“Red Rabbit,” by Kate Nordstrom. Her work often features images inspired by dreams and nature as seen in this fanciful painting.
“Bunny is my essence,” says Alna-based artist Kate Nordstrom, and then, with a mischievous smile, she moves on to the next topic, how she paints.
“When I’m painting, I’m playing, I’m experimenting” — with colors, combinations, forms, dream images, and intuition. And while the paintings do appear playful, they are also complex and layered with visual surprises, which the artist describes as magical realism. They are fantastical but recognizable, and they tell stories. Nordstrom hesitates when asked to interpret one of her paintings, saying she’d rather not share her interpretation. “I wouldn’t want to corrupt their [the viewer’s] story. The metaphors and symbolism are right out front,” she says, so viewers can create their own narratives.
Nordstrom describes her paintings as full of joy and embraceable, rather than cerebral. They are not angsty, which is why, she believes, many people have more than one of her paintings in their collections. While joy emanates from the colorful canvases, she also makes sure there’s a touch of pathos, a shadow’s eye, in her paintings, which adds to their complexity.
When Nordstrom begins a painting, she has a starting place in mind but doesn’t visualize a finished work. She paints without structure or rules and modifies paintings until they are completed — and sometimes after — if she finds new inspiration. This fluid process is not replicable, she says, and allows her to be improvisational, with no composed script. The foreground can go to the back, and there’s no perspective. “I don’t have to follow the rules, but instead, the process has to be interesting and surprising.”
Nordstrom usually works on multiple canvases at once so she can put a painting aside and let it settle in her mind. Sometimes, she faces an unfinished painting to the wall so she isn’t tempted to look at the image until the settling is done, and she can come back with fresh eyes, she says. In the meanwhile, she’s constantly casting about for interesting shapes and patterns, what she calls new content, to add to the paintings-in-progress.
As a result of the coronavirus, Nordstrom, who usually paints in the winter, is painting much more than usual this summer. She has more time available and feels her work is changing. While the effects on her creative vision are still in progress, other changes are in place: “COVID shortens-up my perspective; I can’t plan for next month or next year; I can really only plan for today.”
Throughout her life, Nordstrom’s sources of joy have been nature, friendship, gardening, and eating. “These are the same priorities now as when I was 6,” she says. And then she adds painting.
“It’s not optional,” she says. “Painting is a necessity. I paint to make myself more comfortable in the world.”
Nordstrom’s most recent paintings can be viewed in person at her summertime exhibition place, Carriage House Gardens, 62 Pleasant St., just outside of Wiscasset Village. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday through Columbus Day weekend. For more info and to see Nordstrom’s paintings, go to www.knpaintings.com and www.carriagehousegardensmaine.com.