Bird is the Word (And You Can Take That Literally)

A BIRD IN THE HAND
Kate Coleman sometimes gives viewers magnifying glasses so they can appreciate the level of detail in her multi-media works.
Portrait by Evan Anderson

Local painter and ceramicist Kate Coleman doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t an artist. “All children are artists,” she believes, “and I never grew out of it.” For 20 years Coleman and her husband have operated a pottery studio together, but seven years ago she returned to painting — which she was introduced to while earning a Fine Art degree at Ball State University. Coleman’s acrylic-on-wood-panel creations celebrate her love of birds, while incorporating her penchant for vintage books and maps.

What inspired your return to painting after so many years?

When our daughter [now 9] was born, I couldn’t be in the pottery studio nearly as much, and painting was something I could do creatively while still taking care of her. She paints alongside me, and when people ask what my husband and I do, she includes herself and says, “We make artwork.” I still do some ceramics, but now I’m more into painting.

Did that transition surprise you?

Had I thought before that I’d be a painter now, it would have blown my mind. But compositionally, my ceramic work was leaning toward 2-dimensional versus 3-D. I’ve done ceramic tiles my whole career, and our studio is heavy on decorative work with very little functional pottery. My husband has a line of mugs and we make some trays, but it’s mostly pieces for display on the wall.

Why birds?

My husband and I love birdwatching. I would love to bird watch half the day and paint the other half. We lived on a small canal on the Gulf in Florida for several years and saw bald eagles and all kinds of tropical birds. Now we live in Swannanoa and have a yard full of bird feeders and bird houses. We use an app developed by Cornell University that you can set to listen for birds singing. It IDs them and we can look for them in the trees.

You paint them on a large scale …

I want these to be striking and showcase the bird as a portrait — birds are so small in normal life that you don’t see that. When you paint them large, it’s a very intimate perspective.

Describing “large” as “more intimate” is a wonderful sort of paradox.

Yes, and I use mixed media with a lot of paper in the paintings, in the feathers or the background — topographical maps and pages from old books with info about the specific bird. Part of the process of viewing the paintings is to go deeper into them, so at some shows I add a magnifying glass to make it easier for viewers to read the bits about things like the birds’ migration habits and songs. 

How do you capture the personality of each bird?

It’s in the eyes. My daughter notices that, too, and likes to critique the eyes I paint.

You also do landscapes, don’t you?

Yes, with familiar views, like from Biltmore, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or Craggy Gardens.

But it’s not flowers or mountains that are the point …

Birds in flight are the focal point in the landscapes.

Kate Coleman, Asheville. Coleman’s work is represented at Woolworth Walk (25 Haywood St., Asheville, woolworthwalk.com); at Asheville Gallery of Art (82 Patton Ave., ashevillegallery-of-art.com); at Marquee Asheville in the River Arts District (36 Foundy St., marqueeasheville.com); at Trackside Studios in the RAD (375 Depot St., tracksidestudios.com); and on ETSY: KateColemanGallery. Also see katecoleman.com. 

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