Passages #1, oil on linen, 10″ x 10″
I came across Kathleen Galligan’s work looking through an art auction at Maine College Of Art (MECA) in Portland, Maine. Her oil series expansive and quiet struck a chord. I contacted Kathleen originally regarding Passages #1 (above) and I then asked if she would be willing to share more about the series with all of us. A beautiful response from Kathleen below.
I love your paintings. Can you tell me more about the oil series?
Kathleen Galligan: Approximately ten years ago, I shifted from working from life—either through plein air studies, or my own photos—to painting instead from my memory and imagination. It was liberating and exciting! I would start with some broad dark shapes of color, which might either be land or water, and see where my process took me. I had no plan and was willing to embark on a journey of exploration.
The oil paintings are aerial images from a previous solo exhibit, Uncharted Shores, at Greenhut Galleries, Portland, Maine. The title is a metaphor and has a personal dual meaning. The paintings were oil on canvas, linen or panels and as this was my first solo exhibit in which I had chosen to work exclusively in oils, I was venturing into uncharted waters. In each previous solo exhibit spanning my 30-odd year career as a professional painter, I exhibited only pastels, with two exceptions when I integrated a few small oils.
The title also serves to describe my relationship to the paintings, which are aerial perspectives of water and land’s interactions. Over the two years which I took to paint this series, I embarked on an adventure, exploring a terrain that was new, uninhabited, wild and waiting to be discovered. Completely imaginary, the journey was a process of exploration of places that were unfolding before me, yet I was the creator. I did no preliminary studies, no visual plan was in place for each painting. One thing I knew I wanted to do, however, was to create a believable sense of expansive distance, which I think I achieved in these paintings.
The seed of this series had already been germinating a few years prior to the exhibit in Portland. I had been working from an aerial perspective in pastels which culminated in an exhibit entitled Updraft, at the same gallery. At that time, I was seeking to gain a broader perspective of our earth. As an environmentally concerned individual, I hoped to make paintings that were celebratory and majestic. As those pastels developed, civilization was present with suggested ports and harbors, without literal detail, but there nonetheless.
This time I painted images of non-existent natural shorelines and found myself in an exhilarating exploration of unknown estuaries. I contemplated our world before we inhabited it, primordial, without civilization—and produced a totally fabricated series of coastlines and waterways, using light and color to communicate their magic and mysteries.
The places, all imagined, yet created by an informed imagination, hopefully suggest this primordial world. Creating places of interest that are both familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously, might invite the viewer to begin their own exploration of these uncharted shores. I am pleased that, from what people have said and written, I succeeded.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
KG: For most of my professional painting career, my inspiration has been drawn from the small, everyday wonders of the natural world.
Do you paint indoors or out?
KG: I think of myself as a studio painter more than a plein air painter. I do, however, teach plein air workshops and love to travel to paint the landscape (view travel series paintings). I think it is a wonderful way to exercise one’s skill as a painter, a great way to be out in the open air and a personal way to pay homage to what I love about what I am painting. So, I do work both indoors and out, but painting inside my studio allows for more creativity and imagination.
How often do you paint? Do you have a set schedule for studio time?
KG: I seem to have a seasonal cycle related to where I live. Maine is a state with distinct cycles of life born out of the seasons. Summers are all about coming out of a winter hibernation, intensive gardening, breathing the sea air, greeting and housing friends and relatives; and for the landscape painter such as myself, painting and teaching plein air painting. It is a time to be out there in an extroverted fashion. Work in the studio is infrequent. At summer’s end, and as autumn nears, while there is some work in the garden harvesting and preparing for winter months, there is more time to retreat to a place of quiet, reflection and creativity. My studio is the venue for this retreat. I can focus well during the autumn/winter and spring months and I try to enter my studio each morning during the week. Of course, it doesn’t always happen, life does have a way of interjecting itself. But if I can put a couple of hours into work in the mornings, and then again after lunch, that’s a good day.
Have you always been an artist?
KG: I have wanted to paint since as far back as I can recall. As a child I would draw any willing relative, copy photographs in pencil or watercolor, and when my great aunts took me and my sister to Cape Cod for a week each summer, they knew they could leave me to watch the portrait artists in Hyannis, while they wandered through the nearby shops. I would be riveted to the very spot they left me as I gazed transfixed by the magic before me. I received academic training in art and earned my BFA (in the Illustration Dept at Philadelphia College of Art, now University of the Arts) in my late twenties, after I had already completed college at a liberal arts school and had been in the work force for a few years.
Who are your favorite artists?
KG: That’s never easy to answer; there is an ebb and flow of both influential artists and artists who I simply appreciate for their work. Sometimes they are contemporary artists, other times, historic. Some are people I know, Maine artists, such as Linden Frederick for his realistic, nostalgic and beautifully painted low-lit scenes of Americana; Dozier Bell, whose work is somewhat dark, but gorgeous and inspiring, moving from the large-scale and ethereal to the very corporeal, detailed and small war drawings. I am fascinated by Cornelia Parker’s conceptual installations. She is a British artist who at one point was short-listed for the coveted Turner Prize. I think she does remarkable work of significance.
I love Wayne Thiebaud’s lushly painted urban scenes, Gustav Klimt and the charm of Vuillard. The paintings, both oils and watercolors, of John Singer Sargent were early inspirations. Rooted in the study of Illustration, I am still appreciative of some classic illustrators such as N.C. Wyeth, Arthur Rackham and distantly in that category, the pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones.
Kathleen is represented by a number of galleries including Greenhut Galleries in Maine. Click here for a full list as well as additional works, contact information and purchasing.
Ephemera #2, oil on canvas, 24″x 24″
Illuminations #3, oil on linen, 12″x 12″
And So It Begins, oil on linen, 30″x 32″
All images are courtesy of Kathleen Galligan