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A colorful vision

Kacey Carneal doesn’t consider her kind of art a “style.”

The self-taught Gloucester artist has works in private collections, historic homes, folk art books and hospitals throughout the world. Dozens of her paintings currently are on display at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts through July 25.

“I don’t consider it a style,” Carneal said. “I consider it my vision. That’s why all art is different. It’s because everybody sees differently.”

Carneal’s art features a number of unique attributes, most notably her use of the frame as an extension of the canvas or as a painted accent. Tiny dots, geometric shapes, bright colors and lots of faces form the paintings, usually of a happy event such as a birthday party or festival. Many paintings feature some sort of whimsical element, like a smiling camel, people floating through the air or a Disney or Muppets character. Several paintings are inspired by written works, most notably the poetry of Joy Harjo.

Other than one beginning oil-painting class she took years ago, Carneal is completely self-taught. She began entering competitions and exhibits simply to see if she was good.

“When you’re self-taught, you don’t know whether you’re any good or not,” Carneal said. “After I had been working for a year, I started entering competitions. I thought that was the only way I could find out if what I was doing was OK.”

When museum curators and other trained artists began telling her they liked her work, it gave her confidence to go forward. Carneal now paints eight hours a day, seven days a week in a cottage on her property. But she’s not alone when she paints, she says.

“I always tell people that I’m very fortunate that I have spirits who work with me,” she said. “Each painting starts with … a blank canvas and a title. The spirit comes out through my fingers. It makes my life real easy.”

Carneal says she has to clear her mind when painting.

“I have to have an empty head,” she said. “When I do workshops with children, I tell them not to think. I just put music on and sit down and just empty my head.”

One of Carneal’s most recent works, titled “Is This Just the Beginning or Is This It?” features both gray and white snowmen in a graveyard. Carneal was nearly through with the painting when she figured it out.

“I finally figured out that [the gray snowmen] were spirits, and the white ones on the frame are coming to see them,” she said. “It’s kind of happy. I love that one.”

Carneal’s work has been displayed in shows throughout the country and in the Netherlands. However, her favorite place where they are displayed is in hospitals around the world.

“I never expected that,” Carneal said. “I figured people in hospitals were too sick to want to look at my work.”

However, 13 of her paintings hang in the University of Virginia Medical Center, and 49 hang in the Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center and Research Institute. Others hang in hospitals and medical research institutions in Richmond, North Carolina, Washington, D.C. and Costa Rica.

“It’s uplifting for them to see it,” she said. “They’re about things that make you happy.”

To view the show, visit the second-floor galleries at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, 110 W. Finney Ave., during normal business hours. Call 923-0003 or visit www.suffolkcenter.org for more information.