By Leslie Bowen

Stop by JP Licks in Wellesley, and you’ll find some colorful paintings on display by Keara McHaffie, DCD Class of 2016. The Mass Art freshman sold three of the pieces on display, and the interest in her art resulted in an additional commissioned artwork.

The excitement generated by her work reflects the fun she has in the process of making the art. “I enjoy making paintings that are fun for me in the process and have a cool outcome,” she said. “I like fun, wacky things.”

One of the works on display, a 3-x-6-foot painting of the gingerbread houses on Martha’s Vineyard, features a self-portrait looming over the houses. The picture was something she did in her free time during the school year. “I enjoy working on a large scale,” she said. “This painting came together one step at a time. I’ve always loved those houses on the Vineyard. The giant face came afterward. It doesn’t have any meaning,” she said, “I just thought it would be funny.”

Despite the pandemic, she’s managed to show her work virtually through local juried shows. After completing internships at two South End galleries, in person at the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, and virtually at the Beacon Gallery, she got more into the local art scene, meeting people and learning about upcoming shows.

Her work was accepted to the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery’s Fresh Faces show, which showcased student work from the area through art publishing websites. “It was exciting to have my name up there with other artists,” she said. Two other juried shows, the Subliminal Magic exhibit at the House of Venus and the Mass Art All-School Show, also featured Keara’s work.

At 19, she’s young to have achieved this level of recognition, which she attributes to growing up in a creative environment with a mother and grandmother who are also painters. She found her passion for oil painting early as a student at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, where she attended high school. As a student majoring in visual art, she saw firsthand what a working artist’s life is like, where all of the art teachers were professional working artists and teachers.

“Having good teachers is an inspiration,” she said. “At DCD, I had great art teachers like Ms. Houck and Mr. Coakley, who saw something in me when I was young and let me have a lot of creative freedom,” she remembered.

“I grew up with so many amazing teachers who showed me that it wasn’t that hard to have your own life and be a professional artist and at the same time help others and teach,” which is her goal right now as she pursues the five-year program at Mass Art, ending in a master’s in art education after completing a four-year bachelor’s degree in painting.

Right now, she says she’s enjoying getting her work out there for more people to see, experiencing the excitement of being part of the public art scene. For someone who’s been selling her work and receiving commissions since high school, she said, “Selling work is selling work, but it’s all working out to be something bigger.”