Gathered around a square metal table, the artists are seated, hunched over, working meticulously on their drawings while a painting of a Stormtrooper on a red background watches over them.
Some are creating symbols and colorfully drawing them; others are painting on pieces of canvas. One woman works on her painting of an owl.
Eric Blythe, 37, a Lexington native, works on a scene of a lake with rugged mountains in the background and clouds drifting in the sky.
Blythe and others attend an art class on Mondays and Fridays at Employment Solutions Inc., a nonprofit. Lexington artist Jerielle Hanlon, who owns Kentucky Pop Art, teaches the class.
Nicole Kelly, director of expressive and wellness programs at Employment Solutions, works with adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. It focuses on helping people gain employment, but it also helps people to be as independent as possible.
Hanlon has taught the class there for almost a year, Kelly said.
“Her class is probably one of the most popular classes, and people really have learned a lot from her and done really well,” Kelly said.
Blythe said Hanlon is one of the best art teachers he has ever encountered. She teaches her students various artistic techniques, and he always finds ways to improve, based on her teaching, he said.
“I love the way she takes and individualizes the conversation to the artist,” Blythe said.
When Hanlon isn’t teaching the class at Employment Solutions, she can be found at her gallery, Galerie Jerielle, on The Square above Saul Good on 401 West Main Street. There she creates her art under the name Kentucky Pop Art. Its emphasis is on the uniqueness of Kentucky.
Hanlon has had the gallery space for about a year and a half, but she has been in Lexington for about 15 years. A native of Morehead, she came to Lexington to attend Transylvania University in 2001, and eventually she began pursuing art education at Transylvania and the University of Kentucky.
She was in and out of both schools for some time and had probably accumulated six years of schooling between the two.
“It was a little disappointing to be in art school and sort of be told that I had to adopt a current mindset. … In order to be an artist, I had to play this particular game,” she said. “It seemed like they were asking me not to work from my heart, to not do what I believe was right.”
Hanlon was home-schooled until age 12. She said her mom educated her in the arts. Kentucky Pop Art came from the idea that she was part of her community in Kentucky and that there were certain things she was proud of and that she wanted other people to know were unique about Kentucky.
While traveling outside the United States, including to Japan and the Czech Republic, she was able to to see what was special about the Commonwealth.
“When I would visit these places in the world, my joy in traveling was to sort of discover what was unique about that place, so I just naturally start recognizing what makes my area where I spent most of my time so unique,” Hanlon said.
Her brightly colored paintings and prints include many Kentucky specific icons and items: Muhammad Ali, UK basketball players, Ale-8-One bottles and bourbon bottles.
By calling it Kentucky Pop Art, Hanlon gave herself the freedom to paint people, bottles, horses, landmarks and Kentucky architecture she liked.
As as an artist, she said, she has encountered people who aren’t familiar with art an haven’tbeen to art museums. By making her art into prints and selling them for $15 to $20, she hopes to make her art available to everyone.
“Usually the kind of people my professors in school wanted me to relate my work to are wealthy, so I wanted my art to be nonexclusive to the wider community,” she said.
Blythe said Hanlon has taught him how to blend his colors more efficiently and become a better artist overall.
“She cares not only about the person, but how they’ve improved learning different techniques,” he said.
Hanlon’s work is for sale at the Night Market (the next one is July 1), Morris Book Shop, CD Central, Galerie Jerielle, Bourbon n’ Toulouse and elsewhere.
It’s also on online at Etsy.com/shop/KentuckyPopArt