This week’s focus is American Abstract Expressionist Kate Long Stevenson. She is based in one of my absolute favorite southern cities, Charleston, South Carolina. The fact that her talents contribute to this already remarkable place (award-winning restaurants/gorgeous historical homes/well-dressed, good looking, perfectly polite people around every corner) is simply not fair.
I came across Kate’s work when sourcing for my client’s covered sunporch. Ever since then, I keep going back to her website and Instagram page to see more. Favoring layers of acrylic, gouache, and charcoal, her brush strokes are dynamic and use of color bold and beautiful. The effect is lasting artwork that evokes movement and vitality while being simultaneously soothing and effortlessly sophisticated.
I had the honor of interviewing Kate last week. Her thoughtful responses are not surprising; the way she paints is equally expressive and genuine. After getting to know her, it became even more clear why I love her work so much. We both have an admiration for dance, Degas, and de Kooning. We also share the same ideology in the contribution of art to a personal residence. So many times I feel discouraged when the artwork is left until the end of a room or even whole house design, often when the budget is spent and energy waning. My hope (and I dare say Kate’s too) is that clients understand the importance of original art in a room. May it be the impetus for the interior design and development of a home, not an afterthought.
I am now stepping off my soapbox and leaving it to Kate. Enjoy. Share. Be Inspired.
E: What age did you discover painting?
K: “Young- it’s been a lifelong constant. I do remember loving it especially in Kindergarten, when I did a painting of Rainbow Brite.”
E: Do you still have the first painting you did?
K: “I don’t have Rainbow Brite, but I do have a drawing of Clara from The Nutracker that I did at age 5: a whimsical figurative piece with motion and color- guest I’ve always known my subject!”
E: Did you know that you wanted to study art in college?
K: “Not when I applied to or began college, no. I’d pursued art heavily in high school and was burned out, but it didn’t take long for me to stumble into a painting class during my first semester. After that, I rediscovered my passion for painting and my professors were very encouraging that I pursue it professionally. I’m so grateful for that push!”
E: What led you to focus on abstract expressionism and figural subjects?
K: “I’ve just always loved both! I studied ballet, so figurative work and movement were early subjects. I loved the Impressionists (particularly Degas) early on, but then was introduced to—and loved instantly—Willem de Kooning. In my teens, I watched a video of him painting (on VHS—that’ll date the occasion!) and was amazed how such a seemingly chaotic application of paint was so deliberate. It gave me a huge respect for abstract expressionism. The genre—or at least how I approach it—is very energetic and gestural, and both my love of music and dance feed that process. ”
E: Do you have a favorite artist or period? Who/When?
K: “I love Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism the very most. My favorite artists are Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, John Singer Sargent, Joan Mitchell, Claude Monet, Chuck Close, Mark Rothko…”
E: What would you consider your biggest accomplishment as an artist?
K: “Painting what moves me vs. what a certain market demands. Not commercializing my work.”
E: I read that you listen to classical music to build up a painting; do you have any favorite composers? Do you find that the tempo of the music has an affect on your painting?
K: “Tried and true favorites are Philip Glass, John Barry, Prokofiev, J Ralph, Radiohead, rap and hiphop—just as long as it has a great beat. Not only does the tempo affect the painting—I depend on it completely! I need energetic pieces to guide me during the process of creating the composition. After that, I can listen to anything, as the layers become more technical. Much of my time is spent staring at the painting from 10 feet away and determining what’s next.”
E: What size canvas do you prefer to paint on and why?
K: “Larger. Right now my favorite is 48″ x 60.” There’s so much less inhibition, especially with the energetic first layers. I’ve only begun to paint the figure, and multiple figures, on a large scale in the past year, and it’s completely changed my approach to painting. Now I don’t think of them categorically as either figurative or abstract, but one in the same. I also like to experiment with abstracts on smaller panels (14″ x 14″) and play with different color combinations and composition.”
E: Have you done commissions for interior designers? If so, are their clients involved in the process or is the designer the main “decision maker” of colors/size/overall details of the painting?
K: “Generally, when I work with interior designers they’re representing the client completely and have a vision of the piece relative to their design. I think any great designer-client partnership involves a lot of trust, so I’ve not worried that the client will be disappointed if the designer has faith in the work.
That said, if a designer comes to me and says, “match all of these color swatches,” I’m loathe to do so. I like when something’s off and it seems serendipitous that a painting worked in a room. You don’t want to be TOO safe when commissioning a piece, as it’ll lose some of that authenticity. Ideally, a space would be created around a painting rather than the reverse.
I did experience wild synchronicity recently when a designer friend was looking for artwork after creating a beautiful living room for a client, and literally every swatch matched a painting that I’d done unbeknownst to her project. It seemed meant to be and made a great story. Sold!”
E: In what way does living in Charleston affect your artwork?
K: “The burgeoning art scene here is really exciting with a growing interest in contemporary work vs. the general “resort fare” that used to dominate the landscape. Between the Gibbes Museum of Art, the Halsey Institute and the annual Spoleto Festival, art is at the forefront of conversation, which is inspiring. But, basically, I love living here in general, and that absolutely affects how I paint.”
Thank you to Kate and all of the artists out there navigating their way toward doing what they love most. Houses become homes due in large part to your passionate pursuits.