It's hard for me to describe exactly how Kate Long Stevenson's bright, gestural paintings make me feel. Happy? Giddy? Like I'll never be able to tear my eyes away and look at anything else? Surely you feel the same way?
The works created by this South Carolina-based abstract expressionist are rich and full of movement. On her website, it eloquently states that Kate, a life-long lover of music "relies mostly on classical compositions to guide her as she builds a painting, layering chords of color over energetic swirls of charcoal and paint." And oh yea, one of her paintings is in Darius Rucker's bedroom.
In our interview, Kate shares about her process, the hardest part of being an artist, and the best way to spend 48 Hours in Charleston.
When did you first know you would pursue a career as an artist?
I majored in art in college, but it wasn’t until my senior year that I really considered pursuing it as a profession, and it was a few years after that when it became a passion.
Some artists struggle to find a style while for others it just comes naturally. Did you find your current style of painting early on or did it take some exploration and experimentation?
It took a while to find my style…I always loved abstract work, but felt compelled to paint for a seemingly conservative market. As an artist, it’s so important to be passionate about your work, so I abandoned whatever I was doing and started experimenting, exploring, and painting for myself vs. a potential client or specific market. Every so often I have to repeat this process to disconnect from what becomes expected.
Do you have a dream collaboration?
I think it would be amazing to paint the “scenery” backdrops for a beautiful ballet, a la Helen Frankenthaler
What contemporary artists do you admire?
Tell us about your process. What's the journey of an idea in your head to the canvas in your studio?
First and foremost, I’m passionate about color and music. A new piece can begin out of a color combination I admire from a catalogue or a song I liked that day. I generally have to stick with both to remain focused during the entirety of the process, so it’s got to be interesting to me. I like to work on large canvases, and begin sketching out the painting with charcoal while listening to loud music. It can be anything from classical to hip hop, so long as I like that tempo and can interpret the movement onto the canvas. Even though this initial process is pretty uninhibited, the crazy, gestural marks eventually need to evolve into a composition that makes sense to me. I subsequently spend more time staring at a painting from ten feet away than I do up at the easel. The application begins as very physical and immediate and segues into something much more thoughtful and deliberate. It’s a process of creating balance, adding color, rediscovering the original marks. An lots and lots of layers.
What's the most challenging thing about being an artist?
Biggest challenge: Having my work make sense to me. Abstract is so subjective, and there’s a lot of “my kid could paint that” mentality. So, it’s important to me that the elements of the painting are interesting, balanced…I don’t want it to be or look effortless.
You've made a successful career as an artist and have been featured in numerous popular publications. What advice do you have for other aspiring creatives?
Why, thank you! Never paint for the market. Only paint for yourself. If not, the work will suffer and you won’t enjoy the experience.
What other creative pursuits do you have?
Other creative pursuits… Really my main one—being a mom to two adorable boys! :)
What's your proudest moment from your artistic career?
Proudest artistic moment: That’s always evolving. Anywhere from having a good studio day where everything just clicks, to creating a body of work for a gallery, to hanging along side other artists I really respect, to watching my children delight in their own creative moments...
If someone is spending 48 hours in Charleston, what should they do/see/eat?
Oooh, GREAT question. Lest you have a gracious Southern host, Zero George is a fabulous home-away-from home boutique hotel, and just a short walk to King Street. Charleston Place Hotel is equally convenient and luxurious, and boasts a wonderful spa. Be sure to pop by Bob Ellis Footwear, Hampden Clothing for women’s fashion, Sugar Snap Pea and Kids on King for children’s clothing, Worthwhile and Vieuxtemp for lovely gifts, and Dulles Designs on Church Street for the most beautiful assortment of fine papers and stationary. Ann Long Fine Art on Broad Street is a wonderful gallery with gorgeous Realist artists and Otto Neumann monotypes, and Redux Contemporary Art Center on St. Philip Street brings cutting-edge installations to the LowCountry (and is the studio base for numerous local artists, like me!).
I love to dine at Cru Cafe off of the Market for a delicious lunch in a quintessential Charleston Single home, or Butcher and Bee on Upper King for amazing farm-to-table specials. The afternoon can be spent meandering through Charleston’s beautiful neighborhoods, and then perhaps a treat at Sugar Bakeshop (the mint chocolate cupcakes and ginger molasses cookies are my favorites). Dinner. Oh, dinner. I’m biased in stating that both FIG and The Ordinary are the finest restaurants in the city (or ever), so each night should be dedicated to them. Stop by Victor’s Social Club for a cocktail…If your visit is over the weekend, check out the Farmer’s Market at Marion Square Saturday morning (and a very entertaining breakdancing show), and be sure to go to Husk for brunch and order their farm-to-table version of the In and Out Burger—divine!
Visit Kate's website to see more of her wonderful art.
*All images via Artist's website and used with permission