Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Kathryn Stedham grew up seeing vast distances from a sailboat’s deck.
Today, those wide open spaces have hardened into desert and rock as she reveals her reverence for New Mexico landscapes in oil.
Stedham’s work is on view at Santa Fe’s Blue Rain Gallery.
Her life resembles a tornado of action. A professional artist for 35 years, she hikes, rides horses, fly fishes and teaches from her Railyard studio. A world traveler and rock climber for 14 years, she even reached the pinnacle of Mount Kenya.
Her paintings are at once gestural and carefully composed renditions of form, space and light.
The artist’s trajectory into landscape painting was circuitous. Classically trained, she began as a realist figural painter before she deconstructed the body into more of an Abstract Expressionist style. The landscapes emerged when she moved West in 2005, first to Park City, Utah, then to Galisteo and Santa Fe.
“I paint in a style known as ‘alla prima,’ ” she said. “It’s an Italian phrase; it means ‘in an instant.’ The painting looks like it has some energy and light. I’m concerned with the initial impression.
“There’s a sense of speed in my painting,” she continued, “the fleeting moment is what I’m interested in.”
Stedham sold her first painting at 8. She grew up watching the destroyers return home from the ocean near Norfolk, Virginia. She trained at Old Dominion University, and showed her work in galleries in Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago. She moved to Park City in 2005.
“The greatest gift I ever gave myself was moving West,” she said.
After selling three public art commissions to the state of Utah, she left for Galisteo in 2011. She had been visiting Santa Fe for years.
“I didn’t want to be a landscape painter the way everyone else was,” she said. “I wanted to be a landscape painter with my own voice. I want it to be evocative; I want it to be compelling. I’m looking for doorways inviting the viewer into the work.”
She begins by hiking or driving into unexpected spots and vistas, mostly avoiding places already made iconic by other artists. She makes a quick plein air sketch in oil on location before returning to her studio.
“I use them as reference material for my bigger paintings; I use them as sketches,” Stedham explained. “Then, I take away all the reference material and paint from memory.”
The brushstrokes in “Ghost Ranch Moon” are both gestural and loose in an approach that is at once architectural and subtle.
“I go there a lot and I just study it, and I ask the rock what it needs from me,” Stedham said. “I saw the moon rising there. It was as striking as any kind of cathedral; it just speaks to you. How do I create that feeling, that magnificence?”
“Arroyo, Diablo Canyon,” with its tangled waves of rocks and sticks, also emerged as a plein air study.
“Sometimes I think, ‘I can’t paint this now,’ ” Stedham said.
She picked up the drawing several years later.
“It’s deeply dramatic,” she continued. “I place the view right in the middle of the arroyo. The sense of water is there.”
She found “South Shoulder Echo” in the Four Corners area.
“There’s some beautiful rock formations there,” Steham said. “There’s this dark hole within this formation. A writer friend of mine said, ‘The leviathans arise from the desert.’ I saw huge ships, of course.”
“Rio at Buckman Mesa” captures her favorite spot overlooking the Rio Grande near White Rock. The river reflects the sky.
“I paint these obscure places and I go, ‘Well, maybe I’ll make it famous.’ ”
“Georgia O’Keeffe made certain places famous,” Stedham said. “An artist told me, ‘You don’t paint famous places.’ I paint these obscure places and I went, ‘Well, maybe I’ll make it famous.’
“I feel like I’m recording something that’s precious and fleeting.”