Rebellious streak

PT artist follows heart with her art

Posted 6/19/19

Her Irish Catholic father had hopes for his daughter that did not include art. But Kathleen Mary O’Connor, now Kate Flores, decided to march to the beat of a different drum.

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Rebellious streak

PT artist follows heart with her art

Posted

Her Irish Catholic father had hopes for his daughter that did not include art. But Kathleen Mary O’Connor, now Kate Flores, decided to march to the beat of a different drum.

“I think for somebody who has art as a vocation, it is almost like a calling,” she said.

Flores, of Port Townsend, is a contemporary American painter and sketcher who grew up in the heavily industrialized corner of northwest Indiana.

She came from a middle class family and took piano lessons.

“But, my parents weren’t cultured,” she said. “My mom took me to the library all the time. I valued education and they wanted me to go to college, but the arts were kind of suspect. They were not very happy about me wanting to do that.”

She pursued the passion despite the lack of a family blessing.

In high school, she wasn’t allowed to take any arts classes at first.

“My counselor called my dad and said, ‘Look, she has to take some kind of electives.’”

Behind her father’s back, Flores graduated early from high school and applied to Indiana University at Bloomington. He had wanted her to attend Saint Mary’s at Notre Dame.

She admitted she was a little rebellious as a youth, and the streak followed her throughout her adulthood.

“It has served me well,” she said. “It got me out of northwest Indiana into an arts program.”

She didn’t have enough art yet in her portfolio to earn a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, but she did get an undergraduate degree in painting, she said.

During her time in Bloomington, Flores was inspired by “Dinner Party” at the Chicago Art Institute, an arts exhibit by feminist Judy Chicago.

“She envisioned inviting 35 unsung women in history to a dinner party,” Flores said. “She created this enormous installation. It was a triangular table with 39 place settings.”

While getting ready to apply to a master of fine arts program, Flores learned Chicago was embarking on another exhibit, “The Birth Project,” and was inviting others to participate.

“I thought, ‘What the hell?’ I am going to write her a letter because they were doing the birth project. I sent her a letter and some graphic samples. Three weeks later I got a letter. She said come to California.”

So, west she traveled.

“I loaded up my car and I drove to Benicia, California. It was a big step.”

Her family was none too happy, Flores said.

“My mother came with me. Try driving across the country with your mother. That was interesting. We got there. She saw where I was going to live in this little house and she got on the plane.”

Flores thought she would be there for a year working on that project.

“Then I stayed,” she said.

Flores earned a teaching license because her parents said she should.

“I actually taught junior high and high school art,” she said. “I really liked it, but what I learned was that because I was so committed to my teaching I spent all my free time preparing stuff to teach. I didn’t have much time for my own work.”

Flores in 1988 earned a master’s degree, and in the 1990s went to work in media relations for Kaiser Permanente.

In 2012, Flores took an early retirement and moved to the Cape George area where she now devotes herself full-time to studio practice. She is influenced by the imagery and iconography of a Catholic childhood, poetry, Japanese art, the study of Zen and the prolific population of wild deer that regularly parade through her rural yard just outside her studio.

“Kate’s deer series is dreamlike and captures the beauty and gracefulness of the animal,” said Suzzanne Stangel, a friend and arts colleague. “It is evident she has a very studied eye, but in her own right is a visionary.”

Oh deer...

In the many paintings of deer Flores has created, the images of the deer are translucent on an opaque background, with the wild animals appearing almost as apparitions.

“That is my experience of deer, mostly,” Flores said. “How often do you have more than 30 seconds to see them unless you are in uptown?”

Out at Flores’ home, the dear are wary and flighty.

“Maybe that is what I am trying to capture. They are elusive. The deer, I didn’t draw all of those from life. They don’t stay put long enough.”

Deer also have unique characteristics that are desirable, Flores said.

“I have been a student of Zen for 20 years and they just invite stillness. They know how to be still and they know how to bolt when they have to.”

Flores identifies with the deer and their love of quiet natural spaces.

“I think for certain people, and I don’t know if it is part of my introverted personality, but I have always been nurtured and sustained by time in quiet beautiful places,” she said.

When she is not painting deer, Flores enjoys sketching humans, preferably a live model.

“I do it to start, but it takes me a long time to make a painting, I can’t afford to have the model here day after day.”

She then uses photographic references to complete her work.

When Flores is drawing a person, she enjoys capturing their essence on the page.

“We are all so endlessly unique,” she said. “I just think it is fascinating to study a person. There is a beauty in human nature. There is hidden things.”

Everybody hides things and everybody has secrets, Flores said.

“You don’t know what those are. You don’t discover that when you are painting them, but I think you get some sense of someone’s character.”

Taking her time

When she is painting or drawing, Flores said she is never in a rush.

“There is something about taking the time to really look and to slow down and to draw the same thing over and over again until you get it right.”

When comparing her current artwork to that of the past, Flores said she is much more expressive now.

“To have that discipline of really taking the time and slowing down in this fast-paced instant image one after the other world, you begin to develop a relationship to what you see and an empathy.”

For her human subjects, the drawings get better as Flores gets to know them, she said.

“I think with paintings there is a technical accuracy where somebody really knows the craft of painting and those can be very beautiful. There is a felt accuracy that is just as important, and I think you need both for it to be a compelling piece to someone else.”

To view Flores’ work, visit katefloresstudio.com.

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