Kathleen Rhee is one of Australia’s fastest-growing artists.
Her beautifully calming acrylic on canvas works are inspired by the country’s picturesque natural environment. Kathleen’s pieces bring the outdoors indoors, her deep blues and turquoise greens adding a sense of peace to people’s lives. Kathleen has a deep connection to mother nature.
When she is not painting she is spending time outdoors, at the beach, in the rainforest, or looking up at the sky. It’s these color combinations that inspire her pieces. Kathleen combines color staining, sketching, and painting with a brush to create her works. She then applies water to soften, blend, layer and splatter. She has a passion for large-scale abstract pieces and also does commissions.
Kathleen knew when she was a child she wanted to be a painter. It’s the only thing she has ever wanted to do. She went on to study at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York City. Kathleen lived there for four years before moving home to Australia. She now resides on the Gold Coast with her husband and children.
She was an Art Lovers Australia Prize finalist in 2020, 2021, and her pieces were also featured on The Block renovation TV series in 2019 and 2020. Kathleen studied art history, drawing, and painting at the Brisbane Institute of Art and ANU Art School Canberra. She is also a qualified art therapist, who has worked extensively with children.
Hi Kathleen! Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into making art? What are your earliest memories of making art?
Kathleen: I have always loved drawing and creating. I cannot remember not wanting to draw, make and create. I definitely feel it is something I was born with, it is just the way I am. My earliest memory would be when I must have been about 4 years old, I was drawing a house and garden and I wanted to color the sky blue, I knew the sky was above us but how do I draw that how do I draw air?
I guess it was then I was becoming aware of our place on earth, the atmosphere all-around us, and how I could represent this in my drawing.
You say your pieces bring the outdoors indoors. Is there a message you are trying to give with each piece, or your goal is to bring a sense of calmness to the viewer?
Kathleen: For me I find beauty and calm being in the natural world. It brings me peace, a sense of connection to the earth, to myself, and the feeling of stability, that everything is as it should. For some reason, I am always trying to represent that in my work and translate those feelings, awe, and love. I think when you let nature into your life it has a way of connecting you to what is truly important and allows you to let go of what is not. This is something I am always seeking.
I do hope that the viewer takes away a sense of calm but I think most importantly that they can finish the story I start and they make a connection that is unique to them.
What is a day of working like in your studio? Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
Kathleen: No, I don’t need to get in the zone. I have no need for that, I just starting painting and see what happens. I try to have a blank mind…. that really is the best place for me, to just be in the moment and be enjoying the psychical act of painting and creating. If there are too many things running through my head I find listening to instrumental music helps me free my mind of the chatter.
Currently, I have to drive 30mins to get to the studio, it is a large family property in the hinterland overlooking a river, it is a very quiet and peaceful place. Most days I start at about 9 am and work straight through till 2/3 pm.
I decide what canvases I need, what sizes I will be working on, then what colors I would like to work with that day, I set up my water, brushes, and containers and then start. I like to continue working through it until I am happy with how the painting is going, and I am happy to leave it to dry.
Could you walk us through your process? How much planning do you do before you jump into creating an artwork? If you do, what are you trying to solve at each stage of it?
Kathleen: No, I do not do much planning besides what size canvas I am painting on and colors I will use. I try not to have any ridged pre-preconceived ideas, sometimes I do but they are very open, loose, and mostly just feelings of colors and images from nature, but at some point, they go and I just paint and have faith it will come together, let the painting fall into place the way it wants to.
When I starting painting, I like to keep painting through until it has come to some kind of conclusion, something that I feel is basically finished. I let it dry then I will come back the next day to do some final touches or another layer if I feel it’s needed. I combine color staining, sketching, and painting with a brush, then I apply water to soften and blend. This all happens in a natural flow as I feel it’s needed, layering as I go.
What is the most recent piece you’ve enjoyed working on, and why?
Kathleen: I absolutely love working on my large scale works….the larger the better.
I have two large scale series I completed recently and two works from each series have now sold.
‘Big is Beautiful Series’
‘Big Love Series’
One went to New York City and the other to Sweden. ‘I am always so thrilled when my work travels around the world. I think a little piece of my home and work is being enjoyed so far away by different cultures and that makes me happy.
What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Kathleen: The hardest part for me is having too many ideas, too many to have time for, it is just not possible to do everything I am thinking. I am so excited and inspired by so many things I really have a never-ending follow of ideas coming to me, so I need to pick and choose what I will work on next. I need to focus on what is the most important to me, what is the most authentic to me, and what my soul wants to express.
What is the work you’ve done that you’re the most excited about?
Kathleen: I have been honored to have my works chosen for 2 years running in the Art Lovers Australia Prize as a finalist in 2020, 2021. Both works have sold and living private homes in Sydney and Brisbane Australia.
And two years in a row my work was chosen and featured on ‘The Block’ Australian renovation TV series in 2019 and 2020. My art now lives in these amazing renovated homes in Melbourne and was seen by over 2million viewers. Both works are now available as prints for fans of the show and my work!
Who are a few artists/people that really inspire you right now, and why?
Kathleen: That’s very hard to answer, there are so many, famous and non-famous everyday people, artists or not there are so many inspiring and uplifting people in the world. I am a big Instagram fan so this is where I follow what inspires me and who I have great admiration for.
Do you see your art as serving a purpose beyond art?
Kathleen: Yes, every year I donate a painting to help fundraise for a special cause. It makes me happy to be part of and support the efforts of those taking care of the community. Two of the big fundraisers I support are the Canberra Children’s Hospital and Camp Quality Kid with Cancer.
I also have a background in art therapy and for the last 10 years, I have facilitated art classes with preschool children and adults with disabilities.
Art with small children helps them gain confidence, develop motor skills and Creative thinking that will stay with them for life.
The adults I worked with have such serve disabilities that they cannot work or live independently. The art projects I design gives a sense of achievement, a purpose, gain confidence, and most importantly a connection to the community to make friends.
What are you currently working on, and what’s next for you?
Kathleen: For the last 4 months I have been working on 10 paintings for an exhibition called ‘Home’ at the Art Lovers Australia Gallery on the Gold Coast. After moving away for over 25years this will be my first time exhibiting in my home town. It is a group exhibition with 7 local artists exploring the emotional and physical landscapes, the architecture and the precious objects, and the deeply spiritual connection we have to HOME.
To learn more about Kathleen and her art, please check:
Image credits: Carrie McLeod Photography Instagram.