Trading a briefcase for an easel: Kimberly Martin shows the results at Gallery Egan in Morristown

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What is it about Italy?

Kimberly Martin went there as a corporate suit in 2001 and returned 10 days later as an artist.

“There’s something about travel that opens your mind like nothing else can…I had such clarity about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” recounted Kimberly, who is exhibiting a dozen oil-on-canvas pieces at Morristown’s Gallery Egan this month.

perfumed warrior by kimberly martin
'Perfumed Warrior' by Kimberly Martin, whose exhibition at Gallery Egan will be included in Feb. 1 'Art Around the Park' walking tour in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

When she vacationed at the Todi School of Art in Italy almost a decade ago, she was a human resources executive for a major Philadelphia company, packing an MBA degree from Vanderbilt.

She had dabbled in drawing and painting as a schoolgirl before opting for a “practical” career. Yet she could not shake thoughts of painting.

Finally, there she was, painting scenes of 700-year-old churches in the hills of Umbria.

Kimberly came home, got her financial house in order and made the leap. She took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and the Fleischer Art Memorial, always heeding instructors’ advice: Keep painting!

She honed her skills with representational creations. But after awhile she tired of landscapes.

And so she took a deep breath and jumped again–into an intensely personal, hard-to-describe, challenging-to-sell style of fragmented human forms and sometimes- disturbing colors.

“It’s a whole canvas of chaos,” Kimberly, 43, said with a laugh. “It’s like a great Rorschach test exercise, like I’m developing my own language. Some of my marks have a certain violence to them. I don’t pre-plan my imagery. It’s really a discovery process as I go through it.”

Gallery owner Alexis Egan said she was intrigued during a visit to Kimberly’s studio in Philadelphia some months back.

“I love the figurative abstraction,” Alexis said. “You rarely see abstraction with partial figures in them. I thought it was really unique. I like her color choices and her movement. There is a lot of movement. And they have a lot of energy. You get a lot of emotion in them.”

An opening reception is scheduled for 7 pm on Friday. Kimberly also plans to return on Feb. 1 for Morristown’s second Art Around the Park gallery walk.

Pieces in Kimberly’s exhibition range from shoebox size to four-by-five-feet, with prices between $350 and $5,000.

The recession prompted her to take on some corporate consulting work–it’s fine to be a starving artist, but Bernhard, her St. Bernard/hound, has to eat. Still, Kimberly is not contemplating a full-time return to the corporate grind anytime soon.

“I don’t miss it at all,” Kimberly said. “My heart and soul is my artwork.”

Her advice to anyone else yearning to trade a briefcase for an easel?

“Plan for it as much as you can, financially.  If you’re going to make the shift, make it about yourself. Don’t follow the way someone else paints or draws. Be yourself. That’s why you’re doing this.”

But if you’re the least bit apprehensive about the whole thing, well … maybe you should skip Italy.

saccharine sheets by kimberly martin
'Saccharine Sheets' by Kimberly Martin, whose works are on display this month at Morristown's Gallery Egan. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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