Visual Arts

Painting with pressure washers, coal and glass: artist literally puts Kentucky on canvas

While many artists represent Kentucky in their artwork, Darrell Ishmael literally brings the Bluegrass State to the canvas.

“I’m all about texture,” the Lexington artist said in his home studio. Ishmael’s technique involves applying materials such as sand and coal to his paintings, which he then blasts off with a pressure washer to achieve a textured effect.

It’s a process that has brought the local artist, who shows work at Artists' Attic in The Square, success around town.

In addition to his landscapes and seascapes, Ishmael focuses on dynamic horse figures, which he features in much of his work.

“I like equine because it is the Southern experience,” Ishmael said. He called the process "sculpting on canvas" in which he hopes to capture the heart of the horse more than in a realistic figure.

In his back yard, Ishmael pours coal onto a canvas, demonstrating his artistic process. Angela Gervasi

Ishmael said he paints every day and keeps paintings stocked at all times, though he does not take commissions. He prides himself on his large contemporary pieces being featured in homes that may need a more modern touch. His goal, he said, was to have his art hanging in a home in Architectural Digest.

He paints for private owners but also outfits businesses, providing work for the Chamber of Commerce and local hotels. Some of his donated paintings are featured in the St. Joseph Cancer Center, pieces he considers serene and meditative.

Darrell Ishmael - Equine 1.jpg
"Alpha" by Darrell Ishmael is displayed at the Holiday Inn Hamburg in Lexington.

Ishmael’s career didn't start until later in life. He attended a nighttime watercolor class while working middle-management at a corporate job, and after he had painted one piece for his own home, art became a passion that would eventually become a viable career.

Ishmael cites his grandmother and mother as artistic inspirations. They hooked rugs out of different local textiles, which recalls the tactile elements of his own work.

Darrell Ishmael gestures to one of his paintings, which he creates using materials like coal and glass. Angela Gervasi

He layers Kentucky coal and other gritty materials such as salt or cat litter over paints to add texture to work, then may finish the painting with a slick epoxy resin to which Ishmael adds pure pigment, which gives it depth and changes colors depending on the lighting.

"Lighting is the key to all artwork," said Ishmael. "I build up, and then come back down."

Paintbrushes, spray bottles and paper towels sit inside Ishmael's studio. Angela Gervasi

He prides himself on experimentation. "To do my sort of work, you have to be willing to try just anything," Ishmael said, recounting a smashed glass patio table he incorporated into a painting.

Ishmael holds one of his sculptures, which he says is used as a good luck charm during basketball games. Angela Gervasi

It was an experimental spirit which led Ishmael from water colors to using a pressure washer in his art, which he says he will continue to explore.

"I’m still learning," he said. "I’ll always be learning how to use it."

Ishmael said he doesn't know where his work will go in the future. He keeps some old art around, such as a small sculpture of a head, named Head.

"He watches all the UK games with us," Ishmael said.

But he always keeps moving, and Ishmael says he s optimistic for the future of his career.

"It’s nothing but upside potential around here."