Kent Paulette is a self-taught artist who uses uninhibited, energetic brush strokes to create paintings that leap off the canvas, alive with color, texture, and movement. Paulette (a.k.a. Derfla) lives in North Carolina where he paints in a studio overlooking the mountains. He finds inspiration from the natural world that surrounds him and regularly hops into the mountain creek in his backyard to help rejuvenate his spirit and senses.
For K. Paulette, each painting is a gamble, a leap into the unknown, a wild ride of exploration and experimentation. He paints to figure things out, not to achieve a specific result. Unexpected or unintended outcomes are welcome; they offer openings through which new possibilities can be glimpsed, imagined, and developed. K Paulette works to exploit these opportunities, continually pushing himself and his paintings beyond the boundaries of habit and into the realm of chance.
“I try to give control over to a process that allows the painting to come to life organically. The painting is able to occur as an uninterrupted event subject to the whims of chance.”K. Paulette
“I try to apply the paint without hesitation or indecisiveness. These measures help to fend off the frustration and anxiety that may arise from any lingering tendency to control the outcome.”K. Paulette
K Paulette strives to insert the present moment into each brushstroke. To make room for this spontaneity and to breathe life into his paintings, he has developed a whole range of special brushstrokes: Ninja Splats, Building Blocks, Scratching Thoughts, Windows, Kisses, Slaps, Screams, Spells, Jellyfish, Leafing, Whispers, and many more.
When Paulette is at work, paint flies everywhere; most of it, however, eventually finds its way onto the surface of the painting. The process is intense and exhilarating and seldom fails to capture the attention of onlookers. Prior to 2020, K. Paulette regularly painted live in front of spectators, allowing them to share in the fun and transforming his creative process from a private into a public activity.
The conceptual foundation for Paulette’s work can be traced to a number of different sources. For example, he has drawn particular inspiration from the artist Brion Gysin, known for his pioneering work with the “cut-up” method and for his experiments with randomness and repetition. Music – from classic rock and folk to Afrobeat and experimental electronica – has long played a central role in K Paulette’s creative process and in his understanding of form, pattern, and perception. He also draws insight and inspiration from a wide-ranging reading list that revolves around topics such as artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, theoretical physics, and advertising.
Paulette also emphasizes the important role played by his family. From an early age, his parents encouraged and applauded his artistic efforts and have continued to do so now that he paints full time. Creekside conversations with his brother Tate have also long been a source of inspiration for his art. Paulette’s closest friend throughout his teens and twenties was his little dog named Corky. You can see her little light shining in everything that Paulette creates.
“The fall colors, especially the reds, at my home studio in Powder Horn Mountain this year were so amazing! On the morning that I started Chroma Thrills on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I waded through Laurel Creek to collect a bucket of creek water, and since it was raining, I also set out a bucket to collect rainwater. I may have been soaking wet after that, but it’s a good way to get connected to nature right before I begin a painting. I mixed the rain water with the acrylic paint for the sky and I used creek water for all the trees.”Kent Paulette
“I prepared for my Wild is the Wind painting with about fifteen hours of solo sledding in the woods here at Powder Horn Mountain during the recent snow storm. On the morning that I started the painting, I waded through Laurel Creek barefooted and grabbed handfuls of snow from its banks. I mixed it with the acrylic paint to get those snowy washes that stain the canvas. As the snow outside melted over the next few days, I switched to using creek water and then finished with rain water.”K. Paulette
View Kent Paulette’s paintings at Studio 140 at Sorrento’s Art Gallery located at 140 Azalea Circle in Banner Elk, NC. You can also see his paintings at The Banner Elk Winery.
As an Appalachian native, Kent Paulette knows the flora and fauna of Appalachia. Many scenes of the Appalachian wilderness have become the subject matter of his work, and Paulette brilliantly depicts everything from the beautiful displays of fall foliage to the soulful gaze of the fox or bear. His paintings are a display of joyful eccentricity, and Paulette has described himself as undertaking each painting with vigor and excitement, making quite a mess in the process, but ensuring that the marks land on the canvas just as they’re supposed to. Paulette doesn’t stop at Appalachian nature. He also extends his subject matter to coastal landscapes, figures, celebrity portraits, and more. Paulette has an ever-growing clientele base, and many of his paintings find their forever-homes in the luxury cabins of the NC High Country.
Paulette marches to the beat of his own drum, and his unique style shines through his work. His paintings diverge from the often tightly-bound “rules” surrounding art, and he allows whimsy and abstraction to give rise to recognizable form in his paintings. Even so, Paulette has an adept understanding of the principles of art, and his applications of color—including color contrast, color harmony, and color temperature—are careful and discerning. The joy that Paulette pours into his work can be seen through his paintings, and each piece is truly one of a kind.
As the sun rises over Powder Horn Mountain artist Kent Paulette quietly walks to the creek and steps in. “It can be snowing or raining, doesn’t much matter,” he explains. “I need to be there, I walk in the water, wet my hands, my face and I fill a bucket to bring back.”
Nature is Paulette’s most influential muse. After this morning ritual he heads up to his deck where he paints barefoot listening to birds, feeling the breeze and responding to his environment. The bucket of water? That almost-holy creek goes into the art itself providing the washes and drips that begin each of his paintings.
For full immersion with the art of Kent Paulette dine at Sorrento’s Italian Bistro or Chef’s Table at Sorrento’s in downtown Banner Elk. Walls are filled with Paulette’s huge, colorful work recognizable by geometric designs and high energy motion. All teased from just three colors. As the eye moves from piece to piece two juxtaposed subjects reveal: nature and music personalities. Move in closer and enjoy the brushstroke. Look for patterns and rhythm. Back up and check your memory bank, the art often transports the viewer.
This is all by design. Paulette is an honest painter. He puts it out there. What he is thinking, how he feels, what he struggles with…it’s all on the canvas. And he has a reverential respect for the process. When he invites interaction while painting in public he listens. “I realize that people bring their own stories to my work,” he explains. “There is a reason they call for a color or decide it is finished. This becomes integral to the piece.” Paulette has even invited bystanders to pick up the brush. “I want them to feel it,” he continues. “I am learning to give up the expectation of a specific ending and see where the process takes us. I want that art interaction to be a positive experience.” Random marks by viewers are as precious as that creek water to his work.
Still a young man at 37, Paulette has been finding his artistic path since he was a child growing up in Hickory. He counts supportive parents and “a neighborhood lady that gave art lessons” as early enablers of his career path. He purposely avoided formal art education other than the basics taught at high school. “I needed to find my own style,” he says, “I wanted the challenge of self-teaching to determine where I went.”
So where does a self-taught artist turn for inspiration? “Music and nature,” he answers. And suddenly Frank Sinatra’s portrait hanging next to a gigantic blue bear makes sense. Honest.
The artist elaborates, “Music always inspired me, moved me. If I paint indoors I have something on. It might be experimental-electro or bluegrass but the rhythms, transitions and surprises are all informative.” He mentions patterns and uses that word again talking about earth influences. One begins to understand that music and nature offer different sides of the same coin of inspiration.
Paulette knows he could be content painting alone on his mountain, listening to his creek and responding to the flow of Mother Nature. But he also purposely sets up challenges that cause him to deal with new situations. “That’s growth,” he says, “it forces you to abandon control, to respond instead to the now.”
So six years ago when Sorrento’s owner Angelo Accetturo offered Paulette studio space near the restaurant and walls on which to hang, the artist started a new venture: Studio 140.
“It’s a different vibe,” he admits, but one he clearly enjoys. Now it is not the sound of the creek but the energy of the crowd that impacts the canvas. “I let them in, answer questions, respond to their comments. It is entirely different than working with the crickets and birds.” And whether he knows it or not he becomes a pied-piper for painting, not just with children who stare fascinated as he slings paint, but with adults who may have had an urge to play with color only to abandon it. Paulette shares his message that the outcome doesn’t have to be worth a frame to be worth doing…the process has value.
Paulette is now reaping the fruits of honest dedication via increasing sales and prices. He’s at the Banner Elk Winery regularly repainting the mantelpiece elk as it sells off the wall and he just shipped a bear off to Paris. While he believes in the magic of original art he has also made giclees available so that smaller sizes become affordable in various price points. Spend some time at www.KentPaulette.com and his philosophy of art, if not life, will become evident. It’s a vibe you will want more of.
This website for Kent Paulette, aka Derfla, was formally located at www.derfla.tv and www.derflapaintings.com