By Jeremy Miles
After decades exploring the mysteries of far-horizons, the work of Poole-based artist Kathryn Thomas might just be heading for that final frontier, the stars. On the other hand she is equally at home charting the magic of changing light on the land and sea. The stars are just another magical distant vista.
“I have spent my entire career trying to paint the bit between me and as far as I can see,” she declares.
She’s showing me recent paintings inspired by the galactic travels of her imagination and created by a newfound artistic freedom.
Twenty five years after she abandoned youthful plans to become a sculptor and immersed herself in a world that evoked pure emotion through paint, Kathryn is a highly successful artist.
Her works - wonderfully enigmatic responses to landscape, energy, colour and light - have long enjoyed both critical and popular acclaim. They hang in collections across the world from Australia to Iceland.
When we met at her new studio in an atmospheric old maritime building near Poole Quay, she revealed there are fascinating changes afoot.
Although her art has long had a connection with Dorset - the Harris Interiors Gallery in Lower Parkstone has shown her paintings for the past eight years - Kathryn only came to live in the county last April.
The move after years in Bristol followed her marriage to Poole business consultant Andy Madden. It also came in the wake of vital new funding from the Pollock-Krassner Foundation. The result has been a new chapter in her life and an exciting new direction in her art.
For alongside her signature paintings - painstakingly created with multi -layers of carefully controlled paints and glazes - Kathryn has also experimented with new, looser, more spontaneous works.
I originally met Kathryn late last year during the run of her Skylights 2011 exhibition. The show was a big success and now she’s preparing for Shining Lights 2012 which opens at her studio on May 6 and runs until June 4.
For Kathryn this is the latest leg of a journey that started many years ago when she watched a storm rolling in off the Atlantic during an art college field trip to Cornwall.
“I could see so far it felt as though I could almost see the curvature of the earth. That huge open expanse, the changing energy, the power and the light had an extraordinary effect on me. There was something in that moment that I connected with. I went back to college and started painting. I painted for three years just from that one experience.”
Sitting in her new-found Dorset dream studio with its beautifully battered workspace bathed in northern light, she told me: “I’m was really lucky to find this place. It feels so right and it offers the perfect working environment.”
Perfect for producing her highly-disciplined, shimmering, peaceful studies of colour and light, which as we speak are accompanied by a soundtrack of ambient music specially commissioned from sound recordist Simon Wetham. Perfect too for her more unruly adventures in paint.
“I’ve started using an entirely new technique,” she told me. “I’m playing around with things, having fun and creating some wonderful accidents along the way.” She believes her latest experimentations - including splattering paint from loaded brushes onto canvasses on the floor and sloshing turpentine across them - is a reaction to years of careful control.
“The success of my painting and demands for commissions meant I wasn’t able to give myself the space to create or play or develop ideas,” she explains. “This has freed me. It’s like learning to write again.”
One imagines that the artistic spirits behind her recent benefaction - Jackson Pollock (ie Jack the Dripper himself) and his wife Lee Krassner - would have been mightily impressed.
Intriguingly the results are far less anarchic than you might expect. For underlying everything that Kathryn Thomas does is years of experience and an intuitive understanding of the properties and behaviour of paint.
She’s gradually bringing her two techniques together, combining what she describes as “randomness and chaos” with “definition and substance”.
Kathryn believes that moving to Dorset has reawakened something. Certainly the new exhibition will be the first time in her career that she has created an entire collection inspired by a single location.
“I’ve been down on the beach at dawn every morning and have so many ideas,” she told me.
Fascinatingly her paintings, whether of land, sea or sky –remain singularly hers but also intriguingly mysterious.
“I don’t put too much of myself into my paintings,” explains Kathryn. “I like to make them as ambiguous as possible. I want people to use them as a mirror to reflect what they’re feeling. There is no point in re-creating what people can find for themselves.”
*Shining Lights 2012 runs from Sunday 6th May to Monday 4th June The Studio, West Quay House, 4 West Quay Road, Poole, Dorset, BH15 1HT/ Admission is free and the studio will be open to the public from 11am to 7.00pm daily. Kathryn will be on hand to discuss her work with visitors.
For more about Kathryn Thomas go to go to www.kathryn-thomas.co.uk You can also follow her on Facebook or on Twitter@Kathrynpaints