These identical twins are college professors by day and artists by night. Kyle Phelps is an Associate Professor of Art and head of the Ceramics area at the University of Dayton. Kelly Phelps is the head of Sculpture and the Fine Art Department Chair at Xavier. The two live in Centerville and work together nightly in a small studio in one of their homes.
Their work has been exhibited in more than 100 juried, solo, invitational, regional, national and international exhibitions.
I asked about differences between the two brothers. Did they have different strengths and weaknesses? Kyle told me they were identical in every way. They think of themselves as one person in two bodies.
In terms of their art you can add one more number. Kyle and Kelly are one artist in two bodies doing art that incorporates three artistic disciplines – sculpture, painting and mixed media art.
When I visited, the two were working on the first of those three disciplines – ceramic sculpture.
Kyle and Kelly use the same room for carving their sculptures as they do for painting. Carving can be a dusty process, so they work on a group of carvings and then clean the space before breaking out the paints.
The figure below has been carved, and seems to be impatiently waiting for the painting step to begin.
Kyle and Kelly grew up in New Castle, Indiana. They went to Chrysler High School and their father worked at a factory that started making autos and auto parts in 1907. That plant is now idle, and New Castle’s high school has been renamed. Kyle and Kelly’s art is about the loss of that type of blue-collar work.
Here is one of their painted pieces – a group of workers ready for the picket lines.
After carving and painting, Kyle and Kelly move to mixed media art – the final step in creating their art. The twins combine their ceramic pieces with debris from factories that have shut down. A few items are stored in a room adjoining their studio, but most items are stored offsite.
These items bring a whole new dimension to the finished work. Sometimes there is still a coating of oil on a tool or piece of metal, so that some slight remnant of the smell of the workplace becomes part of the finished piece.
Two of the final pieces are shown below.
When I visited, the twins were preparing to ship a piece that will be part of the permanent collection of the Ashville Art Museum. They have completed over 75 commissions for corporate and museum collections, and for such private art collectors as actor Morgan Freeman and Director Michael Moore.