FOR MOST PEOPLE, the word “painting” denotes a work of art done with a paint-brush, the colors applied with a deft hand that seems to know just where a stroke is needed. It’s a straightforward concept, but for artists whose vision of the picture being brought to life on their canvas is less defined and more conceptual, the tools of the trade don’t necessarily include brushes.
It takes only a single glance at any of the paintings bearing Kathy Clark’s name to see that the palette knives she uses are extremely effective in creating her signature style. The paintings’ loose movement and impressionistic style are what give them such appeal, their colors vibrant enough to catch the eye from anywhere in the room and captivate it, drawing the viewer closer to study every push of the paint and every scrape of the knife against the canvas. Coupled with her technique, it is Clark’s subjects themselves that hold such charm, and for the Charleston-born artist, they are a peek into the Lowcountry culture she loves.
Born during the baby boom, Clark was the only girl in a large family that spent a great deal of time together doing what true Charlestonians do best: crabbing and fishing. Vacation weeks were spent in a rental house on Folly Beach, and she grew up in the thrall of the coastal Southern town that was awash in natural beauty.
That natural beauty is something that has provided great inspiration to Clark in her paintings, from her landscapes and figurative works to still lifes and abstracts. “The Charleston Lowcountry and North Carolina mountains are my muse, and my surroundings influence my subject matter,” she explains. “I find a subject that I connect with and attempt to bring out its beauty on canvas.”
In each of her paintings, there’s incredible depth and dimension brought out by color and shading, made even more profound by the layering and placement of the oils. And while the obvious talent displayed in each piece might imply a long study of the craft, Clark didn’t begin putting paint to canvas until later in life. “My younger years were focused on my family and my career,” says Clark. “It wasn’t until I came across my mother’s personal sketches after she passed away that I was inspired to learn to paint. Finding her artwork was like being sent a message from heaven to bring me out of my grief.”
Having had no formal training, Clark enrolled in art classes and began exploring a variety of different mediums. Determined to hone her technique, she also studied at the Gibbes Museum of Art, in addition to learning from nationally known portrait artists and local artists. Ultimately, her studies led her to the technique for which she is best known, using palette knives to apply her oil paints and manipulate them into whatever picture is held in her mind’s eye. “Painting with palette knives gives me the ability to paint impressionism, using bold strokes and thick paint,” Clark says. “I do not follow any defined approach. For me, translating these visions on canvas has been the most satisfying way of expressing myself.”
Twenty years of expressing herself on canvas has yielded a successful career as an artist, one that she would never have imagined when she first began painting, and her name now commands attention. “My first big break was being accepted into Charleston’s annual Piccolo Spoleto Art in the Park Festival in 2004. That really exposed my artwork to the public,” Clark recalls. “Since then, I have participated every year, enjoying being among many talented artists for 16 days and selling to art lovers from near and far.”
It’s an accomplishment to be proud of, as is the popularity she has found with art lovers who want a piece of authentic Charleston. As an artist, Clark sees her surroundings through unique eyes, translating them onto the canvas to forever capture a moment and a feeling. “When I’m asked which of my pieces is my favorite, my answer is almost always, ‘The painting I just completed,’” she says with a smile. And, as the familiar lyrics of songs that serve as the soundtrack to her generation play in the background, Clark’s palette knife dances over her canvas, each movement creating a piece of the picture that will soon emerge, fully formed and full of vibrant life. *
Liesel Schmidt lives in Navarre, Florida, and works as a freelance writer for local and regional magazines. She is also a web content writer and book editor. Follow her on Twitter at @laswrites or download her novels, Coming Home to You, The Secret of Us and Life Without You, at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.