Artist Kate Spencer, Evolution of an Artist
Words by Marcia Milgate
Ensconced in the redolent grandeur of Mount Pleasant House, an old sugar plantation on the north coast of St Kitts, Kate Spencer’s modest, restored-wood studio drinks in the breathtaking ocean vistas, verdant tropical rainforests and soaring mountain ranges that inspire her art. In the Caribbean, with the salt ever-present in the air, one is either absorbed into it or rejected by it – Spencer falls unequivocally into the former category. Having led a colourful and varied life as a designer, student and businesswoman, her lengthy journey to pursue a career as a full time professional was realised four years ago when she finally relinquished her design business for a paintbrush and made the natural transition into life as a working artist. Her English accent tempered by a characteristic Caribbean lilt, she enthuses, “There is such great satisfaction to combining colour, texture and story all in one source.”
If, as great German writer and thinker, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Personality is everything in art and poetry,” Spencer is no exception. Her enthusiasm and vitality directly translate into the bright, visceral colours of her work. Cheerful and uplifting yet peacefully warm in its application, Spencer’s oeuvre may have evolved over the years from drawing to painting, oil to acrylic and portraiture to landscape, yet one theme remains constant: her art is a reflection of the moment; a pictorial diary nourished by tropical surroundings that inspire her to capture the ever-present storyline of her daily life. “Life is a little story,” she explains. “That is the thread running from one painting to another.”
Though often dominated by one colour, Spencer’s paintings are anything but monochromatic. Compelled by the intense palette of her Caribbean surroundings, her evolving approach to style and colour lend her works an almost intangible vibrancy seen even in the muted tones of older oil paintings like, ‘Last Crop’. Layering thin coats of paint over main shapes on her canvas, overlapping washes of colour become luminous, creating intensification and movement. Combined meticulously to ensure that underlying pigments are not muddied or diminished but rather strengthened, shadow and texture are often achieved via the contrasting of bright colours instead of the traditional darkening of a shade or greying-over.
Though deliberate in her application, symbols are mostly random reflections of natural forms; repeating shapes used to carve out hills, distinguish walls or delineate the trunk of a palm tree, sometimes achieving an almost ‘Turtle Beach’, ‘Sandy Bay Bank’ and ‘Frigate’. Landscapes such as ‘Night Blooming’ and ‘Silver Salt Ponds’, contain design motifs that are both arbitrary and reminiscent of Batik styles, or tartan stripes. Influenced by artists Julio Larraz and Milton Avery, Spencer manipulates the angles of her subjects on the canvas in order to gain an original perspective and placement as seen in ‘St. John’ and ‘Self Portrait’ the absence of symmetry and skewed play in her work increase the sense of movement, while the interplay of figures juxtaposed against varied shapes and decorative backgrounds create th e effect of a collage cocooning her subject and telling a story.
Though not bound by one theme or style at any given point, Spencer returns to the discipline of portraiture regularly in her work. Trained in Florence in classical figurative drawing, portraits like ‘Young Morgan’ and ‘Solace’ capture a palpable emotive quality and realism, while a background in interior design provides an eye for harmony of composition. In a departure from the more subtle approach to pattern and colour inflection seen in her previous works, Spencer’s recent foray into acrylics – inspired by the “gutsy” colour combinations of Scottish artist, Barbara Rae – has lead to braver colour selections and experimentation with the decorative patterned underscores evident in her latest portrait series entitled, ‘King’, ‘Queen’ and ‘Jack’, where subjects are highlighted and, in some cases, overlaid with shapes. Not one to follow the rules to the letter of the law, many of her techniques are the result of what she terms, “accidental experimentation.” “The pigments generated in acrylics are astonishing,” states Spencer, whose latest work, ‘Moko Jumbies’, reveals an explosion of each concentrated hue.
If ever there were a paradigm of living one’s best life, Kate Spencer is surely it. And while you may never have set foot on her island in the sun, it is easy to be transported there through her imagery; easy to imagine her entering the tiny, wooden studio by the sea, enfolded by the old sweeping sugar fields. She inhales the tropical scented air. Dust motes glimmer on a shaft of sunlight illuminating her sacred space. Joy fills her. She picks up a brush and paints.
For more information please visit http://www.katedesign.com
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