Her Watercolors Flow Like the River that Shaped her Childhood

Kathryn Phillips’ father, a farmer in a Mississippi River town in Arkansas, inspired her latest works. Portrait by Morgan Ford

Kathryn B. Phillips disagrees when people tell her watercolor is the most difficult medium. She politely redirects, choosing a softer word. It’s not difficult — it’s just “different.”

Watercolor, she elaborates, “[is] about control and letting go at the same time. … I love to load my brush, create an edge, and then allow the water to carry and mix the pigments as it will.” The result, she says, “is the beauty of freedom.”

Phillips grew up in Eudora, a small Arkansas town on the Mississippi River where her father grew cotton, soybeans, and wheat. She credits him with being the initial inspiration for her “Contraption” series, where she captures mechanized tools and equipment, imaginatively reworking them to be fanciful, playful machines that exist only in her head before finding their way to the easel.

Clockwise from top: Contraption #41, Contraption #46, Contraption #43

Opportunities for art training were scarce in Eudora. “I remember when I was very young, taking classes from a lady in her kitchen. She let me paint and experiment with different materials. I remember using buttermilk and pastels to paint … I still have some of those paintings.”

Phillips wasn’t introduced to watercolor until she was close to graduating from Louisiana Tech University, where she earned a BFA in painting. “I found watercolor frustrating because I could not control it,” she admits. She was, however, intrigued enough to stick with it.

She eventually married, and continued to create watercolor paintings whenever she could find time between raising three children and accompanying them to scouting meetings, children’s choir, and various sporting events. Phillips and her family moved to Asheville from Arkansas in 1999, when her husband purchased a dental practice here. After her children grew up and got married, she turned back to her painting with what she calls “fresh commitment.”

Contraption #42

Phillips says her “Contraption” series got a boost when she happened upon a local collection of restored tractors. So now, when she travels home to Arkansas, she continues to draw on the wealth of visual information waiting to be discovered in farmers’ sheds.

On another occasion, she became captivated by the overlapping shapes in an old bedspring she saw leaning against a wall. “I drew it, [but] waited years before I pulled it out and developed it into a series of paintings,” the artist explains. It’s been a while since she created any new paintings in the “Bedsprings” series, but she continues to be fascinated by their interlocking angles, so more are coming.

Right now, though, it’s oversized trees she’s been drawing, and on appropriately large canvases, too. “I have a couple of other ideas,” she hints. “Perhaps [some] will become the paintings I imagine.”

Kathryn B. Phillips, The Ramp Studios (821 Riverside Drive #58).  For more information, call 828-318-7743 or see kathrynbphillips.com.

The artist will have a show in the Cloud Room at the Wedge at Foundation (5 Foundy St.) June 5-30 with a 5-7pm reception on Thursday, June 7.

Phillips also displays her work at K2 Studio downtown (59 College St.), at Taupe Art + Home in North Wilkesboro (taupegallery.com), and at Riverview Station (190 Lyman St., #101).

1 Comment

  • Loved the article and so privileged to be apart of your childhood in Eudora! I recall your childhood paintings…treasures! Wish I could see this show and you! Hugs!

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