Folk Artist, Poet, Librarian: Meet RhondaK
Decked in dreadlocks and constantly running about in designer high heels, RhondaK, a.k.a. Rhonda Kitchens, is an academic librarian by day and fantastic folk artist at night. Her eccentric tastes are reflected in her works. Though she paints hundreds of images, the artist explains that she is “creeped out by canvas.” Instead, she utilizes wood planks, slats, and boards, sometimes interlaced with ropes, other times nailed to another post, to create her pieces. And, even with her interest in visual art she refused to lose her other passion: writing. Rhonda saw herself as a poet and even had a few pieces published. So, she started to add her own poems, pithy phrases, and reflective philosophies toher works. She now categorizes herself as a folk artist and her works as “sign art.”
“I was drawing a lot. I drew price tags for a chainsaw artist, Alan ‘Tiki Man’ Keller, and made short stories to go with the tikis he made. Then, I wanted to branch out some more so started painting on wood I found in the area where I was at the time — Cortez, Florida. I was encouraged to put them out for sale and I started showing them at the Star Fish Company. The first thing I sold was on a piece of palm tree remnant. It was a daisy and said ‘Be A Lazy Daisy.'”
Her success was interrupted by two car accidents that happened in 2002. She was diagnosed with two concussions within a week. She had issues with her eyes and found that her “memory shifted”. For a time, she feared she had lost the ability to read and worried that she could not work as a librarian. To cope, she started to paint symbols that meant something to her: roosters and hands. She expanded to other images of personal hope, mixtures of the Florida beach scene and the metaphysical: mermaids, turtles, fish, beach scenes, angels, and pelicans.
She continued her recovery and continued to grow her art brand. Now a resident of Tampa, she expresses uncertainty as to where her creative side will take her. She has been asked to do murals and other works, but, as with many artists, she struggles between her love of creation and maintaining a job.
“I sell at least one piece a week somewhere. I feel blessed. But, at the same time I do feel down that some people don’t see sign art as “real” art. From my experience, it’s a fantastic, old and oft collected art. I’ve seen people hug my work. I make people laugh. I make people think. I remind people about things they love.”
When asked what her advice would be for art collectors, she said that it was important to take time with an artist. “Ask to look at doodles and sketches with ideas that the artist hasn’t had time to create yet. Encourage them to follow through. Ask them about a piece they are most proud of and the story behind it. It’s important to hear the artist’s story.”
Where to find her art: Ybor Saturday Art Market, Star Fish Company
To contact the artist: Rhondakwrites@gmail.com