August 22, 2008
The Artist in Her Room Kathleen Elsey Escaped Corporate World for Her True Love By Ted Mills,
Santa Barbara News Press
It was in these pages art critic Josef Woodard referred to artist Kathleen Elsey as a post-Fauvist. “I love it when someone calls me that,” she says. “That to me is the highest compliment. To be affiliated with the Fauves in any manner -- Van Gogh and Vlaminck … I look to them when I have problems with my paintings.” In Elsey’s acrylic canvases, color explodes in rich, broad strokes, whether in humble interiors, crowded beach scenes, or serene landscapes. The Santa Barbara Studio Artists Annual Studio Tour offers a chance to see all of Elsey’s work and the place where she creates this coming Labor Day weekend.
Elsey came back to art 10 years ago after decades in the corporate world, a gig that she found hard to give up. “I got to a point where I had a staff of 20 designers and illustrators working for me and I realized my job was more management than creativity or art. I wanted to get my hands back in the creative.” After leaving Hewlett Packard, Elsey formed her own design firm in San Francisco, but after 12 years that, too, lacked the creativity she needed. “It was an easy decision to make,” she says about taking up painting full-time. “I was invited to join a gallery the first year … my only regret is that I spent too many years in (the corporate world) instead of recognizing earlier that it was OK to move on.”
Moving back to painting, Elsey picked up where she left off, from her days as a fine art student at Bowling Green University in Ohio. She made her way into higher education not in search of art, but through a mathematics scholarship. “I told (the career counselor) what I thought I should do, and not what I wanted to do,” she says. By the second year, she had switched majors. Like her jump out of the corporate world, it took Elsey time to decide what she really wanted.
But now her attitude is quite different and anything that even feels like a rule or stricture makes her nervous. She finds it hard to enjoy commissioned work, even when told just to do her thing. “I have to have some sense of excitement before I start working and that doesn't include someone telling me what to paint.”
Fortunately, she has plenty of galleries and buyers who follow her work and wait for Elsey’s next painting or burst of creativity. The first hours in the life of a painting are crucial -- these are the moments when Elsey secludes herself in the painting studio with no distractions. They are also, she says, the moments when the real emotion comes out into her work. She may then stop, hold off, abandon, or continue with the work at a later date. “I turn up the Schubert String Quartets and paint, and try not to think.”
Her previous painting studio was on 40 acres of land in Sonoma, where Elsey and her husband lived up until five years ago, when they moved to Santa Barbara. And for the fourth year in a row, Elsey opens her Santa Barbara painting studio to all Labor Day Weekend for the Santa Barbara Studio Artists Annual Tour.
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