“Bunny is my essence,” says Alna-based artist Kate Nordstrom, and then, with a mischievous smile, she moves on to the next topic, how she paints.
“When I’m painting, I’m playing, I’m experimenting” with colors, combinations, forms, dream images, and intuition. And while the paintings do appear playful, they are also complex and layered with visual surprises, which the artist describes as magical realism. They are fantastical but recognizable, and they tell stories.
Kate hesitates when asked to interpret one of her paintings saying she’d rather not share her interpretation. “I wouldn’t want to corrupt their (the viewer’s) story. The metaphors and symbolism are right out front,” for viewers to create their own narratives.
Kate describes her paintings as full of joy and embraceable, rather than cerebral. They are “not angsty,” which is why, she believes, many people have more than one of her paintings in their collections. While joy emanates from the colorful canvases, she also makes sure there’s a touch of pathos, ‘a shadow’s eye,’ in her paintings which adds to their complexity.
When Kate begins a painting, she has a starting place in mind, but doesn’t visualize a finished work. She paints without structure or rules and modifies paintings until they are completed – and sometimes after – if she finds new inspiration. This fluid process is not replicable, she says, and allows her to be “improvisational with no composed script. The foreground can go to the back, and there’s no perspective. I don’t have to follow the rules, but instead, the process has to be interesting and surprising.”
Kate usually works on multiple canvases at once so she can put a painting aside and let it “settle in my mind.” Sometimes, she faces an unfinished painting to the wall so she isn’t tempted to look at the image until the settling is done when she can come back with fresh eyes, she says. In the meanwhile, she’s constantly “casting about for interesting shapes and patterns,” what she calls ‘new content’ to add to the paintings-in-progress.
As a result of the coronavirus, Kate, who usually paints in the winter, is painting much more than usual this summer. She has more time available and feels her work is changing. While the effects on her
creative vision are still in progress, other changes are in place: “The COVID-19 shortens-up my perspective; I can’t plan for next month or next year; I can really only plan for today.”
Throughout her life, Kate’s sources of joy have been nature, friendship, gardening, and eating. “These are the same priorities now as when I was six.” And then, she adds painting. Kate is driven by a compulsion to paint and will use the rest of her creative life making paintings that are abundantly rich and expressive of emotion. “It’s not optional,” she says, “painting is a necessity. I paint to make myself more comfortable in the world.”
Kate Nordstrom’s most recent paintings can be viewed in person at her summertime exhibition place, Carriage House Gardens, 62 Pleasant St., just outside of Wiscasset Village. Hours are Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Columbus Day weekend. For more info. and to see Kate’s paintings: www.knpaintings.com and www.carriagehousegardensmaine.com