Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York
Kathleen Migliore-Newton greeted me at the entrance to her Fort Greene townhouse and ushered me in, saving me from the pounding rain outside. Slight with bright curly hair, Kathleen moved through the doorway in front of me and lead me into the rooms that served as a combined studio and living space filled with art and light that emptied out onto a backyard garden at the end of the room. After getting her BFA from Pratt in the 1960s, Kathleen moved out to west to Los Angeles and began working out there. Decades later, her pieces have been exhibited both nationally and internationally. Amidst the pitter-patter of raindrops on the glass door leading out to her garden, we sat down at her dining room table to talk about her art and how she translates what she around her to the two dimensional plane a canvas necessitates.
*click on any of the works below to view in detail on Artsicle*
Why did you start painting?
I graduated from Pratt, but I started to do really serious work and find my language and imagery when I was in LA. I was influenced by the feminist movement out there and what was going on in the seventies. I did work based on clothing transformed into sculpture. Then, a trip to Europe was what really made me interested in doing painting in particular. I went to Italy and France – the usual suspects. The great museums exposed me to what could be possible and made me aware of the context of the art.
I think it’s taken me a while to get a hold of the painting thing, but I‘ve always been interested in the human figure. Then, because I live in New York City, I love seeing the street life and gain inspiration from what I see around me. I was always inspired by E.B. White’s line about city life – it is something about how we in a city always have to get along by necessity and we can walk the streets anonymously or we can choose to relate to people or not. We have the advantage of interaction.
Why are you so interested in the human figure?
I’m not quite sure [laughs]. I guess I have a lot of experience from my years at school of drawing the figure. I enjoy capturing a likeness – or not – and I think the movement of the body is beautiful. My daughter was a dancer and I spent a lot of time watching and being inspired by dancers moving.
How do you capture peoples’ characters?
I largely work from photographs. If I can get people to pose that’s great, but it's hard to schedule – posing can take a lot of time. I like to catch my subjects in moments when they’re not aware of me looking at them with the results that a movement can reveal an attitude, something of their character. Maybe I project my own feelings onto their character, create what I think they’re about.
Can you give me an example of that?
This painting of a couple looking at another painting - I conceived of it in a museum. I thought it was touching that they were embracing while looking at it. The original painting is a portrait by Manet of his young nephew dressed in a military uniform playing a fife. I took a photo of the people in front of the painting, and then I needed to use a reproduction of the Manet to copy.
Lately, I’ve been doing more portraits of friends and relatives. I think they’re more intimate – I can more easily capture their character and what they’re about. For example, I did a painting of a friend who is a photographer and I have him looking through his camera. I just did a painting of a friend who is a flamenco dancer.
So when you do a portrait of a friend, does your knowledge of them inform the work more than when you paint strangers from a photograph?
Yes. I have more empathy with my friends, and I can get more out of them to demonstrate what they’re about to me.
When you’re imaging their character, does that come out more in their gestures, or the colors used?
Their character comes out more in their gestures more than anything else.
Can you tell me something about maybe the colors, the lines, the forms, to show more or less character?
Well, it’s not just the character but every painting is like a series of questions for me – how to make it work on a two dimensional surface, to make the image work as a painting. I often use colors in the background reflected in figures, or I change the color depending on intuitive things.
What was your inspiration for the series that you have on Artsicle that is photos of people in museums?
I was amused by seeing groups of people. School of Athens was the first one that I did. Some people say, oh, they’re just talking on their cellphones –
Those are gallery guides, no?
Yes, they’re gallery guides! The original painting is in Italy, and the people in the foreground of my painting seem to be really interested and really looking at School of Athens and reflect the crowd in the original painting. But each museum piece has a different source of inspiration.
I know on Artsicle there’s also a bunch of children in swimsuits –
My daughter and son and law live upstairs and I see a lot of my granddaughters. Some of the paintings are of her and her friends. I’m attracted to the children: they’re always moving and I like to capture them from the back so I don’t have to worry about whether or not the painting looks like them. The composition also works in a two dimensional plane.
Some of the paintings on Artiscle, like Self Portrait , have faces that are more or less in focus –
With that painting, I wanted to emphasize the painting, which is by Adelaide Labille-Guiard who painted Louis XVI. The figure walking by was not particularly interested and is out of focus because he's moving. I was attracted to the long gown and huge hat the artist in the original painting has on while she painting her own self portrait. Anyway, this painting amused me because I’ve always liked fashion.
Can you tell me about changing from sculpture to painting?
I think I’ve always been more confident about my draftsmanship in particular, and I think drawing and sculpture may be naturally connected. I guess that’s why I started with when I moved beyond drawing to sculpture. Now, I’m working more with trying to translate figures onto a flat surface.
When you say you’re pushing the flatness, what do you mean?
I've been putting the figures on a solid color background. So the space around the figure is flat.
Now with this drawing, I think of each one as being in a different time. This woman is in the present, and the other figure that is looser in a flatter style, maybe walked by a few minutes before
and then the painting is from the 17th century.
Did you take a photo of this man and then remember the woman going through?
Well, these were two different photographs, and I made her more into an ephemeral feeling with the style of drawing.
How long would you say it takes you to make these paintings?
Sometimes it takes me one day – sometimes I know exactly what I want to do. But some paintings take a couple days, sometimes a couple weeks. Sometimes I do a small watercolor or drawing first.
Do you find any difference w street scenes, museums, and portraits? Do you look for different things?
I think with the museum paintings, I usually look for a painting I really like and combine different photographs of people. I may have the added aspect of the people in the museum playing off the image of a painting. On the subway or in the street, I use more intuition to catch a movement or look or interesting face. I take a lot of photos and then reflect on them in the studio later.
How do you take the photographs without people realizing? Do you do it on a phone?
I do it with a digital camera and I never use the flash. I’ve never had people say no, but sometimes people have turned away. I think New Yorkers are used to being photographed.