Inside the Studio with Kelly Joy Ladd
When hit by an unexpected life challenge, this Orlando artist stopped painting and started tearing, cutting and folding paper
Some of the most influential moments in Kelly Joy Ladd’s life happened in high school, when she worked as a performer at Disney World. She recalls how enthralled she was backstage with the intricacies and designs of the costumes.
“It really helped me create and build my imagination,” she says. “I saw these world-class designs every day. I was immersed in that, which has helped a lot with my art.”
Ladd’s imagination and love of art started growing when she was a little girl. Born in Tallahassee, the fifth-generation Floridian grew up in Lake Mary in Central Florida.
“I’ve always been into art in some way — I’ve always made things,” she says of her formative years, when she was still dreaming up things to create. “I remember when I was little-little, I would write articles and different things.”
Ladd attended the University of Central Florida, majoring in liberal studies, and eventually went on to work as a local magazine editor and writer for nearly a decade. In her free time, she transferred her creativity to canvas by painting. However, that all changed 12 years ago, when her husband developed a severe sensitivity to chemicals as a result of Lyme disease, making it impossible for her to continue painting inside the house.
“I had to figure out something else to do, so I started playing with paper, since he could be around it,” says Ladd. Before long, ripping, cutting, tearing, folding and piecing together paper was her new medium.
“In a weird way, his illness made me fulfill my dreams a little bit,” she continues.
Ladd spent about six months experimenting with her paper art. Soon after, in 2013, she had her first art show, exhibiting hanging paper sculptures. Three days later, her magazine closed.
“I was like, ‘Aha, the universe is trying to tell me something,’” Ladd remembers. “When I stopped working for the magazine, that’s when I started to really focus on my art and trying new techniques.”
Ladd views her work as a very meditative process, especially because of the repetitiveness it takes on through the ripping, cutting and gluing of thousands of tiny pieces of paper. Each of her pieces is truly one-of-a-kind, though many are inspired by nature, the tides, and geometric shapes. Another theme Ladd continues to go back to is astronomy. Her love of outer space stems from her college days, when she was enthralled with celestial studies. She tries to incorporate cosmic concepts into the titles of her work, like Europa, which is named after one of the icy moons of Jupiter.
“The piece has these long, spiky shards of paper,” she explains. “While I was making it, I just kept thinking about the icy moons, and my interpretation of what it would be like on the surface of those moons.”
Now working full time in Orlando as an artist, Ladd shows her work at Snap Orlando and the Mennello Museum of Art. One of her pieces has even made it to the West Coast, where it is on display at Kevin Barry Fine Art in Los Angeles. Ladd also takes commissions for custom pieces, with clients selecting the colors and patterns they prefer. But at the end of the day, Ladd credits her love of the outdoors as the ultimate artistic inspiration.
“Because I grew up here, I’m a nature girl,” Ladd says. “I really like to go out into the woods and hike. I’m inspired a lot by the palm fronds and the different textures that you can see.”