“Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.” – Anthony Brandt
The first time I met artist Kimberlee Rocca, I was overcommitted and was running unfashionably late to an art show at her studio. In fact, I showed up at closing time to find Kimberlee, her husband, and her mother sitting around a table recounting the evening. Following a warm greeting, I was given a personal tour of the studio, an insider’s perspective on her work, and a history of foil printing. We all sat together at the table and discussed art and life and by the end of the evening, I felt like family, albeit the awkward distant cousin.
“There is nothing more exciting than having people come in and take in everything I have done. That goes hand in hand with the creation. How can you not love creating as much as you love giving? It is so intertwined, and I love both aspects of that.”
After doing a more in-depth interview, I realized that her work is the manifestation of her family and vice versa. The home is simply an extension of the family, cultivating warmth, love, comfort, and creativity. The basis of the home is central to who she is. Her family, including her husband and four children, reside at the center of her world, providing inspiration, energy, and support to her endless array of creative pursuits. Coming from a family whose motto was, “We need to make everything better and more beautiful!”, she was primed for an artistic career. After taking nearly every art class available in junior high and high school, she graduated from the University of Iowa in 1991 with a BFA in foil imaging, metal smithing, fiber art, and graphic design. There she had the opportunity to work with pioneering artists including Chunghi Choo and Virginia Myers (who invented the Iowa Foil Printer that allows colorful foils to be utilized in fine art works). Roll leaf foil imaging has been a central part of Rocca’s art aesthetic. Her foil work was included in the first book ever written about the process, Myers’ Foil Imaging: A New Art Form. She explores various other media including acrylic painting, encaustic, metal sculpture, and mixed media.
In 1995, she started Claim to Frame, a frame shop and art gallery in Iowa City, where she displayed her work in addition to managing the entire business including custom picture framing, bookkeeping, sales, curation, and marketing. Around that same time, she met her future husband, and life changed course to some degree.
Not only did they have four wonderful children, but they established Rocca Custom Homes, a construction business dedicated to building homes tailored to the homeowner’s personal aesthetic. Here, Kimberlee uses her design skills to envision a comfortable personal living space, while husband, Kevin, lends form to her vision.
“With home building, I get to work closely with my clients. I get to hear about their dreams, their plans, how they live, what kind of family life they want to cultivate. Then I get to take that, and I have a vision for what their house should be. I get to help them bring something to life.”
Despite the time constraints of co-managing a business and raising four children, she continues to create an impressive variety of artwork. Rocca revels in being totally immersed in her work, applying paint and water to the paper, twisting and turning the paper to create various effects, bending and shaping metal, tacking foil down, and then scraping away sections to reveal the layers beneath.
“I have very few actual tools that I use. I never use brushes. I push things around. I’m drawing with pastels and oil crayons. I’m cutting and bending metal. If I can get my hands into anything, I’m in heaven.”
Not only that, she loves to work on a large scale, the bigger the better. Some of her most spontaneous work is on large sheets of paper that she rolls out and covers with splashes of paint and water, then following her intuition, lets her hands find their way. It is an impressive process to witness; the focus is intense. Movements of the hands are like gestures, occurring instinctively, yet the paint does not puddle to a murky brown. Intense shades and patterns emerge, producing an abstract visual representation of her consciousness. There is a familiarity and happiness to her work.
Her foil imagery is much more deliberate due to the nature of the process which requires heating the substrate, often aluminum panels, and applying the foil. The foil is cut, textured, and layered to create the initial construct. Images are then manipulated through additive or subtractive methods until the final composition is achieved. Here color, texture, line, contrast and balance collaborate in bringing life to a room.
“It’s background music for your eyes. You don’t have to have music turned on to be inspired artistically. I know what it does to an environment to have a beautiful piece of artwork in there. People don’t realize it until they go into a place and they’re like, “Wow! This place is awesome!”
She is continually tackling new media, techniques, styles and sizes. Foil printed aluminum mobiles are her latest creation. Large works on canvas or paper, although spontaneous in their making, may take months or years to finish, as the final composition matures through repeated exposure and layered experimentation.
“You don’t buy things like this because you’re worried about money and value. You buy these things because you love them. That’s what art is. You buy it because it inspires you on a different level and you love it; because somebody has put their heart and soul into it.”
Her business background from running a frameshop/gallery to co-managing their custom home business has instilled in her an incredible work ethic that is essential to being a successful artist in the era of the world wide art market. Art is not a necessity to life but its value is often underappreciated. Making a living as an artist requires not only outstanding work but the ability to self promote, run a business, interact with clientele, judge clients’ reactions to your work, interpret clients’ preferences, and somehow balance it all. During this process, Kimberlee has developed her own substrate for foil printing on metal, learned to code and designed her own website in the days before Squarespace, promoted herself in numerous galleries and art festivals, interacted with fans on social media, and demonstrated her art live on Periscope. The realm of art consumption is rapidly changing, and successful artists must evolve quickly and creatively to keep up.
“We all have our journey and allowing yourself to have the journey is super important.”
Like most journeys, her career has required compromises and difficult decisions, yet the joy in raising four intelligent and creative children, building countless custom homes for loving families, and adorning thousands of dwellings with her inspiring work greatly outshines any sacrifices made along the way.