Kathrine Lovell’s path as an artist was inevitable – honed and shaped with certainty like the countless stones her mother’s ancestors cut for cathedrals in 16th century England.
Lovell, 50, owner/operator/creative force of Kathrine Lovell Studio & Gallery in The Mill Pond Shops on Main Road in Tiverton, has cultivated a colorful style of uniquely patterned work that various store chains clamor to market.
With stops in Sydney, Australia and New Jersey along the way, Lovell works out of a magnificently wide open rustic studio surrounded by the natural in-flight elements which catch her ever-widening eyes.
Sometimes, art is on jeans. Other times, it is in genes. Lovell’s mother, a fierce watercolorist, was her strongest influence. Her father was a crystallographer, who studied the structure of elements. There have been artists and entrepreneurs in her family for centuries.
“On my mother’s side, they emigrated from France to England to carve stone for cathedrals in the 16th century. My great grandfather had a business selling his paintings to his classmates in grammar school,” says Kathrine. “The other students thought his paints were magic because his work was better than their own.”
“Everyone in our family has had some kind of leaning towards the visual arts,” Lovell explains. “My great-great grandmother had a department store in England and would go to Paris to copy the latest fashions, which she drew, made the patterns, and created for her store. That was in the 1800s. My uncle was a graphic designer in England. He helped re-brand many popular products after WWII, and his brother was a very good painter.” All of that artistry, she feels, is in her blood. “I finally feel as if I am hitting my stride and being the artist I hoped I would be – a culmination of all the centuries of artists’ experiences in my family.”
Art “hit” her before she knew what it was. “I drew all the time as a kid, made up stories for myself with pictures. In fourth grade I remember doing other kids’ art projects for them because I couldn’t get enough just doing my own. When I was about 10, my mother let me paint with her, using her paints. It was very exciting,” she adds. “I loved the feeling of the brush and mixing color, watching the paint pour off the brush onto the paper. I still am crazy about that.”
Art helped her learn to read, beginning with a fascination for Alice in Wonderland, her first self-read child’s book. “The biggest part to being an artist is seeing, and I have been looking and looking all my life. My father says as soon as I was born, my eyes were wide open and looking around,” says Lovell.
Van Gogh helped her to think about manipulating paint to create form; Pierre Bonnard showed her patterns and flat vs. volumetric imagery; Wayne Thiebault splashed her with “color, color, color, and layering to make color;” Louise Bourgeois got in her head about how to be a woman with a clear artistic voice, as did Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo.
“When I was at art school, I had painting teachers who didn’t feel it was worth their time teaching women. The men had a lot of power over what we were painting and thinking about, and it was still hard for women in those days to make themselves known,” she says.
It took decades to figure out her own style, experimenting, drawing, making large format pastels (really big, somewhat abstract landscapes in very vivid, rich colors) then assemblage experiments which led to interesting pattern formations.
She always liked to address interesting surfaces. “I remember painting a clementine that was half peeled. It was on a very crackly blue background, and I thought that I had started something for myself. The painting was only six inches square. I had a great feeling of the image pushing and pulling and being very interested in how my measured marks worked against the random background. I like to work in acrylics because I am a very fast painter. I don’t like waiting for oils to dry. The body of my work is in acrylics. I save watercolor for when I am on vacation. Painting landscapes is a great way to experience a place.”
She starts with a very smooth surface, usually birch plywood. Then she makes the surface rough with layers of paint and crackling. She sands, layers colors, then often grids out the surface and starts to draw patterns. “Painting the patterns helps me sort out what the picture will be. I rarely know what the final image will be when I start, but sometimes it is very clear,” she says.
Kathrine describes her style as: “Quiet, orderly, natural elements combined with geometric patterning, subtle color.” A publisher in Vermont reproduces her work as posters and licenses it to companies, placing her art onto many products. Reproductions of her work have been sold in Trader Joe’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Goods, Kohl’s, and – starting this summer – Target.
“It is very exciting to walk into a store and see my work. It is exciting to see my work being sold around the world. It’s funny to see descriptions written in other languages,” she says. “I work really hard. I think the public may think that the life of an artist is all about lounging around waiting for a creative moment to happen. But it is my job. Being an artist is being a business. Patience is not just a virtue, but also an essential tool. Some aspects of my career have taken years and years to achieve. My best piece is always the one I am working on right now. I always strive to be better at what I do.” www.klovell.com.