The artist’s watercolor paintings are on view in our Wicker Park gallery
You’ll forgive us for not knowing exactly where to start our profile of artist Kathie Shaw, whose watercolor paintings are now on display in the “Illuminate” exhibit in our Wicker Park art gallery. Just one look at Shaw’s bio and you’ll understand why. Trying to find a unifying thread among the many phases of her life is like trying to identify the first stroke in an impressionist painting.
Watercolor Paintings Inspired by Architecture
A reasonable thread to grab might, however, be openness (and the absence of it). She spent her childhood in the famously insular Pennsylvania Dutch culture. Though Shaw has fond memories of her childhood, a rural life was not in her future.
“It was a wonderful, idyllic childhood in so many ways, but I could also see that the idea of closing one’s entire society off from the larger community was problematic – especially for women in that culture.”
Which might explain why even as a child Shaw knew she wanted to spend a life creating– creating art, yes, but also creating her own way in life. She had art lessons from an early age, and she spent her days sketching floor plans of fantasy homes, which was a portent for her future.
She left the enclave of Dutch culture, first to get a BFA in Penn State and then to pursue an MFA in painting and drawing from Chicago’s School of the Art Institute (SAIC). After 6-1/2 years of working at the Art Institute in the Asian Department and then as Co-Director of Jan Cicero Gallery for 13 years, she went on to pursue the degree that would have probably delighted the floor plan-obsessed childhood Kathie.
“I had the opportunity to go to UIC to study architecture, and that definitely did change my life,” Shaw said. “It was the hardest thing I have ever done, possibly because I was an older student, but it was also an amazing, expansive experience for me.”
Her architecture studies gave her the opportunity to travel the world. She immersed herself in cultures very different from the one she grew up in, including Italy’s, Switzerland’s and Japan’s, which fed her love of Asian culture.
“I had worked in the Asian department at the Art Institute while attending SAIC. The curator of the Japanese print collection, Osamu Ueda, became somewhat of a mentor to me,” Shaw said. “I had a unique opportunity to “live with” the department’s collection for a number of years, and that truly influenced my thinking, if not the style of my work.”
This love of Asian culture is also what drew her to study Tibetian buddhism, which frankly is an article all its own. Suffice it to say that her studies, which have spanned her life since it first caught her interest in her early 20s (and even have given her the opportunity to be in the company of the Dalai Lama), are also responsible for the openness thread that we’ve tenuously pulled for this profile.
“I am hardly a perfect practitioner, not even a good one, but this system of examination of the self and the nature of reality has definitely improved my ability to go easier on others and also on myself,” Shaw said.
Shaw’s openness is likely appreciated by her husband and best friend, artist Corey Postiglione, also a Springboard Arts Chicago artist. Shaw’s description of life with two artists in one family sounds about as inspiring as you might imagine. She says she and Postiglione listen to music, talk to each other, and work in their studio, which has become a haven during this pandemic.
“Sometimes, if Corey is waiting for ‘paint to dry’ he will read articles to me from old art magazines,” Shaw said. “He has saved them over the years, so he will just pick one up and start going through it.”
That sounds about as good as it gets when you’re safely hunkering down in your studio during a pandemic. But being an artist is not without its challenges.
“It’s sad that this society doesn’t provide more support for artists,” Shaw laments. “There is a general lack of knowledge about the arts that has grown worse in the last thirty years since the government, because of a lack of funds, has removed arts education from public schools.”
And while she acknowledges that many sectors of society are struggling mightily due to the pandemic, targeted relief for the arts is politically unpopular.
“Museums are hurting terribly. It speaks to a basic lack of appreciation for the arts in general and how it has the capacity to raise the level of understanding across cultures,” Shaw said. “Because of a lack of education, art can seem elitist to many, but if allowed to flourish it can actually provide a bridge to understanding.”
A Rewarding Journey
Though Shaw has been featured in art shows and likely inspired plenty of artists in her life, she doesn’t see those as being the most rewarding aspect of her career. She believes that creating art is its own reward.
“It gives back in so many unfathomable ways,” Shaw said. “It is really satisfying to have an idea about something you want to say visually and then to realize that idea to the best of one’s ability.”
“When you look at a great painting, listen to great music, read a great literary work, or watch a great dance or performance, you are absorbing the energy of the artist or artists,” Shaw said. “It is a great gift, and can span time, space, and language.
Which brings us back to our openness thread. While she rides out the pandemic in her studio with Postiglione, rest assured she doesn’t feel a need to close herself off to anything or anyone.
Shaw said, “The studio doesn’t block the influences of the outside world; it provides a place to work things out.”