A Lewisburg artist and activist who stresses the importance of being comfortable with one’s own body has just been awarded a spot in the prestigious Tamarack Foundation of the Arts Emerging Artist Fellowship program for 2021.
Kelsie Tyson, 26, was chosen for this fellowship by a committee of master-level artists based on her craft mastery and aptitude to become a professional artist. Only five other artists in the state were chosen to be a part of this fellowship.
This fellowship will provide Tyson the ability to network with master artists, to increase the visibility of her artwork, and to receive the professional development and support needed to become a full-time artist.
Even though Tyson might be in the early stages of her career, she has already received acclaim for her works featuring body-positive images that explore human sexuality.
One notable installation, “God Is Coming And They Are Fat,” focuses on fat liberation.
According to Tyson, she created this installation while completing her Master of Fine Arts degree at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
“When I moved to Philadelphia, I learned a lot about fat activism and body liberation,” Tyson said.
However, she admitted that during her time in Philadelphia, she didn’t feel as though she fit in. As a long-time Greenbrier County resident and a graduate of both Greenbrier East High School and Marshall University, she knew Appalachia made up a huge part of her identity.
“I thought I wanted to get away from West Virginia and I thought that moving to a big city is how I would be successful as an artist, but I found that once I got to Philadelphia, I really missed West Virginia,” Tyson said.
She wanted to “debunk the stereotypes that West Virginians are lazy, ignorant and fat in a bad way.” So, she took what she learned in Philadelphia about fat liberation, returned to West Virginia and began to define herself and her work.
“I want to take the word fat and make it a word that people do not see as negative,” Tyson said.
“Fat activism and fat liberation, queerness and queer liberation, and blackness and black liberation are all movements that are connected together,” she continued. “I find that a lot of my work is self-portraiture—kind of exploring myself and accepting myself as an adult and as a fat, queer woman.”
Tyson said that through her art she wants to pass along the message to those in West Virginia, especially younger West Virginians, that it is okay to be comfortable with who they are.
“I just feel my work moving into this realm of making people feel comfortable with their bodies, touching their bodies, looking at themselves and taking care of themselves,” Tyson added.
She said she wants to take away the idea that intimate things can only be associated with the words small, discrete and dark. In order to do this, she creates art that is big, bright and colorful.
“I want to start centering my work around West Virginians having a better, more positive relationship with themselves and their bodies, especially in a state where people suffer from food insecurities,” Tyson said.
She plans to use the fellowship program to promote body-positivity awareness around Appalachia. One day, Tyson dreams of having her own studio and continuing work as a mixed-media artist.
“I am really honored to be receiving the emerging artist fellowship from the Tamarack Foundation,” Tyson said. “I am excited to be part of such a strong group of artists. I look forward to getting to know those I am in the fellowship with and I can’t wait to see what we do in the next year.”
When Tyson is not creating art, or working as a gallery assistant in the David L. Dickerson Gallery at the Tamarack in Beckley, she said she likes to travel, find different donut shops and considers herself a donut connoisseur.
Her work, including “God Is Coming And They Are Fat,” can be seen at kelsietyson.com or Instagram @kelsietyson.