Tag Archives: Pauline West

New Studio Artist: the Lovely World of Kate Waddell

Kate Waddell, Blush

Kate Waddell, Blush

You would like Kate Waddell.  She has a serene, focused smile and a great handshake; her palette could have been shaken from a box of Tropical Mike and Ike’s.  

Her studio is tiled with happy canvases: glossy roosters sprawled in bold, contented shades of punch and berry; breakfast settings and bowls of fruit with backgrounds blocked out in shades of pink and blood orange.  Even the rich blues of Waddell’s figure studies have a warm, street-lit quality.  One can’t help assuming that the world of her mind must be a pleasant place to be.

“I’m just trying to bring some joy to the art world,” she says, peacefully dabbing at a rooster-in-progress.  Turning to smile at me, warmly tanned, her hair pulled off her neck in a loose ponytail.  “There are people who try to be so difficult by doing this offensive stuff, but I’d rather paint what is beautiful,” she says, and the galleries- Bee Street Studios, Brown Dog– are lining up.  

She’s fresh off a show held at Candlefish earlier this month,  and had worked hard on having ‘cohesive palette and subjects’ for that, making everything all of a piece.  “I rely on brushstrokes and line to help everything go well together.”

Kate Waddell, Curtis.

Kate Waddell, Curtis.

Her next show is back home in Columbus, Georgia- “I’m going to do more fruit stuff for that-” where she attended the same high school as Teil Duncan and Lulie Wallace, who’ve also limned out successful painting careers here in Charleston, creating similarly happy, comfortable canvases that make you smile.  

Is there something in the water back home?

Waddell pauses.  “The arts were really big at my high school,” she says.

I was intrigued.  “Seriously?”

“It’s a smaller school, so they were able to really nurture us, fostering everyone to do what they liked best.”  

We’re talking about brushstrokes, appealing lines, and I mention Wayne Thiebaud, one of my favorites.  About a painting of his, Around the Cake, which hung for many years in my hometown museum.  How’d I’d stand there and stare at it, transfixed, even when I was young- those thick, glossy strokes-!

“During my freshman year, we had this assignment.  We had to paint a portrait of an artist and also of his work.  I did Thiebaud!  His lipstick tubes- that was when I fell in love with painting.”  Waddell smiles privately, remembering the moment.

About Cofc- she “loved it, loved Charleston.”  She worked for Teal Duncan, who is five years older.  “There’s a stigma, you know, around arts majors at college”- but Duncan’s success as a painter here in Charleston made for a reassuring friendship.  Waddell thought she could make it here, too.  “I’m never leaving.”

There’s a comfortable pause as she paints, and I glance around at her studio.  Stray pink balloons left over from a recent photo shoot, a tiny white wheelie cart with a cosmetic bag, a tiny pink moleskin.  Waddell works next to a larger stainless steel cart lidded with glass.  It makes for a big, roomy palette- generous dabs of those Mike and Ike colors- and on the shelves underneath I spy a spray can, a dog eared palette, a green toolbox.  

The paints she isn’t using are arranged on a large wooden board brightly quilled with brass hooks, each one rolled up tidily and clipped in place with black binder clips.  It’s a lovely system, made for her by a young architect friend, Dixon Prewitt.

“I’m not naturally a neat person.  But I’m trying,” she says.

I ask Waddell about her process, if she works from photographs.   “I take one image and then do variations on it,” she says, decisively, and then pauses, thinking. “I see the fruit stuff in my head, though.  I do a lot of portraiture, too.  From photos.  That’s my favorite.  And I usually play music- Young the Giant, Motherfolk.  Chill music.”  

She talks about using color to depict a mood.  

“Sometimes you get a sense of color in being with people and objects.  What’s that word-” Waddell says, hunting for it-

“Synesthesia.”

“Yes.  That. But not dramatically,” she says.  That small private smile again as Waddell turns back to her punch-colored world, where joy itself provides all the drama she needs.  

Follow Kate on instagram at  instagram @katewaddellart.    


-article by Pauline West, a novelist and writer for Redux Contemporary Art Center.  Her novel Evening’s Land  won the 2014 Helene Wurlitzer Fellowship Award and 2015’s Carol Marie Smith Scholarship for Martha’s Vineyard Writer’s Residency.  West is represented by Natalia Aponte of AponteLiterary.

Kate Waddell

Kate Waddell, Palmer.

Kate Waddell, Citrus City.

Kate Waddell, Citrus City.

Kate Waddell, Vendue Blue.

Kate Waddell, Vendue Blue.

Kate Waddell, Guac

Kate Waddell, Guac

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Kimberly Witham’s Wunderkammer: Lovely Bones

DeerLemonCucumber

Kimberly Witham, who has a cool, firm handshake and uses words like “whack-a-doodle,” wants you to know most of her work doesn’t actually involve taxidermy.

“Mostly,” she says, “the animals are just straight up dead.”

It’s chilly in Charleston, late in the afternoon, and she is wearing a yellow peacoat, a cozy sweater with large buttons, jeans and cowboy boots.  She has short blonde hair and a frank, wide-set gaze.

Pointing out a tiny cut on the belly of a silvery blue snake, she tells me she’s been photographing road kill since 2007.

“See, he was probably clipped by a lawnmower.  This one was interesting.  With roadkill, you know, most things are stuck in rigor.  But snakes are flexible.  They have a little give.  So I wrapped him in position around this vase with wire, and stuck him in the freezer.”

She stepped back, looking at it.  “But it’s amazing how fast snakes melt.”

She’d poised him to coil upwards, after a beetle she perched in the vase’s bouquet.  But as the snake thawed, he began to droop, and she had to pop him back in the freezer.

“This deer over here-”  We walked to a collection of large photographs, each of a different fawn, positioned with milk glass, berries, vegetables.  “I had to put him back in the freezer three or four times.”  She uses a stand-up freezer with the shelves taken out.  “It’s big enough that you, for example, could just walk into it…”

“And this is twine, here?  Wrapped around his… what is this called…”

“His foreleg!  Well- so my studio is a sun porch.  It’s glassed in, so I get this wonderful natural light.  All my images use natural light.  But it’s small, just 5 or 6 feet.  I’d figured out exactly how I wanted him, but the way his leg was, I couldn’t get him all in frame.  I couldn’t back up far enough, you know.  So I took a hair dryer- this is gross, maybe you don’t want to put it in print- and I just bent over him and kind of… moved his leg…”  She moved her hands, making the gestures women use to explain how they did their hair.

The fawn weighed, oh, about 45 pounds.  She found it while running a trail near her house and carried it home in a laundry basket.  “It’s remarkably easy to sneak a dead baby deer past the neighbor’s children.  But it’s possible they suspect… Ah!  Perhaps also of note: all the flowers and vegetables you see here are grown in my own garden.”

The flowers and vegetables were beautiful.  Moving to a different photograph, Witham pointed out the correspondence between the shadowy pattern of the milk glass with the pattypan squash positioned beside it.  The squash had roundish yellow markings; the fawn, curling upwards into the air, balanced perfectly atop the glass, also possessed roundish markings.  Which were, of course, white.

“And this series I call ‘The Suburban Ossuary’- the place where bones are kept.”  Now we were catty corner to the fawns, looking at an evocative series of jaws, skulls, a pelvis.  One set of jaws, slightly grungier than the other, formerly belonged to a dog; the whiter pair, a fox.

“These jaws actually belonged to that guy over there,” she said, pointing to a fox (who was tailless) in a photograph across the room.  His paw was propped in what looked like a light fixture.

“I bury the animals after I finish photographing them.  Sometimes they get dug back up- by dogs and other things; we live near the woods- and I find them again.  And so the same animals reappear in my images, but in different forms.”

In the center of the room was a squirrel she called Buster, perched atop a totem made of a candy dish, goblet and watering can.  On the pedestal beside him was a tiny, finger-length mole inside an egg cup.  One of his paws was raised ever so slightly, almost playfully- on top of a doily and a bit of sunny embroidery.

“A whimsical grotesque,” Witham called it.  As I admired the embroidery: “I find all this great stuff at yard sales, thrift stores,” she said.  “When I’m done, I’m going to have the most amazing garage sale ever.”

But working hand in hand with death this way- had it changed her relationship with her own body?

“Actually, I’m inspired by this idea that everything goes away, is temporary- you know Vanitas paintings?”  I did not.  She explained to me the Dutch still life paintings of flowers, dead rabbits, bones.  “Right now I’m working on a darker series, with kind of this Caravaggio theme…

“When I see these dead animals, it makes me sad.  There’s this conflict between people and nature- these photographs are, I guess, a kind of testament to the fact that they lived.  That they lived, and they were beautiful.”

The dead things were beautiful still in her photographs.  Photography is a strange art.  As I’ve said here before, it gives the feeling of possessing a moment, an object: a life.  Maybe in the same way an obituary does.  In the captured time of a photograph, everything seems clear, obvious.  Preserved?  Maybe so.

 “Also I play a bit on this domestic aesthetic, that Martha Stewart idea of domestic perfection.  When I was in New Jersey,  every day I saw so many dead deer in the road.  I’d say to my students, ‘there’s so many dead deer!’ They’d just shrug and be like, “Oh, yeah.  It’s always like that.” But to see between five and ten new ones in the road every day- and there are these trucks always coming by to pick up the bodies, to dump them in the landfill… I started photographing them. But it was too literal, maybe.  Eventually I brought home a squirrel.  And from there it just… went.”

She is especially interested in squirrels.  There is a magnetized squirrel in a picture frame (code name Bubba), and pictures of many: one is curled up like furry filling in a pie dish; another is keeled over, stiff-legged in a dish, his tail drooping, Davy Crockett style, over one edge.

 (Side note: Davy Crockett was purchased by an art lover who hates squirrels. “Got to have it,” he said.)

We looked at a nuthatch in a soap dish- this particular nuthatch had dispatched itself against her mother’s window; another had a dried nasturtium in its beak.  The nasturtium arced over his small, gritty body- like a banner; his own epitaph, almost-  or else a killer fungi.

I found myself studying her photographs long after she left.  I kept coming back to Witham’s statement that many of the same animals reappear throughout her work, but in different forms– here is the creature entire: and here now are its bones-

Maybe this is the way of all things.  We visit upon an idea, it goes subterranean for a time, and then surfaces again.  Dreams evolve over a lifetime; lessons deepen; old loves become new.  For Kimberly Witham, the resurfacing of ideas is tangible.

Wunderkammer is here until March 8th, 2014.  Come and see.

Snake

Snake

Freshly installed: Kimberly Witham’s little man, “Buster”

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Pauline West is a novelist and member of Redux Studios.  She is at work on a Southern Gothic about a girl who opens a door between the lands of the living and the dead.

The Body Artist: Cathy Woods

On a recent Sunday in the Redux parking lot, Charles Williams noticed a woman doing something unusual next to Patch Whisky’s new mural.  She was doubled over backwards serenely.

“Hello,” he said.  “Doesn’t that hurt?”

Yoga has become commonplace in the American landscape, but when it is performed in unexpected arenas, people take notice.

And where there is attention, there is opportunity.  Cathy Woods, a slender, enthusiastic woman in her 40s, has been on a mission to Instagram 108 backbends in 90 days, all over Charleston.  She photographs poses in gardens, doorways, on piers and beside murals, all the while hoping to draw attention to the importance of the spine in overall health.  Ultimately, Woods plans to open a nonprofit for the victims of back pain, an issue which can become debilitating in the same way Hemingway said people become bankrupt: “Gradually and then suddenly.”

As we sipped our coffee on the sunny balcony of Brown’s Court Bakery, Woods explained the many ways backbends stimulate better health and posture; although it feels wonderful to bend forwards when you are experiencing back pain, only a proper backbend can help to realign the spine.  We spend so many hours of every day hunched over screens and steering wheels- backbends can free up the shoulders and the front of the body.  This isn’t to say that they’re easy; she’s the first to admit that sometimes the work has been hard.

For her portraits, Wood splays back into full wheel, a dramatic pose which is one of the most vulnerable in yoga.  She shoots early, before the crowds, sometimes on sites which are unstable or rocky.

When she finds herself becoming tense or shaky, she meditates on a favorite sutra: Steadiness, Ease, Asana.

It’s applicable to everything, really.  Steady your gaze in order to steady your mind.  Steady your mind, and you still your body.  Steel your resolve.  Then trust yourself; float up.

Suddenly, there you are, just about where you ought to be.

While Wood’s Instagram challenge has led to breakthroughs in her personal practice, it’s also a warm up for the hard work of running a nonprofit.  She ruptured a disk five years ago, and used yoga- carefully- to help herself heal.  She’s delighted at the prospect of helping others to work through their pain; and a little gleeful to have found a way to utilize what sometimes amounts to rubbernecking.

“Nobody can walk away from contortionism!” she said.

We’re pleased to be a part of the circus.

You can follow her adventures on Instagram or on her blog.  She also teaches yoga at Blue Turtle Fitness; stop by and say hello.

Float up, float on.  Keep smiling, Cathy.

-Article by Pauline West

Cathy Woods

Cathy WoodsCathy Woods