Each month, filmmaker Stephen Blauweiss produces "ArtScene," a monthly video web series with short segments on artists, galleries, and museums in the Hudson Valley. Here, Stephen gives an outline of this month's film.
This month's featured artist is Katharine McKenna. In the early 1970s, McKenna considered herself a street photographer. She took a large series of black-and-white photographs in Saratoga and the surrounding area, when the city was in a state of decay. Rare, intimate photos of musicians coming through town, such as Don McLean, Arlo Guthrie, and Tom Paxton, were also her subjects.
Now McKenna is primarily a painter. She studied color early in her career—what she calls "color math." McKenna continues to impart her mastery of color theory to her painting classes at the Woodstock School of Art. After building a foundation with still lifes and figure drawing, McKenna travels to Wyoming to apply her color knowledge to new compositions of landscapes that have become the signature of her style. McKenna sketches directly on the canvas at the site, and then lets the painting emerge from the sketch.
McKenna doesn't want to be a realist in her painting. She sees her paintings as visual poems. "I'm more interested in playing with color, it's always an experiment," she says. Specializing in optically mixing colors for special effect, McKenna creates a feeling of glowing light and illumination, by overlaying colors (often complementary) on top of each layer after the previous one has dried. "With oil paint, these colors cannot be mixed while wet, or they would just turn to mud," she says. Through this technique, McKenna conveys her personal experience of the location.
McKenna feels her landscapes are all about figures, often seeing a human female shape in the mountains. McKenna has an affinity for the wide open space of the western US, from Montana down to New Mexico, having spent time out there as a child. She also loves the uncovered geology, she says, "whereas in the East, everything is covered by trees; one doesn't see the outcroppings and the mountains the way they really are."
When Katharine McKenna needs a break from, as she says, "the infinity of painting, and the hard soul searching which makes me feel exposed," she explores another avenue by experimenting with color by designing a series of quilts that she calls "prototypes." These quilts primarily use geometric shapes, either created from scratch on the computer or by using photographic details from nature that she shoots with her iPhone, that are repeated to create a pattern.
On The Cover: Jennifer Tzar
Also in this month's "ArtScene," a short film about this month's cover artist, Jennifer Tzar. Read about Tzar and her work.