How does the artist paint the landscape while, at the same time, paint from the “deeps” of the soul? Painter Emily Carr posed that question to herself as she painted alone in the forests of British Columbia sometime in the 1930’s. “What do I want to express? ... The arrangement, the design, colour, shape, depth, light, space, mood, movement, balance, not one or all of these fills the bill. There is something additional, a breath that draws your breath into its breathing, a heartbeat that pounds on yours, a recognition of the oneness of all things,” she writes in her journal.
Kate McConnell seeks special places in nature for painting too. Sometimes in Rock Creek Park in the heart of Washington DC, and sometimes at Cape Cod. In 2016, however, she traveled to southern Spain where the spiritual and cultural harmonies drew her breath into its breathing. There she savored the “rapture of the here and now,” she recalls. Using water based gouache paints for the first time enabled her to capture color sketches of a new place and a new terrain. They served as inspiration for full-fledged gouache or oil paintings made at the same location in succeeding days. Kate’s solo show Suitcase Paintings at Touchstone Gallery during the month of November 2016 features both the Spanish works and paintings made at other places.
In these art works Kate paints the light and the landscape with energetic intense color. Brilliant yellows pair up with orange or modulated purple. Or green meadows and marshes float beneath a yellow and blue sky. This is color that she’s noticed and absorbed her whole life. First as an eight year old child pouring over art books for hours in the Westminster College library in her hometown of New Wilmington, PA, and then exploring the woods across the street from the playground. Music and books, visits to National Parks, and riding bikes through the countryside with her friends contributed to a love of nature and the changing colors inherent in the landscape at any given time of day.
In college Kate discovered contemporary art and earned an art design degree from Westminster College and The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. She worked as a graphic designer at the Library of Congress for five years before taking a job with the nonprofit organization People for the American Way as their design director. Of her eleven years there she says, “This was the best job of my life because it allowed me to use my creative design work efforts among like-minded liberal colleagues and to support passionate topics close to my heart: civil liberties, equality and justice for all.”
Kate’s aptitude in design and color continued to be expressed when she went became a book designer for Time Warner Inc. Her specialties were cookbooks and gardening books. When her sharp eye for color correcting garnered attention, she was assigned to proof for color accuracy before books got the final okay to be published.
After a period of job shifts, time opened up for painting and teaching book design and typography at the Corcoran School of Art. Kate appreciates a wide variety of art history movements, especially energetic representational art that includes abstract qualities like arbitrary color and vigorous brush strokes. She is especially inspired by Georgia O’Keefe, Arthur Dove, Charles Burchfield, Emily Carr, and the Canadian Group of Seven, many of whom were fauvist painters. --Rosemary Luckett
To enter the breath of Kate’s Suitcase Paintings at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave NW, Washington DC, visit during the opening reception Friday, Nov. 4 from 6-8:30 pm or during regular hours: Wed-Fri 11-6, Sat-Sun 12-5. 202-347-2787; http://www.touchstonegallery.com