Artist Kathryn Keller’s Work Captures the Natural Beauty of the South
From the Louisiana swamps to the beaches in North Carolina, the beauty of the American South is unparalleled. But actually capturing the majesty of the region can be difficult. One Louisiana-based artist, Kathryn Keller, might just be up for the task.
With a diverse range of styles spanning from simplistic to highly detailed, Keller not only encapsulates the South with her artwork but makes it her own.
Her work is featured in galleries all over the country, such as the Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlottesville, North Carolina, LeMieux Galleries in New Orleans and Spalding Nix Fine Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Many of her works portray various regions in the South and some up North, but despite her broad catalog of work, she admits she’s a homebody and likes to stay in one place when she can.
“Every time I move from one place to another, it’s hard to get going again,” she adds.
Keller grew up on Inglewood Farm in central Louisiana with her father, an Episcopal priest, and her mother, who helped support the family with oil money.
“I definitely grew up with this kind of crazy juxtaposition between being wealthy, and then my father was in the church,” she says. “There was a tension between that.”
Keller knew she was born to be an artist and decided to go to art school to pursue her dreams. She attended college at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where she double-majored in Fine Art and English.
As she grew closer to the art scene, she began to feel pressure to move away from art by observation and move toward narrative-driven art based on her imagination—but she soon grew dissatisfied with this.
Keller returned to landscapes and still life work and has continued to develop her skills in this regard. Even after decades of practice, she still finds she likes her most recent work best and believes her best work is yet to come.
“I’ll always be searching for that one, the magnum opus,” she says.
Keller’s style varies wildly, using both oil and watercolor. She tends to stick to a more muted color scheme, she said, however, she’s been trying to change this by adding more vibrant colors like reds to make her paintings pop.
One of the best examples of this is “Long Leaf Sawmill,” which depicts a lumber mill. Keller uses red to highlight rust on the building and draw the observer’s gaze to the massive smokestacks on the sawmill.
LeMieux Galleries describes her work over the past 20 years as “figurative, soulful and colorful.”
Today, Keller’s work is centered around Inglewood Farm, where she’s been residing during the pandemic. As a self-proclaimed recluse, she’s enjoyed the extra family time the virus has dictated. Currently, she’s working on painting the damage from Hurricane Laura.
“I guess I would say that the most recent things I’m doing now are narrative, because I decided to tell the story of the hurricane,” she says.
Inglewood Farm itself is as beautiful as it is peaceful, and is the perfect environment to paint. The property is covered with various kinds of vegetation and wildlife, oozing with the Southern, rural and rustic charm that’s present in many of Keller’s paintings. This secluded and colorful paradise serves as the perfect creative fuel for Keller’s creativity. An example of this is her oil painting titled “Inglewood House” from 2016, which encapsulates Inglewood Farm’s simple, Southern charm.
Between Keller’s home and her art studio lies a swamp covered in bright green algae, creating almost a living mural across the black waters. Keller has been attempting to capture the beauty of the swamp in her artwork but is yet to create a work depicting it that meets her standards.
“I have (painted it),” she says, “but not to my satisfaction.”
Those looking to gain a deeper understanding of the atmosphere and history at Inglewood Farm can watch the upcoming film “Mr. Ashley Lived Here.” This is a film by Hannah Timmons, Keller’s daughter, that documents the life of John Ashley Jr., a former sharecropper on the farm.
Although Keller lives a quiet life of seclusion and art on Inglewood Farm, she’s aware of what’s going on in the world around her. “It’s such a selfish endeavor, sometimes I think, painting,” she says. “You should be out protesting.”
LeMieux Galleries in New Orleans is having a two-person show with Keller and artist Shirley Rabe Masinter. The show will start on January 8 and run through February 27.