Kathleen Craig wasn’t born to be a painter.    As a child, museums made her yawn, and while she excelled at getting dirty, she showed no talent for turning messes into works of art.   Nevertheless, her family instilled in her an abiding respect for the arts and almost an awe for artists, whom she considered to be magically gifted people from some planet far, faraway. 

Kathleen was born and raised in suburban New Jersey, went to college in Ohio, where she majored in English, and afterwards earned her living as an editor, first in NewYork and later in Baltimore, where she had moved with her graduate student husband. It was then, finally, that her sister persuaded her to try a drawing course at the Maryland Institute College of Art. 

The first night of class the teacher armed them with vine charcoal and some big sheets of newsprint. He suggested drawing the lines, shapes and angles that they actually saw, rather than thinking – in words -- “table”.   Somehow, by the end of the session, Kathleen had managed to divorce herself from her overactive left brain and created a drawing that actually looked like a table.  Now she was doing magic, and she wanted more than anything in the world to keep going.

In hindsight, Kathleen thinks that her very ignorance was an advantage.  “I had no preconceptions; I didn’t think of myself as a creative person.”  Now that she knew that she was capable of “magic”, though, it was time to go to magic school; there was a lot to learn.  She wanted to learn to draw recognizable tables and flowers and people.  She wanted to learn to mix colors, organize compositions, create the illusions of three dimensions and of light.

She launched herself into a formidable series of drawing, painting and design classes.  When none were available – as she moved around the country with her family -- she sought out more advanced painters for advice.

She soon learned that even within traditional painting there is a dizzying array of techniques and styles to choose from, but she stuck with simple still lifes for the first years of work and learning. “They are the easiest to draw, they don’t wiggle, and you don’t have to pay them!”

Now museums, galleries, and art books were her friends.  She began to have opinions.  Her favorite painters were Vermeer, Chardin, and Corot.  Also Rachel Ruysch, a still life painter in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Rusych’s beautiful paintings and her immensely successful sixty-year career were inspirational for Kathleen.  “And, she raised ten children!”

Not long after she settled in central Virginia with her family, Kathleen decided that parenting was enough of a day job, and swapped out her editorial work for as much dedication to the practice of her art as she could squeeze in.

Eventually, the three children grew up and Kathleen could focus all her time on her work.  By now, after years of working in representational painting, but looking at everything, it was time to start thinking about her work differently. She felt that her still lifes were good, but they didn’t speak to her personally. The girl who had been bored with art museums was becoming a little bored with her own work. 

Her favorites list had expanded to include Giorgio Morandi, Joan Mitchell, Nicolas de Stael, and such contemporary luminaries as Ken Kewley, Bill Scott, andJulian Hatton. Now her goal became to create pieces that she herself felt moved and excited by.  “I once stood in front of a Morandi painting and was astonished to feel myself beginning to cry. I think it was because his painting was so completely his, somehow.” She wanted to look at her own work and feel that way.

She plunged into the world of abstraction and after some experimentation settled on abstract realism, in which objects, places and figures are recognizable but color, composition, and expression play predominant roles.  “Real” subjects, she says, have more interesting shapes and colors than she could possibly invent.  Abstraction allows her to express her love of play and her delight in color and shape for their own sake.

She believes that nameable elements such as trees, tables, and animals help the painting with its primary job of communication.  “I want to enjoy my work, but I also want anybody – with or without experience in the arts – to get it.  I don’t want to make the viewer worry about what they are supposed to be seeing.”  


The inspiration for my paintings is twofold: in the beginning there is a definite vision.  Could be a wave crashing into a rock in Nova Scotia, where I spend almost half my time.  Or a photo of a chair-bound senior citizen, or the ridiculous number of thermoses on top of my fridge. Ultimately, however, the painting is inspired by what happens on the canvas.  The wave may start looking like a hill, the old lady may transform into a patient dog. 

I can get very attached to my original subject, but my first duty is to make a good painting.  Still, the original idea and the end product do have a strong relationship because the second, third, fourth and however many renditions of the painting grow from each other.  I try to correct each mistake or solve each problem and the painting doesn’t just change, it grows, as I do, I hope.

My process starts with some loose, expressive drawing with vine charcoal on a pad or with paint directly on the canvas.  I get where I’m going quicker if I keep the basic tenets of composition in mind – balance, tension, scale, and the rhythm of color, line and shape. I generally mix my colors on my palette and use the scrub-off-and-replace method rather than mixing on canvas.  When time allows I try to reach a resolution of the whole painting in one go. Then I revise and revise.  I’m an editor by nature; I sand and scrape, and if the paint is still wet, get out the thinner and wipe.  Then, begin again.

My work receives praise for its simultaneous boldness and sensitivity with big shapes and color, sense of humor and imagination.  One kind critic says that it “becomes something new and unique that is evocative and still deals with strong formal issues.”  That certainly makes me sound good!  For my part, I love the way each painting not only suggests a new direction but also seems to tell me to do it better next time. Today, I would like to develop my work in two directions – complexity and darkness - without losing sight of what I am already doing. 


M.F.A. Creative Writing. Warren Wilson College
B.A. Oberlin College
Kathleen Craig’s art education includes study with Pamela Black at Piedmont Virginia Community College, Philip Geiger at the University of Virginia, Scott Noel, Bill Scott, Stuart Shils, and Moe Brooker at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and Barry Nemett and Stuart Abarbanel at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Kathleen is an oil painter whose work in abstract realism encompasses still lifes, landscapes, and figures. She works from observation, memory and imagination with an emphasis on color, composition, and expression.

1999, 2001, 2003 McGuffey Art Center, Charlottesville, VA
2011 WMRA Gallery, Harrisonburg, VA
2012 Lynchburg Academy of Fine Arts
2015 Nelson Gallery, Lexington, VA
2016 Elder Gallery, Charlotte, NC
2017 Cerulean Arts, Philadelphia, PA
2018 Cerulean Arts, Philadelphia, PA
2019 Elder Gallery, Charlotte, NC
2019 Artspace, Richmond, VA

Selected Group Exhibitions
McGuffey Art Center, Charlottesville, VA
2008 Glave Kocen Gallery, Richmond, VA
2008 Nelson Gallery, Lexington, Va.
2012 Taylor Art Center, Hampton, VA
2014, 2017 Cerulean Arts, Philadelphia, PA
2015 Elder Gallery, Charlotte, NC
2016 Painting Center, New York, N

New American Paintings
Locally Charlottesville
Piedmont Magazine

Woodson Institute, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
Washington and Lee School of Commerce, Lexington, VA
Martha Jefferson Hospital, Charlottesville, VA
Aquilino Cancer Center, Rockville, MD
Piedmont Virginia Community College
Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Dyslexic, Boston, MA

Selected Private Collectors
Lauren Benton, Dean, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
Drs. Christopher and Catherine Loss, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
Lisa Hoffman, Melbern G. Glasscock Professor, Texas A&M University
Dr. Michael Balogh and Katherine Tanaka, New York, NY
George and Page Gilliam, Charlottesville, VA
Barry and Deborah Coburn, Washington, DC

Gallery Representation
Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art, Charlotte, NC
Cerulean Arts, Philadelphia, PA

Professional Affiliations
Zeuxis, An Association of Still Life Painters, New York, NY
National Women’s Caucus for Art, Washington, DC

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