Take that

Bird is the word (and you can take it literally) – Asheville Made

Kate Coleman sometimes gives viewers magnifying glasses so they can appreciate the level of detail in her multimedia works.
Portrait by Evan Anderson

Local painter and ceramist Kate Coleman can’t remember a time when she wasn’t an artist. “All kids are artists,” she believes, “and I’ve never gotten out of it.” For 20 years, Coleman and her husband operated a pottery studio together, but seven years ago she returned to painting – which she was introduced to while earning a fine arts degree at Ball State University. . Coleman’s acrylic-on-wood-panel designs celebrate his love of birds, while incorporating his fondness 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 that much, and painting was something I could do creatively while taking care of it. She paints alongside me, and when people ask what my husband and I do, she includes herself and says, “We make art. I still do a bit of ceramics, but now I’m more into painting.

Did this transition surprise you?

If I had thought before that I would be a painter now, that would have blown my mind. But compositionally, my ceramic work leaned towards two-dimensional rather than 3-D. I’ve done ceramic tiles my entire career, and our studio is loaded with decorative work with very little functional pottery. My husband has a line of mugs and we make trays, but they’re mostly pieces for display on the wall.

Why birds?

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

You paint them on a grand scale…

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

Describing “big” as “more intimate” is a wonderful kind of paradox.

Yes, and I use mixed media with a lot of paper in the paintings, in the feathers or in the background – topographic maps and pages from old books with information about the specific bird. Part of the process of viewing the paintings is going deeper into them, so at some shows I add a magnifying glass to make it easier for viewers to read the material on things like migration patterns and bird songs.

How do you capture each bird’s personality?

It’s in the eyes. My daughter notices this too and likes to criticize the eyes I paint.

You also do landscapes, don’t you?

Yes, with familiar views, like those of Biltmore, Blue Ridge Parkway or Craggy Gardens.

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

The birds in flight are at the center of the landscapes.

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