Dunphy looks for emotion in art

By Patricia Ann Speelman - [email protected]

Editor’s note: Airstream will host a fine art invitational exhibit of landscape art, May 31-June 5. This is one a series of stories that will profile the artists whose work will be shown.

SIDNEY — “I was always the ‘artist kid,’ the one always drawing and coloring,” said Kathleen Dunphy, of Murphys, California.

The landscape artist will have a painting in the Airstream Fine Art Invitational, an exhibit that will run parallel to the company’s popular Alumapalooza annual reunion of Airstream trailer owners, May 31-June 5 at the firm’s headquarters in Jackson Center. The art show will be open to the public.

“There were no artists in my family as role models. Being a professional artist was never something I knew you could do,” she said by phone recently.

Dunphy was in her 30s by the time she decided to take up a paint brush full time. She came to art by a circuitous route.

Married at 19, she went west with her military husband and got a job working for a florist, creating arrangements for special events. Not long after, she opened her own florist shop.

“It really took off. It was fun, creative and it helped pay the bills,” she said. When the government sent the couple to Germany, Dunphy opened a shop there, doing flowers for the military. That was fun, too, but being a florist was not fulfilling. The “artist kid” wanted to be an “artist adult.”

When the next move took the Dunphys to Alaska, Kathleen thought, “If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.” She didn’t want to be someone at the end of her life thinking that she could have been a good artist had she ever tried. So she started making color pencil drawings of people’s pet dogs and selling the drawings. She took classes and started working in oils. A coffee shop gave her a show, which was seen by a gallery owner in 1998. And that’s all it took. The gallery owner began to represent her and Dunphy’s career took off.

Now, although she still loves to draw, she works mostly in oil. And her work is lauded nationwide.

Galleries in Utah, Massachusetts, Wyoming, South Carolina and Maine handle her paintings. She has won Best of Show from the American Impressionist Society, an Award of Excellence from the Oil Painters of America and Grand Prize at the Acadia Invitational Exhibition in Bar Harbor, Maine, among many other honors. The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum purchased a painting for its permanent collection as have corporations. She has been profiled in several major art publications.

Her work has also been exhibited in shows at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, the Haggin Museum in Stockton, California, the Napa Valley Museum and the Laguna Art Museum.

Private collectors appreciate her talent, too.

“We were attracted to Kathleen Dunphy’s work because of her extraordinary ability to capture a sense of place and a moment in time,” wrote Kathy and Stan Cross in a recent email. The Crosses, of San Joaquin County, California, own 30 Dunphy paintings. “Her use of light in our opinion is extraordinary.”

“I really love light and the effect that light has,” Dunphy said. “I go out really early in the morning and late in the day. The first light hitting the earth is magical.”

She works “en plein air” — on location outside — and in her studio. But even the studio works begin with an on-site visit.

“I never do a painting in the studio without some sort of legwork on location,” she said. “I think emotional connection to work is really important to painting. I’m trying to get the feeling of what I see. There is editing. There’s rearranging, because you want to make a work of art. (But) I don’t radically change (the landscape), because if I’m doing that, why do I bother to stand out there?”

She occasionally uses photos to jog her memory of a place, and she makes thumbnail sketches on site which inform her studio works. Her paintings depict her impressions of the natural world in the vicinity of her home in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and farther afield.

“I’m really fortunate. I can get to snow in 45 minutes and it’s three hours to the ocean,” Dunphy said. The Crosses like her interpretations of different landscapes.

“Kathleen’s subject matter is wide and varied, thereby providing collectors with the opportunity to experience beautiful paintings ranging from the Maine coast, the Rocky Mountains, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, the California coast, and Yosemite National Park, among others, not to mention beautiful still lifes and paintings of intimate scenes, such as a couple enjoying the view from inside the Ahwahnee Hotel. We always look forward to viewing Kathleen’s new work,” they wrote.

Dunphy accepted the invitation to the Jackson Center show because she thinks it will be a fun event.

“Alumapalooza,” she laughed. “How can you resist?” At press time, she had not selected which painting she will submit. It’s likely to be one that’s not yet begun.

“I’m going to paint like crazy until the deadline and then pick the best one to go,” she said. She can’t quite articulate what she’d still like to achieve.

“I have these paintings in my head. I guess I’m always trying to get that emotion on canvas. There are many times when I can’t get that to come through. It’s not what brush, pigment, technique to use. It’s more intangible,” she added, the words tumbling out.

More words tumble when she considers what one piece of art, from among all that have ever been created, she would like to own.

“I saw a painting by Joaquin Sorolla. There was a show last year. It was a study. He did these beautiful paintings. A painting burned itself onto my retina. I don’t know its name. It was of oxen. It was carved out of paint. (If I owned it,) I would sit in front of it and stare at it and never get anything done. The brush work was incredible,” she said.

Photos of Dunphy’s work can be seen at kathleendunphy.com.


By Patricia Ann Speelman

[email protected]

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.