Kathy Loev Putnam

Born in: 1964, United States
Lives in: Philadelphia, United States
Media: Painting
Describe your work in 3 words: Contemplative, playful, nuanced

In Fine Feather - Acrylic, screen print, monotype, mixed media collage on wood panel. 48 x 36 in.

"I am interested in the magic and power of girlhood. My paintings celebrate treasured moments, whether they reveal delight or distress. Often my subjects are alone on a journey of the mind. Each painting is a scene that is conjured by its subject, inseparable from her physical presence."

What themes does your work involve?
My subjects exist in a state of fantasy, inhabiting their own imagined worlds. They are strong, curious, independent, sometimes vulnerable, always brave. Not yet hindered by the restrictions and expectations of their adult futures, they occupy dreamlike spaces, with allusions to fairy tales, enchantment, refuge and threat.
Describe your creative process.
Each painting is a process of trial and error. I usually begin with an image in mind of a child with a specific purpose – hula hooping, inspecting some treasure held between little fingers, or playing dress up. I then attempt to locate or reveal what my subject might be feeling. I use printmaking, paint, and anything else at hand, to create layers. I try something, and if it does not work, I remove it (often after the glue has dried!) or cover it up. Sometimes it feels like I take more off of a surface than I add. The residue left by something removed is often the most interesting thing to work with. I can’t anticipate it, I can only have faith that each move is building toward something. It’s not unusual for me to get resolution by eliminating the very thing I was holding onto the most.
What influences your work? What inspires you? Why do you make art?
I love all forms of art, but in my own work, I am drawn toward the human figure. I get most excited when I can distort or abstract a figure without losing the individual expressiveness of the subject. I am constantly inspired by other artists who make paintings where various materials coexist in a way that is difficult to differentiate one from another. In graduate school, I discovered that I can make a painting of anything, from anything – that there are no rules. Being an artist is a second career for me, and I know that making good work is cumulative. It comes from work and more work – there are no shortcuts. I am learning every day, and I love that I don’t know what my work will look like in five or ten years.
What is good art? What makes a piece of art great?

Wow – that is a hard question. I think something is good when it surprises me – when I see something unexpected that is inventive and thoughtful. Craft is important to me, and the level of care an artist brings to their use of materials definitely influences how I experience it. What I consider really great art is something that just stops me in my tracks, that I can’t stop looking at and thinking about – it’s both a physical and emotional reaction. When that happens, it sends me back to work!

What is the role of the artist today?
I think the role of an artist today is the same as it has been throughout time. Art provokes thought, discussion and enlightenment. Artists can bridge divides and educate through emotional connections rather than by direct confrontation. That is not to say that art shouldn’t be confrontational; sometimes that is the point of what an artist is trying to achieve – to force an undeniable reckoning about a specific issue. Either way, we are uniquely able to create emotional engagement between people and ideas.
Beautiful Girl - Oil, screenprint, monotype, mixed media collage on wood panel 40 x 30 in.


This interview was published by Circle Foundation of the Arts. © CFA Press ∙ Images are courtesy of the artist