Kathryn Fenton took a plunge six years ago and moved from the Northern Beaches of Sydney to the Coffs Coast. With art in her genes, when she isn’t assisting in a primary school art programme or working on the books for her husband’s business, she is painting.
Where are you from, and what brought you to Coffs? Do you have a family?
I’m originally from Queensland, but I have spent most of my adult life in Sydney, with the last 18 years living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. After four years of spending wonderful summer holidays with the family on Coffs’ Northern Beaches, my husband and I decided to finally act on our dreams of a sea change away from the daily hustle and grind … A quieter environment, where we had more time to reflect on our lives.
It’s been just over six years now living in this little paradise at Safety Beach, with my son completing his HSC year and my daughter now living in Brisbane in her third year at uni.
How did you first develop an interest in art?
Sometimes I wonder if genetics has a lot to do with it. Both my mother and grandmother were extremely creative and her sister a talented landscape painter. Any spare moment as a child I spent painting and drawing. In my high school years I had the most brilliant art teacher, Mrs. McIntyre, at the girls’ college I attended. She was so inspiring, that many of her students went on to careers in the visual arts field as professional artists or teachers of art.
What are your formal qualifications? Or are you self taught?
After completing high school, I went straight into a three year diploma course in Visual Communications and Graphic Design at the Brisbane College of Arts. Although I was mainly training to be a graphic designer, I also took on extra fine arts subjects, as well as photography and filmmaking. For myself, I needed a balance between the rigid disciplines of design to more looser concepts found in fine art.
Have you exhibited?
My first shared exhibition was in 1990 with a group of other artists from the Chinese Brush Painting Society in Sydney. A few major detours happened to me after Art College, where I got heavily involved with filmmaking and completed another diploma course at the Australian Film and Television School and went on to be a film and sound editor for several years. After living and working in Hong Kong for a time with my filmmaker husband, I became fascinated with contemporary Chinese painting and on my return home, sought out two great teachers to learn the discipline. I really connected spiritually with the philosophy of this ancient art, and I’ve often used elements from it frequently in my painting over the years.
My work evolved greatly over the next decade or so, where I painted in different mediums – especially mixed media – and exhibited my work throughout Sydney’s Northern Beaches, from Manly Raglan Gallery all the way to Palm Beach, as well as Mosman and North Sydney Galleries. Close to home in these past six years I’ve exhibited in Liminal Space Gallery, The Bunker Gallery, Lake Russell Gallery and Woolgoolga Gallery.
Describe your artistic style?
To be truthful, I have two distinct styles going at once. As an artist I do not like to become too complacent, so I feel the need to experiment and push the boundaries constantly. Because of my somewhat rigid formal training in design, I have been on a mission ever since to lend integrity to my work by being more spontaneous, intuitive and emotionally expressive. Over the last couple of years especially, I try to pursue the tension between order and disorder in my subjects and their environment.
Where can we see your work?
At present my work can be mainly viewed on my new web page: www.kfenton.com.au or by appointment. I often enter work in local art prizes such as Lillypilly and Bellingen, and towards the end of the year I will be exhibiting my work at the Painters Gallery in Mona Vale, Sydney.
Where does your passion derive? How do you get motivated?
I do a lot of portrait and figurative work, as I have always been infatuated by the human body as a subject. It has been a continuous inspiration to me, particularly when I do life classes. The chance to interpret the human form with spontaneous, fluid and sensual lines I find an intoxicating experience. Apart from the figure, I find my motivation to paint from many sources. Sometimes it’s dramatic light in the landscape, a novel I’ve read, or a picture from a magazine I might use to abstract from or other artists’ work that inspires me.
Where do you paint?
I have a small but bright and lofty treetop studio that I share with our office, but I can often be heard bemoaning how I need more space, partly because I often work on large canvases.
Some of my best work evolves when painting in large studios with other artists in all day workshops. I purposely seek that environment from time to time to loosen up my painting technique.
Do you work from life, photographs or imagination?
Sometimes I can incorporate all three. I can spend weeks sometimes researching a subject and entering my thoughts and sketches in visual diaries. I may enlarge a photograph and start painting and drawing over it to use as a rough guide for my final work.
What painting techniques do you use?
Depending on what surfaces I use, I will vary my technique accordingly. I love working on paper for its versatility when using mixed media. There are certain nuances achieved with the grain, graduation and bleeding of colours that can’t be obtained on canvas. At the moment, I have been painting some large portraits with mono printing in ink and acrylics but abstracting the backgrounds by diluting the paint with water and flow medium.
With canvases, I spend considerable time prepping them before I get into painting the main subject. I like to cover up the grain on the canvas with a layer of modelling paste; when it’s partially dry, I take a paint scraper and scratch out areas and other lines, being mindful of where I’ll position the main subject. I’ll then paint some background surfaces and maybe spray and rub or scour some more areas away.
What is more important to you, the subject of your painting or the way it’s executed?
For me, it’s intrinsic I have both working. The subject is always the catalyst or inspiration when drawing or painting, but the technique is always the conduit to my final vision of the finished work.
What painting has the most meaning to you?
There are a couple of paintings on my walls that are special to me in the sense of what they represent. Usually it’s because of a new technique I feel I’ve executed well, which has later spurned a series of work in a similar style.
What does a day in the life of Kathryn Fenton look like?
Like many artists, my artistic endeavours have to play second fiddle to the reality of going to work in a ‘real job’. In my case, it’s more than one. I assist a teacher to deliver an art programme to primary school children from Kinder to Year Six. Also, several hours a week are devoted to running the accounts of my husband’s business, and this year in particular we have the added demands of supporting our son sitting the HSC.
It’s the nights that I use to gather and jot down my ideas for new art projects. I try to get to life classes once a month to keep my drawing skills up, but usually it’s the weekends where I get momentum to build on my projects. I’ve been a mad keen photographer since art college days and just love to go deep into the countryside to capture the shifting and contrasting light of these magnificent landscapes.