Art: Art Out of Chaos
Central Louisiana artist Kathryn Keller processes both the beauty and the pain of life through her paintings
Shutdowns, quarantines, masks, vaccines, hope. While Louisianians and the world deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, artist Kathryn Keller is in the right place — the peace and solitude of her family-owned Inglewood Farm located south of Alexandria in the heart of rural Central Louisiana.
There, childhood memories and the beauty of the land have given her peace and inspired her art. She has found solace painting among the leafless pecan groves and in the vacant rooms of the old family home. Unfortunately, that peace was broken last August when Hurricane Laura ripped across Louisiana, leaving chaos in its broad path. Even then, she took to her sketchbooks, watercolors and oil paints to deal with the destruction.
Returning to Inglewood, which has been in her family since 1927, culminated a long journey that had taken her from Arkansas, where she was born in 1952, to New York where her father attended an Episcopal seminary, then to Mississippi, back to Arkansas, again to New York with her first husband artist Randall Timmons, and finally to New Orleans. Along the way, she earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art and English at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee, and later studied art at the Arkansas Arts Center, the Art Students League of New York and the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts.
Then came Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Shortly after the storm, Keller and her husband Scott Anderson left New Orleans and retreated to their new home at Inglewood, proving Thomas Wolfe is sometimes wrong — you can go home again. Since her aging mother still lived in the main house, built sometime prior to the Civil War, Kathryn and Scott purchased an abandoned Antebellum, center-hall cottage and wood-frame grocery store they found and long admired in nearby Bunkie. They had both buildings moved to the farm. The old house is now their home and the store, her studio.
“I wanted to paint landscapes and my mother was getting older,” said Keller. “The family drew me back and the place drew me back. I was painting landscapes in New Orleans, but it was really hard to find a place that was private and not feel you are on display. I felt so exposed.”
Like many landscape painters, Keller paints with watercolors and oils from life on location or, “en plein air” as the French say, where a breeze in the treetops, a familiar fragrance or the nuances of light can have profound influences in how she interprets the scene. But light and shadow, she says, are not the most important elements in her work. She is more interested in how the afternoon light defines the architectural structure of the pecan trees she loves to paint.
When asked if she feels the presence of her family’s history on the farm when she paints, at first she said she didn’t but then quickly corrected herself.
“I don’t think it affects me,” she said, “but that’s not true. There’s one cabin on the place that we believe was a slave cabin. At one time I would go inside and paint inside looking out the door. I certainly felt the past and what their lives were like. We call it a farm now but it was a plantation. You can’t live on a plantation without feeling the pain of the past. Yes, history is present.”
In her series “Interiors,” rooms are often empty yet full of life with the warm glow of sunlight. In one painting for instance, a cello rests against a grand piano; a violin lies atop the piano’s soundboard. No one is present yet the instruments wait. Music seems to linger in the room and in the artist’s memories.
Painting landscapes, portraits and interior roomscapes, Keller says, is her way of responding to the world around her.
“It gives me a place to handle emotions, though I’m sure I’m not aware of that when I’m painting,” she says. “It can give me deep joy when I capture something and find it beautiful. I feel exhilarated. It helps me understand things better. It helps me feel less at sea in the world. It gives me grounding.”
Keller’s visual responses to her world are finding their way into a growing list of art shows across the nation and art museums, including the Alexandria Museum of Art, The Historic New Orleans Collection, Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, the Meadows Museum of Art in Shreveport, the Zigler Art Museum in Jennings and several outside Louisiana.
Aside from that growing success, Inglewood remains a “constant place” in her life and now her art.
→ for more information, visit kkellerart.com