At the end of June, we had the pleasure of talking to the gallery’s youngest artist, Kate Tortland, while she spent a few days here on the Vineyard to paint. This day she was painting the Edgartown Lighthouse from the front lawn at the Harbor View Hotel. She took some time to let us know about the start to her career, her supporters, inspiration and current work.
When did you start painting?
“I started painting technically when I was about fourteen years old with a woman named Catherine Elliott who was, and still is, a local impressionist landscape painter in Connecticut. She inspired me in many ways, and it wasn’t until then that I had worked with oils, and I found myself painting constantly after that point. I worked with her for many years, and we even ended up going to Ireland together and painting. At first, I wanted to be exactly like her, but eventually after many years of exploring my own methods, I came to understand my own approaches and developed a unique style that is influenced by her, but could never be mistaken for her work. Even though I began painting with her as her student, now we’re colleagues showing in equal level galleries, plein air painting together as friends, and I still am inspired by her every day.
What is your favorite painting destination?
“I traveled to Ireland specifically to paint ̶ so that was one of my favorite places. The landscape there is so perfect for me, all the hills and flowers and the ocean, it’s constant inspiration. I would love to go back for a longer period to really immerse myself. I lived in Italy for a while and I loved being there but I was there for art school so, oddly enough I didn’t do as much painting. I’m moving back in September for a few months just to paint on my own, so hopefully I’ll be able to explore the possibilities of that place a bit more. Ultimately, my favorite place is a bunch of hilly fields near my parent’s house where you can look out over the mountains. I would walk in those fields every day for many years, and so it feels like home. Even after visiting magical places like Ireland, Italy, France, and even Japan, I will never tire of those fields and I never will run out of new things to see and explore there.”
How did you become sure that you wanted to be a full-time artist?
“I think I knew I wanted to be an artist when I first started painting with oils, (as much as you can know when you are fourteen). I was pretty sure because that is all that I wanted to do every day. I began selling and showing my art in juried shows and exhibitions at age sixteen. For a while after that, I thought I might want to be an art teacher and I went to college double-majoring in art and education. But I quickly found that I felt suffocated by the highly-regulated nature of the education system. I still got my teaching degree and I have taught in a school for the past three years, hoping I could be both, but I am quitting this year to paint full time. It came to the point where I had to decide what I wanted, and I knew if I continued to teach I wouldn’t be able to keep painting, at least not at the level I am hoping to achieve.”
Who is your biggest supporter?
“My mother is my biggest supporter hands down. She would buy me these giant canvases when I was fourteen—I used to look back and think, “I couldn’t paint, why would you do that?” But she had this idea that if you are passionate enough about something you should feed that passion, so she would sign me up for all the art classes she could and buy me all the supplies I could want. She refers to herself as Gertrude Stein, a woman back in the twenties who would finance and support creatives like Picasso, Ernest Hemmingway and Matisse, even before they were famous. My younger brother is a musician, my younger sister is a writer, I am a painter and my mother supported all of us when we were growing up. It remains to be seen if any of us will reach the levels of a Picasso, Hemmingway or Matisse!”
What are you the most excited for when visiting Italy?
I think I am looking forward to being inspired by a completely different place in a completely different way. The traveling that I have done has mainly been for school or for work and I originally didn’t go to Italy solely with the purpose of painting. Italy is so saturated with art, architecture, and nature, it is inescapable to be inspired. I’m also excited to become more familiar with a different culture, since we tend to become wrapped up in a bubble here in the US, and even if you vacation to Italy, you never see much past the major touristy things. My boyfriend is Italian so he will be able to show me places I would never see on the tours, and I’ll be able to explore the place more fully, knowing someone who lives there, and who understands the culture. I like to keep my mind open and not limit myself to one point of view. Also, the food there isn’t terrible!
Do you prefer working in the studio or outdoors?
“I definitely prefer working outside as there is far more adrenaline, inspiration and you are sometimes able to meet and talk to people. You can more fully immerse yourself into the scene, and I think the resulting paintings have a far more deep and honest sensibility. I have always personally liked the paintings I’ve done en plein air more than the ones I’ve created in the studio, but there comes a point (especially during the winter) where there isn’t an option but to paint in the studio. Being in the studio has its benefits too though – there isn’t as much of a rush and there’s usually coffee handy.
Do you have any advice?
I don’t want to say, “if you try hard it will work”, because sometimes you try as hard as you can and it doesn’t work. I think, just have fun! Sometimes I forget that I enjoy what I am doing and it becomes all business. I get caught up worrying about making money and I forget that I love painting. I must remember my purpose, which is to make things that I feel bring beauty into the world, and into people’s lives. I recently branched out into the more theoretical/abstract realm of art making, and created a collection using gold leaf and acrylic on wood panels, exploring the metaphysical intersection of heaven and earth. I didn’t really know if anyone would buy it and I did not really care. I just wanted to make something and put it out there. That sort of rejuvenated me to do what I truly love and keep painting. I didn’t start painting to make money. If all I wanted was to make money I would become a lawyer or an accountant. If I CAN make money from my art, that’s wonderful, but that is not my main drive. My main drive is to create what I love.
To view more of Kate Tortland’s paintings please click here.