Interview by Theresa Elliott, photos by Tom England
Gallery Open through 16 October • Via Fillungo 224 • Daily: 10:00-13:00 & 16:00-19:30 • Closed Monday and Thursday mornings
To see Kat Ring is to immediately understand the importance of color in her life. Not just in her art, but in how she relates to the outside world. She wears bold and beautiful colors on her person, including her lipstick, which told me immediately I’d like her. After seeing her impressionism exhibit here in Lucca, I sat down with her to learn more, our talk being as much an interview as it was a Vulcan Mind Meld.
Why do you paint?
I like being outside, I like working with color, I like responding to what I see, giving you my impressions. I have this need to communicate, to say something. Whether you’re an actress, a writer, a dancer, a musician, an artist . . . you want to communicate something and sometimes things are better put out there as opposed to remaining in your head spiraling around. So it actually keeps me from spiraling. (laughs)
I think it’s one of the only jobs I’ve ever had any success at, as it’s the only thing I do well AND enjoy. I think when you enjoy something you end up doing it well because you put your heart into it, you end up studying it, and it becomes a passion.
Art is not my number one passion. Nature, the protection of nature and animals, that’s my number one. I’m trying to connect my passions which are color, nature, animals, the environment, and by being outside and painting I find joy and solace in the natural.
Sometimes I’m frustrated while out in the field, sometimes I’m battling it, but it’s usually about a puzzle, it’s solving problems, and when I solve the problem, the painting is done.
You have built a successful career painting. The word ‘success’ is loaded, but do you have thoughts to pass along to the aspiring? “When I started out, I wish I knew . . .’
I wish I knew the fundamentals of painting. I had studied graphic and textile design, and I may have had one painting and one drawing class during university. I didn’t know the basics. I sold my car and made the investment of going to the Florence Academy of Art and that’s probably the best investment I ever made. It tweaked my eyes in a way that I didn’t expect.
As far as success goes, ‘if you are happy you are an enviable success.’ I love that idea, coming from a family where success was a big deal, thank you dad, because of his goal in life to be an admiral. His dad was an admiral, his step father was an admiral, my mom’s biological father has a ship named after him. It is entrenched in my family this idea of success! success! Oh he’s the successful one! It was oppressive.
These days I’m looking for balance. In 2019 I spent the year trying to not just make a living, but a darn good living at painting. Then I overdid it and sacrificed my health. I needed to prove to myself that I could do it, and then I dialed it back. Now I’m turning down work because I’m happier just selling paintings, earning a little bit less and doing my own thing.
Some of that drive you inherited from the DNA of the admirals, could one say you took that and used it in your own way to carve your own world?
Laughs. I’ll be 55 in a few weeks and until my dad died last year I was still trying to please the man and earn his approval. In 2019 I remember dad sitting on a bench resting, and I said, ‘hey dad I just wanna tell you, I’m totally killing it these days. I’ve tripled my income, I’m doing great so I don’t want you to worry about me, I’ve made it.
I write a fair amount. I have entire sentences pop into my head and from that single sentence I will get an essay. So the question is, how are you inspired?
I told my students when they started a painting they had to know what it was about. What are you trying to say? Because if the painter doesn’t know, it won’t end up in the painting, and the viewer won’t get it. So we’re back to communicating.
I’ll stop at a scene and I might not know why I have to paint that scene, but when I start unpacking my easel and colors I’m thinking ‘what am I saying? why here? I try to convey that, whether it’s the fleeting light, or a little spot of bright color within a very grayed down neutral low chroma scene. Maybe it’s the round things with the square things, maybe it’s the big things with the small things, it could be any number of reasons, but it has to excite me otherwise it’s not going to be a good painting.
And if you don’t feel like painting you start mixing colors. It will come.
I have a movement background and the need to practice is intuitive for me. But sometimes I don’t know what to work on so I just start warming up. It begins to change and I get excited as it turns into an investigation and exploration. How do you practice your art?
How I practice has changed. In the past I’d spend hours doing watercolors in my studio by myself. Recently I’m inspired by company. There’s a painter friend who organizes groups going to Venice and I can paint with people from all over Europe. I want to go and bounce off ideas, not just paint next to someone. I love the feeling of camaraderie. Everyone does things a different way. I love seeing 50 painters and you’ll see 50 completely different paintings, and that’s exciting to me.
There’s inspiration, and then there’s the technique to embody that inspiration. I used to watch the auditions for American Idol. I came to understand some of the kids had so much passion, but no technique and little ability to deliver what they were feeling. So maybe it’s the technique that we practice? Which goes to, how has your technique change over the years?
When I started I was painting very graphic, fairly large still life watercolors. Then I decided I wanted to loosen up, so I took some pastel classes because it’s hard to get detailed and fiddely with a pastel unless you are using a pencil. So I continuously take courses whenever I go back to the states.
I started oil and I love the malleability of it. I’m trying to go looser with my brushstrokes. I think about economy of brushstrokes and this has helped me. If you have to pay someone a euro for every time you touch the brush to the canvas, you’d stop being fiddely. Work big to small, say it with one stroke, not 16. There are many ways of saying this; paint the dog first, not the freckles on the flea on the dog. You don’t want to think, that is a perfect eye, and then you gotta scrape it off and do it again because you didn’t paint the dog first.
In the past I’d have people come to my shows and say ‘oh, you’ve got no consistency, it looks like you’ve got three different painter’s work up here.’ The thing is, I will not rot and stay in the same groove and paint the same painting I could’ve painted in 1998. I have to be growing, otherwise what’s the point?
In music there are scales and they are a foundational piece. When you said you started in textiles but then went for more training, I wondered, what is foundational work for a painter?
Drawing is the foundation. You can’t really paint without drawing and even extremely abstracted painters, Kandinsky and such, you go back and look at their early stuff and they knew how. You can’t break the rules, you can’t go abstract until you know the rules, and know how to draw. It’s usually the thing that’s off in paintings, the drawing.
Is there anything you would like the readers to know that we haven’t covered?
Sometimes people say ‘oh you’re living the dream and I want to become a painter in Italy.’ It looks great on the outside, but I don’t think people realize the sacrifices you make. I admire the people who have been spouses during their career and also raised kids. I have sacrificed both of those, not that they were sacrifices because they have been choices, but you have to put your career first. Obviously my father had to do that. You can’t do it all.
It’s a heck of a lot of hard work and growth. People look over my shoulder when I’m painting and say ‘that looks like fun.’ But I may be having a difficult day, and I may think well it was fun when I didn’t know what I was doing, but know I kinda know what I’m doing and I realize there is so much I don’t know. This is a job. Maybe one out of 10 paintings will come off as ‘oh I had fun doing that, because I had fun with the pink color.’
It’s rarely fun, but it’s often satisfying.