Tuesday, April 5, 2022

A Lifetime of Animals, oil on linen, 42" x 42"

oil on linen, 42" x 42"

The inspiration for “A Life with Animals” came last October from conversations with the individual who asked me to paint it.  The concept for a painting like this is very organic. I listen to the individual tell me stories about their life, their passions and the animals they have loved, and slowly the idea emerges, followed by the seed of a visual portrayal of the idea.  In this project there were so many inspiring stories, so many wonderful creatures, that the initial concept kept growing and expanding over time.

My first challenge was how to place all these creatures into the same space yet have it feel cohesive and somewhat natural – a very happy peaceable kingdom. I liked the idea of making the setting the large room of an English-style country house with various areas for seating, and opening to a landscape. Since many of the animals were rescued from dire situations and given a second chance for comfort and love, I thought that should be reflected in the painting – all the creatures living harmoniously together in a beautiful and cozy home. 

I started by drawing a floor plan on grid paper as if I was figuring out where to put furniture in an empty room, then I slowly added the animals and moved them around until they each had their own spot. Then I did a perspective drawing on paper to create a deep space within which I could arrange the composition. Using photographs and descriptions of all the animals, I did a number of preliminary drawings so I felt like I knew them before starting on the canvas.

On the linen canvas, I always begin with a reddish orange imprimatura, then grid it so I can scale up from the perspective drawing. First I draw the space in charcoal, then add the figures. 

Once the drawing is complete, I do a grisaille (gray tones) underpainting. When that is dry, I start working over that in transparent color glazes.


Along with the animals there are some objects depicted that are unique and personal to the owners of the painting, such as the scale of justice, the hats, the bluebird and robin, certain attributes of the interior and the landscape. 

There have been times in my career when a painting sort of takes over and paints itself. This was definitely one of those. I think perhaps the spirits of all the lovely creatures had something to do with it. I am just grateful to be the person who got to hold the brush.  

See a video of the painting here: https://youtu.be/gGSfxtcfzE0

Images of the painting in progress: 


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Sleeping Women

A theme I seem to return to again and again in my paintings is the image of a woman asleep. There is a long tradition in the history of art of a woman sleeping so I am not the first or last artist to be attracted to this subject. Perhaps it's because when you gaze upon someone asleep the potential for looking into their mind, their dreams, their virtual reality is so tempting and inspiring. Do they dream of the ocean, or the stars, or the face in the moon, of love, or perhaps of horses or herons? Hopefully all the dreams are beautiful with few nightmares. 

Some of my recent Sleeping Women paintings:

The Dreaming of Horses theme grew from having frequent bad dreams or "nightmares"  over the past few years. When I would wake up anxious and fearful,  I would try to focus on what I would rather be dreaming of- And I decided I would always rather be dreaming of horses. 

I love the Richard Diebenkorn painting "Sleeping Woman" from 1961 so I decided to depict that painting on the wall and mirror it in the sleeping woman on the sofa in the painting below. 

"I'd rather be Dreaming of Horses" 24" x 24", oil on linen

The next Dreaming of Horses was done for a friend who loves horses. That is her horse Piper peering in the door at her and gently touching her hair with his soft muzzle. And her beagle Riley sleeping near by. Have you ever noticed that you sleep more deeply with your dog or cat in the room? 

I'd rather be Dreaming of Horses II, 24" x 30" oil on linen

A painting I did a couple years ago- A woman has come home from work, had a sip of wine and dozed off on her sofa exhausted.  She had waited all day for the moment when she could feel
safe and unthreatened in the company of her cats. In her dreams her cats have become her guardians and stand over her like protective angels while she sleeps deeply and peacefully.  

"Shine Theory", oil on linen, 50" x 50" 

And another woman asleep is Henrietta. It was the middle of winter, cold and bleak. Henrietta was looking at a photo of her favorite painting by Matisse called "Still Life with Sleeping Woman" and started dreaming about a warm climate, the sea, a breeze, when two beautiful great blue herons materialized and flew through the open window. Henrietta kept on dreaming...

"Henrietta and the Herons", oil on linen, 24" x 30" 

And my most recent sleeping woman painting... She wondered why she always felt a little fuzzy 
when she woke up from an afternoon nap.

"Afternoon Nap", oil on linen, 30" x 40"

And one more that has a lot of meaning for me personally and which has a poem that accompanies it.

"We are just passing through like the river..." oil on linen, 36" x 48"

He came to me in the night
two weeks after he departed this earth
I heard him climbing the stairs
which he had not done for years
I awoke and could see his silhouette on the landing
back lit by the hall light
his big strong head and shoulders monumental

I got out of bed and tiptoed to him
and sat down
He leaned against me and spoke in a deep baritone
which I always imagined he would have
I am sorry I left without explaining
But you shouldn’t grieve for me
We all know we will be leaving and moving to our next life
Who is We? I asked, pressing my forehead against his
The Animals, he said.
We exist before we come to earth and we exist after we depart
We learn while we are there-
about human frailties and strengths
about cruelty and kindness
and we give selfless love to those who care for us, to those who need us
Then we get our next assignment
and we depart
So please don’t grieve for me, you see
We are all just passing through like the river.

If you look through my website you will see more sleeping women. www.kathrynfreeman.com
Hope you enjoy them.

Here are some of the images of the wonderful paintings referenced in this post and others that inspire me.

Matisse "Still life and Sleeping woman"
Diebenkorn "Sleeping Woman"
Balthus "The Dream"
 Rousseau "Sleeping Gypsy"

Vermeer "A Maid Asleep"
Girogione "Sleeping Venus"

Monday, February 22, 2021

High Tea with Friends, oil on linen, 36" x 36"

 This painting was a particularly enjoyable and successful collaboration between the client and myself because she is a designer and we speak the same visual language. The first time we chatted on the phone we hit it off and it was clear she had studied my paintings closely and really understood the formal elements- composition, geometry, perspective and color. She had a wall in her dining room picked out so that determined the size. She also wanted a deep space so that it felt like another window. She liked the painting I did a few years ago titled "Rabbit Summer" so that helped us with the narrative and structure. She also had some wonderful palette ideas that would work with her dining room. Springer Spaniels have always had a place in her life as well as a beautiful garden behind her home in West Virginia... and she is known for her baking talents.  The outcome is "High Tea with Friends".

"High Tea with Friends"

color samples for the palette 

Thumbnail sketch

Monday, January 11, 2021

Alfred and Friends on the Farm, oil on linen, 20" x 24"


Alfred is the fellow sitting right in the center foreground of the painting looking out at you and he is a very lucky guy. He was adopted by a wonderful family who had recently lost their beloved Spaniel so in a mutual arrangement he filled their hearts with joy again, and they are giving him a life any dog would envy.

Next to Alfred is his buddy Lily. Lily is a demure city girl living in a nice building on the upper east side of Manhattan. She goes to the beauty parlor regularly and lives a posh life with her mum. But when Lily goes to visit Alfred on his farm, she becomes quite another beast completely, and has been known to get appropriately muddy for a farm dog. 

Behind the pups in this pastoral setting are Mason and Jake, Alfred's very curious donkey friends. Whenever Alfred is near they watch him closely and appear to be amused by his antics.  

And back in the field are the beautiful farm cows grazing peacefully. 

This painting was a surprise for Alfred's family from his grandmother who is also the former director of the Tatistcheff Gallery NYC where I exhibited by work for many years and my close friend. She  stealthily collected photos of the farm from her son and sent them to me one my one. As a writer, she had an amazing ability to describe all the subjects' personalities in great detail so that I could get them on canvas. It was  a cheerful project to work on together and now I look forward to meeting all the characters in person one day! 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

"Citizen of the World"

This painting was a surprise for the recipient. I am always a little wary of doing paintings as surprises because art is so personal. But in this case I knew that the fellow commissioning it for his wife would have great insight into what she would like. AND she is a dear, long time friend of mine- which made the experience especially wonderful. 

She grew up in Malta and from a very early age she knew she wanted to make her life about travel. She went to school in Switzerland and ultimately became a leader in the travel industry. So her husband wished to make the painting about that and call it "Citizen of the World" because that is how she has always felt, and lived her life. 

"Citizen of the World", oil on linen, 24" x 36"

The painting shows a young girl, looking at a globe and writing in a journal- perhaps planning future itinerary or writing about the journeys she has already taken. Some of her favorite books as well as books about travel and an atlas are in the bookcase below. Golden Retrievers have always been their family dog.  In the distance between the arches I melded together New York, Paris and Malta, all places where she spent time and which are dear to her heart, as if they were one landscape. 

In the middle distance, there are two luzzo, traditional maltese fishing boats, which visually help make the transition from foreground to distance.  In the foreground architecture, on either side of the arch are a Maltese Cross, and the emblem from the Rosey School in Rolle Switzerland, which she attended. The school emphasizes an international atmosphere which obviously had a big influence.  A family of swans floats near the steps, symbols of her family life. I based the color scheme for the painting on Maltese tiles. 

Here is the watercolor study for the painting 

And the painting in two stages- the underpainting in progress, and then with the first glazes

A Maltese cross, The Rosey School logo, and a Maltese Tile 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

"7 pm with Hopper and Bonnard" (If Edward Hopper's Model had lived during the Pandemic and had Pets")

2020 has been a very strange and disorienting year so far with lots of new phrases and expressions being added to our lives. One of these is the concept of "Staying Home" in order to "flatten the curve" and slow the spread of the COVID 19 virus. Besides sometimes being challenging- staying home had some silver linings mainly because people slowed down and had time to try things and do things they didn't have time for in their normal full and busy lives. Many people were sheltering alone which reminded me of the Edward Hopper paintings of single figures isolated in a room. Other people saw this relationship and many Hopper paintings were shared on social media. 

One of the last little trips I made before the pandemic hit, was a road trip with two friends to see the Hopper Hotel show at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. I have always been a Hopper devotee. My uncle, an art historian and painter, was a lecturer on Hopper at Washington University in St. Louis, and since I learned to paint from him, I looked at a lot of Hopper paintings over many years. I even named one of our dogs after him... The show in Richmond was fantastic and I fell in love all over again with the painting "11 am" which I have depicted on the left hand wall in this painting.  I also stole  the wonderful figure from Hopper, reversed her pose and made her the woman isolating alone in "Staying Home".

"Staying Home" oil on linen 36" x 36"

But she is not alone at all. Another silver lining to the pandemic was that many people realized that it was the perfect time to bring a dog or cat into their lives. Pets are companionship and comfort and that is what we all needed. A record number of animals were pulled from shelters and placed into loving forever homes. So the woman in this painting is surrounded by her dogs and cats in the warmth of a cozy interior. The other painting on the wall is Bonnard's "Woman with Dog" -another favorite painting of mine. 

Other activities that people were doing while staying home are represented in the painting; such as learning chess, (I think the cat is winning), making sourdough bread, and doing hours of handicrafts such as knitting and needlepoint. My daughter was staying home in Brooklyn. She described her experience being in the city and sometimes called us to let us hear the nightly 7 pm ritual of people coming to their windows, shouting and beating on pots to thank the healthcare workers for their hard work, devotion and personal sacrifice. So that is what is going on in the buildings outside. 
I titled the painting "7 pm with Hopper and Bonnard" to echo the Hopper painting titled "11 am".

"Sanctuary" oil on linen 36" x 48"

I was working on this painting at the beginning of the Pandemic so I titled it "Sanctuary". The room is a place of calm and reverie, isolated from the chaos and stress of the outside world. 

Formally the painting is a play on the Matisse painting “The Piano Lesson” which is on the wall. The real painting hangs at MOMA and I visit it whenever I am there. It is a mystifying work of art. 

In "Sanctuary" the boy at the piano is the reverse image of the boy in the Matisse. Other elements I have pulled into this painting are the arabesques of the wrought iron balcony, the angles, horizontals and verticals which are either opposing or aligning with those in "The Piano Lesson". The colors also relate to Matisse’s palette. The owls have found the sanctuary to their liking and the head of the boy in "The Piano Lesson" has always looked quite owl-like to me.