Combining Differences – Katherine Mann – Ep 43
August 17, 2022
ON TODAY’S EPISODE
Growing up, Washington DC-based artist Katherine Mann’s father was an American foreign service officer. Her Taiwanese mother was a teacher and a graphic designer. Her father’s position had them moving every 2-3 years. Katherine grew up in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and various places in the United States. Her interest in both Chinese brush paintings and western abstractionism was derived from these early childhood relocations that gives her work such a rich and distinct feel.
Katherine’s art, like her life, has matured into a remarkable tour de force of combining disparate elements and contrasts. It is made by controlling paint but also freely pouring paint. It speaks to the fragility and majesty of nature simultaneously. It is bold and confident but also delicate and fragile. Her thinking and evolution as an artist shows us that we can embrace our separateness and know our innate, shared connection with the World.
Listen if you are interested in…
- Getting to know Katherine Mann, her unique style, and how her life informs her art [2:06]
- Diving into Katherine’s art-making process [11:17]
- The evolution of Katherine’s art journey and balancing different styles [16:19]
- Way-finding in Katherine’s art practice, knowing when her art is working, and the logistics of her creation process [30:03]
- Balancing parenting and art and looking at the road ahead for Katherine [38:25]
- How Katherine keeps her creative fire going [44:33]
A whole new world
When you look at any one of Katherine Mann’s paintings, it’s like entering a whole new world. These large, pseudo-abstract works combine traditional eastern painting with western landscape and abstractionism. The entire premise of both Japanese and Chinese brush painting is to cultivate a feeling. While the styles are not photorealistic, they somehow feel more real than the painting’s subjects feel in person. How can a painting of a bamboo shoot or a mountain range feel more real than reality? Because artists in this style paint with feeling first. Katherine is no exception. If you capture the feeling of your subject, you don’t need to capture every single detail. It’s not about painting something that looks exactly like something else, it’s about capturing that thing’s essence on canvas and evoking the same emotions in the viewer as if it were actually in front of them.
Where the minimal and understated style of traditional Chinese brush paintings ends, Katherine’s work takes a maximalist approach. Going against the grain of what a typical landscape painting looks like, she paints the details of a landscape painting while keeping its environment cemented in an abstract perspective. This creates a feeling of both newness and the comfort of a place previously visited. Katherine’s art is a visual adventure you have to see to believe.
When I teach art, I try to emphasize the beauty and importance of putting different things together. There’s something so engaging about seeing two seemingly opposite ideas coalescing into one artistic statement. That’s exactly what Katherine has mastered with her immersive artwork. One of those contradictions is how she starts a piece compared to how she finishes one. Almost every painting begins with pouring paint onto the canvas. Katherine once believed that this inherently beautiful technique was the key to her work, but now embraces it as the first part of her process. In fact, most of the time the initial pour gets covered up, and is not always an obvious part of the finished work. Serving as a skeleton on which to flesh out the rest of the painting, the free-flowing pour is juxtaposed against carefully crafted details added through Plein Air painting. Rather than capturing massive landscapes and vistas, Katherine goes out into the wild and captures nature’s tiny details to include in her larger work.
Katherine’s art journey has been one of straddling two different worlds. Her introduction to art came through Chinese brush painting. She studied the traditional art form through her teenage years, and now it informs much of her current work. But there was a time when Katherine felt the cultural pressure to “fit in” and hide that part of her journey. She didn’t want to be limited by everyone viewing her as a strictly Asian artist and chose to dive into pure abstraction for quite a while. However, the further down the path Katherine travels, the more she sees the value in showing herself in her work. That creating art obviously done by an Asian American woman is something to be celebrated.
This revelation of authenticity has increased the quality of her work exponentially. The more of herself she puts into her art, the better it gets. We contain multitudes. We are all beautiful walking contradictions. The art journey is about learning to put all of who we are on the canvas. Especially when it doesn’t make sense! Because inside the contrast, we get to ask some of art and life’s biggest questions. The answers are up to you.
Resources & People Mentioned
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the founder of Art2Life.
With over 20 years experience as a working artist and educator, I’ve developed a systematic approach that brings authenticity, spontaneity and joy back into the creative process.