The innate elegance of humanity
KATHLEEN SCARBORO has a career in public art. Here she describes the motivation behind her painting and how she has developed her themes and techniques over the years.
Why would an American artist from Chicago, residing in Paris, choose India as a theme for her paintings? A lifelong interest in other cultures than my own eventually led me to this choice.
In the mid 1970s, many American artists were tired of being isolated in their studios. They wanted a role that would allow them to participate in the lives of their local communities. The Public Art Workshop of Chicago was a group of urban artists who painted murals in cooperation with the local inhabitants, so when I received my first commission for a mural painting I contacted them for mentoring. This was the beginning of a lifelong career in public art. With each succeeding commission, I synthesized the preoccupations of a particular group (ethnic, professional, etc.) into a work of art that was placed in a specific public site. So I spent a lot of time observing and listening to others and putting their ideas into visual form. I realized that artists can have a useful and meaningful role of sharing aspects of a designated culture with others.
In France and in Reunion Island I continued painting murals. Eventually I felt a need to paint about village life on the island back in my studio in Paris. A series of these paintings were exhibited over a nine-month period in the main hall of the Museum of Mankind in Paris at the Place Trocadero.
My interest in meditation and consciousness studies, as well as art history and general culture, motivated me to go to India in the mid ’90s. For a person who loves to paint people, India offers an infinite source of inspiration. Traveling around the country, the colors, the textiles, the elegance of the women in their saris, the temples, the landscapes and citiscapes all stimulated the painter in me, proposing a multitude of exciting visual possibilities. I decided to make India the theme of my paintings and continue to paint India exclusively today.
For a person who loves to paint people,
India offers an infinite source of inspiration.
My composition was strongly influenced by the Mexican and American mural movement. In these schools of painting, e.g. Diego Rivera and Thomas Hart Benton, many different images are combined, creating a collage effect. By combining imagery – a landscape, a figure, a close-up of an object – all can co-exist and collectively tell a story. A narrative of this type would be closer to poetry than prose if we search for a literary analogy. In other words, the viewer has some leeway to make up his own tale from the elements presented. The difficulty with this type of composition is to create a coherent image from components that do not visually co-exist in the real world. The eye should be able to travel around the canvas smoothly, and not be shocked or halted by the transition from one segment to the next.
Aesthetics really matter to me, and beauty is a goal. In each painting I am preoccupied by color harmony, fluidity of composition and execution, as well as technically good drawing. Everything and its opposite can be found in this world; I have chosen to concentrate on a positive vision.
I adopt subject matter that reminds us we are fortunate to be human. My goal is to bring people an instant of respite from our difficult world. I believe it was the American author John Barth who said that we could judge our own behavior by asking ourselves whether we were adding to or subtracting from the general misery. Every day, every moment, we are bombarded by negative and frightening information concerning our society and environment. I try to create compositions that encourage hope and reveal the innate elegance of humanity. Hopefully I am bringing some solace and joy to those who take the time to look at my paintings.
I trained at Southern Illinois University in the US, then at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. During my years in art school at Southern Illinois University, I found a teacher, Mr Patrick Betaudier, who had mastered Renaissance oil painting technique and taught me his painting methods. I didn’t realize until much later in life just how rare excellent teachers are and am very grateful to have benefited from his guidance.
I try to create compositions that encourage hope
and reveal the innate elegance of humanity.
Hopefully I am bringing some solace and joy
to those who take the time to look at my paintings.
My works are classical oil paintings; I work with oil glazes, using thin layers of color over an underpainting. The underpainting is sketched in, then the forms of the picture are enhanced with white. Between each glaze, a layer of white is brushed over a darker tone (scumbling), and when it is dry a glaze is applied to reinforce the color. For strong color, many layers of glaze and scumbled white are required. To assure longevity, I also use a glue emulsion, which I make myself. I am generous with the number of glazes, keeping in mind that oil paint becomes transparent with age. Paintings of this type take weeks and months to complete; in a normal year I can make four paintings.
Currently I am working on a book entitled Painting India: Women and Color with Catherine Servan-Schreiber and Deva Villeroy. We are combining reproductions of my paintings with quotes derived from the works of talented Indian writers of the past and present on the themes developed in the paintings.
Art Essay by KATHLEEN SCARBORO
February 02, 2020
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