey is more important than what others think of you for embarking on it in the first place."
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Color vs. Black and White?
People doesn’t have to look at my work for long before realizing that I am a color fanatic! My black values are almost never actually black and my whites are almost never true white. Color is very juicy to me - and symbolically, I like using rainbows and so many different colors in my work because it represents the full spectrum of experience - of any experience - of life to death, of love to fear, of wisdom to hate... It is a symbol of the full range of qualities that can
exist within a single moment.
When did you start creating? What is your favorite medium?
I drew and painted all throughout school and was torn between studying art or journalism. I made up my mind when my grandfather passed away my second year of school, that I was going to be an artist, because he was - and I wanted so badly to carry on that part of my family.
In school I was [mainly] focused on painting and sculpture. When I moved back to San Francisco after graduating, I had a few years not making much until after a beautiful kaleidescopic dream, which inspired me to make the first image in this new style. So for years I’ve been making collage, both digital and hand cut, but now I am transitioning into creating digital compositions that I translate to paintings. I’m very excited to continue in this direction.
How do you feel about creating self portraits?
For the past year I’ve been creating self portraiture almost exclusively; the shift into self portraiture happened alongside a personal desire to more deeply examine myself. For years, my work had been about celebrating the divine contradictions and the incredible beautiful mystery in others, as it pertained to my own spiritual realizations, and now I am turning the lens onto myself.
My most recent piece features three nude figures, all of which were based on self portraits that I photographed. So, this interesting multiplicity begins to be expressed, of what it feels to be inside a human mind, my human mind. Self portraiture is essentially visual journaling.
How does your art relate to your personality and how you see yourself?
I am creating more self portraiture because I see it as a valuable inward gaze - the task of trying to better understand and analyze the self, while also being at peace within the self, and letting that seep into the outside world.
What is a message you hope your art created for your audience?
I hope my art is a playful look into the human experience, told in fantastical, surreal images that transport people into their subconscious. I hope it opens people up to exploring their own inner worlds and how the full range of emotion can be present within a single moment. I want people to know that even in pain, there is beauty and in beauty, there is pain. I want them to know that there is dark in light, humor in tragedy and abundance everywhere they look. It is a spiritually tinted message, but it’s what has been in my soul to express since I was young. This is my life mission.
What is advice you have for any aspiring artists?
It is a daily practice and a lifestyle. Whatever you want to convey, it is important to both have the passion to set that message into existence, as well as the patience and diligence to see it through. There’s a big difference between a spark from a match, versus the kindling that you slowly nurse into a bright beautiful bonfire. It truly takes time, willpower, confidence and a ton of patience. You might get low-balled, rejected, or fall on your face a few times, but if you keep at it and look back on the work you’ve spent on your vision years down the road, you will be in a different place on your journey both artistically and personally, and I think you can be very proud of that.