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A diary of life

Director turning to ‘something new’ in art

  • Charles City Arts Center director Torey Kielman. Press photos by Kate Hayden


By Kate Hayden

The personal artwork of the Charles City Arts Center director is constantly evolving.

“They were like a diary of life back then,” Torey Kielman said. “I painted on a daily basis. I would never lack for subject matter.”

That gradually-shifting portfolio of life has followed Kielman through several creative seasons: from childhood with a watercolor tool set, into college at the University of Northern Iowa and now to the Arts Center. Kielman sold his first painting as a junior in high school. He remembers the piece vividly: a silhouette of a man, back to the viewer, walking down a dark alley.

“I learned long ago not to hold onto my paintings. There’s always more coming,” Kielman said. “I was basically born an artist.”

Kielman, who attended high school in Clarksville, was also getting to know community members in Charles City by late high school. He worked in multiple businesses across town as he attended NIACC, including Comp Systems and the Treasure Chest.

“I know people in Charles City from those early years, and I still have good friends in some of those people I worked with,” Kielman said. “I had a lot of ambition, and I had to work my way through college. There wasn’t any options.”

After spending time living in Iowa City and New Orleans, Kielman returned to northern Iowa and bought a home in the country. In between raising vegetables and working as a handyman in Charles City, Kielman kept creating –– and his style shifted from representing the scenes he wanted to preserve.

“I was doing art that was real figurative in nature. A lot of nightlife scenes,” Kielman said. “I would always have an event of something the night before that I would make quick paintings of.”

Kielman also experimented with presentation. He did a series of self-portraits on masonite in 2008, depicting himself in various scenes of an unpleasant dream sequence. He also helped turn a friend’s Cedar Falls apartment into an impromptu private art gallery for a night, later recreating the private gallery at a Charles City friend’s home.

In New Orleans, most of the work he produced on Jackson Square was no bigger than a postcard, which he sold to visiting tourists; he didn’t save much from sales during that era.

“I’ve watched my art grow. When you’re an artist, you go through different periods. You just can’t help it,” Kielman said. “You get different ideas, or all of the sudden you’ve accumulated a lot of supplies of some sort. Art just forever grows.”

Kielman is back to doing something totally different, as he says. At his home studio, he has four works-in-progress that are building up interest and texture with oil pastels, a medium he had previously never given a second look to.

“I’m having just fun, creating abstracts with oil on these textured surfaces,” Kielman said. “Within the surface I’ve embedded thread, coffee grounds, painter’s caulk, and now I’m working on that textured surface with the oil pastels, creating abstracts.”

“It’s something new, something different,” he added. “I made it up, and I didn’t know what I was doing initially when I started adding those textures to the surface…I made this up. It’s fun to be original. You like to wow people.”