Part I Metamorphosis
Human beings change several times in their lives, going through identities until they become the most beautiful version of themselves. Kollet Hardeman for most of her life, just existed in this world—walking around, breathing oxygen, but not air. Having love for something, but no passion, no drive to take more, to be more. She made sure she had just enough oxygen in her lungs to exist, but an existence on this earth is not a life. Kollet was half-alive, walking dead, one part of her living in her past and the other in the present, no future in arm's reach. But in a way, she was more alive than anyone could ever imagine, for she’s had a gift—the ability to create art. When Kollet decided to begin her journey in art, she metamorphosed into someone far bigger than the common artist, someone far bigger than herself. Kollet’s art is her way of photosynthesizing. She creates her own oxygen source on a thirty-six by thirty-six canvas—it’s her life source.When her pieces are sold, she reproduces her air once again, continuing the cycle.
Part II Childhood
Kollet’s story doesn’t begin with a spectacular painting or piece, it starts alone. The way we are born into this world, and the way we leave. Alone. A word repeated so much, one would forget how to form the vowels in their mouth. Kollet described her life in four ways: alcoholism, drug abuse, fighting, and toxicity. She found that when she was drawing at a young age, she could “rush in and just dissolve a fight.” Art in Kollet’s life always served a greater purpose than that of creation. It would be to masquerade herself and society. Kollet convinced herself in those drawings from many years ago that her house was a home; that her family was warm and inviting, not cold and distant—she portrayed her family as if it were whole. If art is anything, is it not to deceive? Is it not supposed to provoke a specific emotion? Kollet was able to run to where her parents were arguing with a piece of paper with pencil marks, and suddenly, the room would become filled with love, not rage. Art was Kollet’s facade, now it’s simply oxygen. She doesn’t wear it on her face like makeup, but instead she takes a deep breath and lets it ruminate in her lungs.
"Two lost souls"
She used her love for art as an escape from reality, which continued into high school when her father suddenly died. Kollet spent a year making her portfolio, perfecting the image in portraits of her father, page after page filled with his memory. Maybe it included his kind eyes, or maybe her rage, her confusion, her loss. The memory of Kollet’s father was not enough for art school. It was daunting, the memory of the person she loved most in this world was not enough, it seemed as though it was never enough for Kollet’s dreams of pursuing art professionally. Instead she took a scholarship at Florida State University, but dropped out after two semesters of studying art history. It was never enough. And for the next fifteen years, Kollet did not create a single piece of art, she just breathed to get through life—never living, just existing.
Part III Adulthood
During our interview, Kollet boldly stated with her voice of Cheer-wine soda and Floridian twang that “everybody knows an addict, or they don’t want to admit it, or they’ve been in abusive, toxic relationships, or they’ve been children of alcoholics.” Everybody has something from their past that influences their present and future, and for Kollet, her uphill battle with addiction has the largest impact on her life. When she lost her connection to art, she began her battle with drugs and the constant cycle of nature versus nurture in relation to her childhood, and her two children. Would she break the cycle for her children and for herself, or would it continue? It seemed for fifteen years that Kollet had been repeating versions of her childhood into adulthood, yet she couldn’t make art to diffuse the toxic situations she was in. Her years of juvenile crayons on paper were gone, and Kollet needed something a lot stronger to feel alive.
She was broken and “looking to be led,” and she was led down a dark path where Kollet said “I wasn’t me.” She was numb and in the shadows, grieving, and “using drugs and drinking and hiding from whatever voices were inside me.” Loss breeds a lot of horrible things in a way, but also the most amazing people come out of the other side, like Kollet. Loss and grief make people do horrible things, but it also makes change—it’s messy and uniquely perfect, much like Kollet’s pieces. But one day, she decided that she was done. Done grieving and using drugs to disguise her pain. And at thirty-three, after a decade and a half of not producing anything, Kollet said she “had just been waiting to be reborn,” to take a deep breath of fresh air and not the shallow ones that had just barely been keeping her alive. Kollet had just been waiting to start living—to rise out of the ashes of pain as a Phoenix, and for her it took thirty-three years to stop breathing and start living.
Kollet's Salvador Dalí
Part IV Art as a Utility
During her time in addiction recovery, after a year of fighting to get clean, Kollet finally picked up a pencil, originally to stabilize her hand and become a functioning member of society. Worried that she wouldn’t be able to get a job due to years of heavy drug abuse, Kollet lost the ability of what she loved to do most in her younger years—to draw. That even when she tried her hardest, forming her hands into firsts, extending her fingers to the point of hyperextension, the tremors could not stop. Kollet drew her way around this problem by picking up where she left off, with a portrait of her father. The most meaningful love anyone could have in their lifetime. With this, Kollet practiced hours upon hours until her hands didn’t shake anymore. And for the past seven years, Kollet hasn’t been able to stop—that is the power of art. It can be taken away from you at any moment, but once you get it back in your grasp, there’s no stopping. Ever. Using her art as a utility of power and happiness for another grieving woman, it also brought Kollet back to diffusing fights between her parents with art. When Kollet showed the woman the portrait, “for one moment she wasn’t crying [sad tears] … she cried happy tears.” And for the first time in almost fifteen years, Kollet felt empathy, pride, and human interaction on the rawest level.
Even as a child, Kollet’s work had purpose, a sense of resolving all bad things in her life. When she was sixteen, she drew portraits of her late father to help her heal from the emotional wounds of losing a father too soon. And even when she was in recovery, she used her art to help her heal physically and emotionally —everything, down to the last frown line on someone’s face, meant something and did something far greater than help Kollet practice. It became her lifeline.
For the last seven years since Kollet graduated from rehab, Kollet hasn’t stopped creating, and not just for the purpose of creation in itself. It’s what’s keeping her clean and alive, not just walking through life, but being immersed in one that she has built from the ground up. She describes it as almost robotic— it’s what she has to do to stay clean and keep the relationships she surrounded herself with, including her two children. And up until a few days ago, you can most recently see Kollet’s use of art as a utility through her Femme Fatale collection, and using this to portray her fear of losing a child to gun violence. The day we spoke to one another was the day after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and as a mother to two children, Kollet used her art to portray her feelings of fear, despair, and hopelessness with her followers on TikTok. She utilized her art as an outlet to relate to her following and to raise awareness for gun violence, all with her collection of faceless figures.
Part V Art Analyses and Collections
Her Femme Fatale collection intends to spark one’s imagination of storytelling. Filled with mystical young girls and women and vibrant colors and textures spanning a canvas, it’s a proclamation of Kollet’s love of the human body. It began with the simple anatomy of the female body but morphed into elegant dancers, mermaids, fairies, and the juvenile simplicity of nature and the pureness of a child. The most important part of her work is her hands, the extremity that holds the one you love and lets you feel the earth beneath your fingers. Its poetry, a love letter cascading down a canvas, a narrative filled with love and loss all bundled together. It’s seeing Kollet’s heart being gracefully poured onto the canvas. If anything could show more than words, it’s the hands of an artist–you can see the gentle caress of each stroke blending into the last and how Kollet brushes the girl’s hair onto the canvas. In each and every one of her pieces, Kollet leaves the most unique texture on this planet; one with ridges and bumps, and at the end of each little point you can make out a slight finger print. One in seven billion, that’s what Kollet is, and it’s what she gives her audience as well. Kollet’s hands are a part of her art as much as the color on the canvas. It’s almost poetic how her hands could barely hold still and now they are the most central aspect of her art—it’s her metamorphosis.
In Kollet’s Femme Fatale collection, she commonly paints ballerinas because “they can evoke so much emotion with their body without anything else.” The goal of this collection is to bring emotion into the forefront, to make people feel something, feel anything. Especially when Kollet didn’t feel anything for so long, she is allowing people to feel something, just as she did for the first time when she drew a portrait of someone’s father. The reason behind the faceless girls is so that you and I, separated from the painting, can be heard. Isn’t that the whole point behind art? To be heard, to be seen, to feel appreciated and loved. She encourages her followers and buyers to individually interpret her work, for which she does not approach her creative process with a specific scene or story in mind. Kollet is the embodiment of the beauty of art— it is in the eyes of the beholder.
Kollet Hardeman has found the beholders of her art through various streaming platforms in the last six years, and at this point it is more unfamiliar to not stream. She became accustomed to this a lot more in the last few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has allowed buyers to have real time interaction with Kollet, and adds colors to personalized their pieces. This act of streaming reminds Kollet of Bob Ross without the “pandering male to female relationship.” A connection with her viewers that she describes as “pure” because it lacks a type of condescending narcissism commonly found from male artists. It’s just her and a group of women spending their days together, enjoying art together. Except here, there’s loud rock and old country music, direct response all from her phone on a tripod hanging from her ceiling fan. Kollet’s studio from which she streams is homey, paint all over the plastic covered floor and her utility jumpsuit. The look in her eyes while describing her streaming process was nothing short of prideful as she walked me around the upstairs of her home with a smile on her face. The room next to her paint-covered studio where she spends her day creating was filled with hundreds of canvases of all of her collections. Kollet's archive of her life's work is unfathomable– the culmination of hundreds of hours, blood, sweat, tears, and fingerprints.
In the first half of her career, Kollet never showed her face because she didn’t want to be sexualized. She became this anonymous figure who no one really knew anything about, adding to the mystery of the woman behind great art. The Banksy of Twitch. Kollet didn’t want to be the center of attention, but desired for her work to be the focus, so she was silent and muted herself while on streams so people would really pay full attention to her art and not who she was. A sign of the power of her art, not because of who she was as a person, but because of what she could turn a blank canvas into.
During the second half of her career, Kollet went through a personal change where she was no longer excommunicating men, she “let it be very known that if they were here, they were going to be quiet.” This began Kollet’s mission to empower women through her art and stopping the stigma surrounding women in art. Kollet explained that because “there’s still a lot of sexualization of women that happens and I’m very cognizant of the fact that the issue I have with galleries so I kind of excommunicated galleries too.” This actually proved a lot more than just not being a part of galleries. Kollet showed female artists around the world that you don’t need anyone but yourself to be successful, you just need a lot of passion and hours of practice to perfect your craft.
Part VI Where Art Meets Activism
Aside from Kollet’s natural talent, she is a woman who wears many hats. One thing that sets her apart from many is her business-minded drive to create a life for herself. She's very outspoken in her mission to become a self-run business through her streaming platforms, which streamlines her commissions and allows her to make and sell more pieces. Kollet practices control in every aspect of her art, from product to when it’s hanging on the wall of a buyer's home. And to Kollet, her business is also to help empower other women. Because at the very beginning, Kollet is a business woman—she doesn’t make anything without the intent to sell it and it does sell because she knows her market well.
Her platform has allowed Kollet to step outside of the confines of what a woman is supposed to be and how she’s supposed to act. Painting with her hands and getting dirty is what gave Kollet her massive platform, but it’s what she has to say to her platform that’s most important. As a female artist, she faces many setbacks in the art world, as many don’t take her work seriously or herself as a business. But she takes this doubt and runs with it; Kollet uses her hands to make messes, create art, and tell a story. Women are strong in their own way, they start revolutions, and Kollet is on the front line. Kollet spoke about her time painting murals in Florida and how she would attend urban planning meetings for low-income areas. The biggest pieces Kollet found missing were people of color. She wondered, “how can you change things if you’re not asking what they need?” This can be seen with her local activism through her murals of RBG, Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks. Kollet said that she uses her “voice and blight in urban areas to bring attention to stuff I didn’t like in the city I was in.” That is the true role of activism—it starts small and maybe it expands into a large following, and using art to do so starts a revolution.
Part VII What’s Next
Total global domination. That’s what’s next for Kollet Hardeman—she wants to grow her audience and platform “not for the art but for the voice.” She wants to liberate women from their shackles and bonds and for every little girl to do whatever they want. To not quit their dreams because people say it’s not possible, because everything and anything is possible. Kollet, for once in her life, finally has a voice, and she has something to say. She is an artist, maker of muse, she paints all day and all night, because her story is nowhere near over—she’s just getting started.