Katheryn Holt paints memory. Her abstract paintings are infused with half-remembered landscapes. She has been documenting her interior and exterior life through painting since she was 4 years old. Growing up on Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, in the 1950s and 1960s, her frame of visual references was formed both by horizon lines extending across a seemingly endless Pacific Ocean and the cultural influences of post-World War 2 America. While the ocean sky reflected for her endless cloud-like possibilities of escape to imagined space and distant unknown places beyond, the constraints of growing up in the McCarthy era and the decade of rebellion that followed created the push and pull of her graphic design and painting style that has continued throughout her creative life. Destination and disappearance are her running themes. The need for escape conjoins with a desire for a sense of stability and home, expressing itself in her imaginary dreamscape paintings through techniques of layering rich transparent oil color over silkscreened text from television scripts her father wrote and elusive photo imagery from her mother’s magazines of the day. Although the paintings are grounded by line and narrative imagery, a strong sense of movement and passage of time is never far from her compositions. Recently this thesis has begun to manifest in her work through painterly depictions of disappearing land and sea masses caused by global warming. The lifetime theme of memory and loss of place continues to animate and shift both hers and the viewer’s visual identification of what is real and what is imagined in the world today. Holt studied painting at the University of Southern California and graduated with a B.F.A. from Art Center College of Design. She taught at New York’s School of Visual Arts, has won awards from the Society of Illustrators, and was included in American Illustrator and Outstanding American Illustrators. She has exhibited in many solo and group shows, including eight shows at Tria Gallery, New York; national juried competitions including the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, the Santa Cruz Art League, and the Bolinas Museum; and was featured in a recent display in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in San Francisco. She won first place at the American Pastel Society and is part of the permanent collection in the Kunstmuseum, Hollfeld, Germany. Her work has been shown in New York, Germany, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, and California.
The Long View
In this new series, I explore the relationship between memory of place and time and how it intersects with abstracted pictorial imagery.
These mixed media landscapes are rendered on wood panels. Having grown up on a beach in California, the presence of horizon lines appears in my paintings, grounding the view I remember seeing of the relationship between sky, ocean, and land.
Color and texture give language to these atmospheric compositions and described the emotions I feel when painting them. The hue of the color palette shifts top to bottom throughout each of the pieces. Deep blue blacks bubble up from below the ocean’s surface and rise, evaporating into the lightness of tinted whites of air and clouds. The softness of the graying white clouds dissipates and washes across a silver sky harkening to memories I have of rainstorms over the vast ocean. Sun colors radiate through the white precipitation forming pale pastel greens, blues, and blush tones: the colors of winter sunsets across the horizon.
Geology is ever present in and below ground. I imagine active gaseous deposits, igneous shapes, and mineral formations below the surface, which I have little or no control over. I more freely draw metallic lines and apply deep painted earth tones in the lower register of the panels to describe the idea of an unseen universe in chaos. Some of the horizontal compositions include distant views of mountains and islands, references to the valleys I have lived in, and my travels up and down the beautiful California coastline.
As my painting practice grows deeper, I experience the importance of being able to express in these works the power of visual recollection of precious views from a past that may well never come again. I meditate on this notion, and my hope is to be able to resurrect these emotions through those who see them.
A view from the past then becomes a longer view into the future.
My subject matter is memory and emotion. In my current series of “earthworks” paintings I explore this idea through depictions of changing land and sea formations as seen across distant horizons. Our ability to both see and comprehend the profoundness of this phenomenon finds expression here in mixed media renderings on wood panels of light, color and texture above and below shifting horizons lines. I juxtapose surfaces that are high gloss and opaque, to both hide and reveal shadow shapes of past land forms. This simultaneously allows us to see and imagine what lies above and below the surface lines. Today, the implication of shifting strata related to global warming and rise in sea levels resurrects my memory of what once was and what is to come, holding within it the power to reshape my perception of past and future. Growing up on a beach as I did in the 1950’s through the early 1970’s, shaped my intuitive understanding of color as related to the shifting daily hues across vast ocean skies. The palette I mix to this day harkens back to childhood memories of a fixed sunrise and sunset horizon which contained the constant motion of sand sea and sky. This precious palette surprisingly resurfaced for me on a recent trip I took to Alaska. I saw in the disintegrating ice formations and rising waters, similar deep color cues of surf breaking and sand receding. I was consumed with emotion and it gave me an even deeper understanding of what these very real shifts in our environment will mean. Across the metaphorical and physical landscapes of our lives, we must imagine and consider a future as we remember what grounded our past. While I render what I feel is beautiful in these land, sea, and sky paintings, I offer them also as road maps of what has already environmentally come to pass. They can serve to remind us that the beauty we see today may well become a fleeting memory if we do not respect the forces of change and act to protect against its most devastating affects. In recognizing all aspects of these changes, we stand witness to our very existence and in this we honor our changing world.
Place and Passage of Time
In this series of land, sea and sky scape paintings, I leave behind twenty five years of introspective narrative figurative work in search of a new view of myself in relation to place and passage of time. I choose wood panels to work on because the stability of the wood supports my mixed media application of glue, silk screen, molding paste, pastels, and oil paint. This process of addition and reduction of mixed-media gradually develops each painting into an overall visual depiction of liquid movement and deeply spectral atmospheric surface tension. The paintings start with a foundation of silk-screened text derived from television scripts written by my father in the 1960s and 1970s, and wall paper patterns taken from the bedrooms I slept and dreamed in. Memories of narrative expressed by my father in his TV scripts conjoin with elusive images of home decorating, cooking, and beauty ads from women’s magazines to drive the emotional content of these paintings. Tape lines are then laid across saturated color panels, grounding the otherwise atmospheric compositions, creating fictitious horizons and imaginary landscapes. Bands of automatic writing cut across the horizons punctuating the doctrine in my father’s writing. Often, sand from my hometown beach finds its way into the compositions. Although these silkscreened icons of my past history lay the foundation for my paintings, their significance gradually diminishes under the weight of atmospheric color and disappearing memories, giving way to new imaginary dreamscapes and the passage of time.