Artists’ Studios | Kate Palmer

My World: A visit with Kate Palmer at her studio near Santa Fe, NM

Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Eric Swanson

Kate Palmer | Artist StudioThis story was featured in the January 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art January 2013 print edition, or download the Southwest Art January 2013 issue now…Or just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss an issue!

Describe your studio. My studio rests in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains just north of Santa Fe, near the historic village of Tesuque. It opens to stunning vistas of the New Mexico land and sky, with north and west windows facing the mountains and a maze of deeply cut arroyos. With more than 1,000 square feet of working space, 14-foot-high ceilings, and all those windows, my studio was designed for painting very large canvases and to feel as much like being outdoors as possible.

When did you build the studio? We built the studio in 1998 as an addition to our home. It is an unconventional passive-solar design by the late artist and architect William Lumpkins. For energy efficiency, we included in-floor, solar-driven hot-water heating, which allows for guilt-free winter warmth without compromising the temperature in the main house. A vent fan in the ceiling does a quick job of cooling the studio on even the warmest days of summer, drawing in the frigid night air of the high desert. Insulated top-down/bottom-up shades provide finer control of both light and temperature. A maple floor makes it easy for me to stand for long hours at the easel.

Kate Palmer | Artist StudioHow do your surroundings influence your work? In a word: enormously. Living and working in the midst of this incredible panorama constantly reinforces my connectedness to the natural world. I’ve always painted both on location and in the studio, with my plein-air work being the foundation of my painting. Through a process of internalizing painting experiences in the field over the years—those hours upon hours of looking at, seeing, and feeling one with the subject in front of me—I am able to bring that sense of immediacy, the excitement of being there, back to the studio. But there’s nothing comparable to looking out the studio windows at a cloud-filled sky while painting clouds or seeing the mountains outside change color while also working on a mountain scene.

Do you have favorite subject matter in New Mexico? Yes. There are places I return to paint again and again as the seasons change and lighting conditions vary. The Rio Grande Gorge is such a place, as are the mountains, mesas, and rivers north of Santa Fe. I love the Rio Grande as it flows south from Taos, and also the Rio Chama as it winds through the canyon country near Abiquiu. These are at the northern reach of my everyday painting range—places where I can go paint and return home in a day. The Pecos River with its meadows and forests is another favorite spot, as is the Galisteo Basin southeast of Santa Fe.

Kate Palmer | Artist StudioDo you listen to music when you paint? I often begin a day’s painting with one of the classics from Mozart, Handel, or Beethoven—the symphonies and violin concertos are my favorites. But I find that, after a bit, I’m really not listening to the music, and I rarely realize when it comes to an end. Music seems to be the vehicle that takes me to that quiet, intuitive place where I do my best work. I’ve heard other painters call this connectedness being “in the flow.”

What is one thing you will never paint? I will never paint scenes of violence and mayhem. I remember a museum show in Santa Fe billed as contemporary realism where blood was the unifying theme. Graphic representations of bodies splattered against windshields may have shock value, but I find they repel rather than get the creative juices flowing. Painting for me is a kind of visual poetry, complete with symbol and metaphor, through which I share my vision of the beauty inherent in nature.

What is one place people will never find you? You will never find me on a hectic tour. I admire those who can visit 12 countries in as many days. But it’s not for me. Travel is one of my greatest pleasures, and I rarely travel without my paints. For my husband and I, travel means an extended stay with a base to call home. We like to have a place where we can prepare meals based on specialties of the locale or enjoy the local cuisine as we encounter wonderful restaurants and cafes. A car is usually essential, so we can explore the surrounding countryside.

What do you keep in your studio? My studio is a reflection of my many interests. It holds an eclectic collection of things I’m particularly drawn to, from interesting natural objects to beautifully aged containers (most people would call them old cans and bottles) to works by other artists who inspire me, such as Rod Goebel, Frederick Becker, and Alfredo Zalce. A meticulously crafted wooden chest my grandfather made resides in my studio, filled with small on-location paintings. If I can say I collect anything, it would be contemporary American pottery, including a number of pieces by Minnesota potter Warren Mackenzie. I also consider my little garden on the east side an integral part of the studio because I often step out there for a short break to refresh my vision. In summer it’s filled with hollyhocks and wild geraniums, lavender, and pots of multicolored annuals.

When people come to visit, where do you like to take them? Northern New Mexico has many wonderful drives that are so spectacular that I never tire of them and enjoy sharing them with others.

Greenberg Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM; Sylvan Gallery, Charleston, SC.

Featured in the January 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art magazine January 2013 digital download
Southwest Art magazine January 2013 print edition
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