Vermont Arts Council

Light in the Spotlight

The paintings are not meek. The frames are substantial, the pigment often dark and generously applied. The drawings are accurate and balanced. Many of the pieces reference relationships: a farmer with a cow, a man and his son, musicians playing their instruments. There are still lifes: a rose, apples, a whimsical kitchen accessory. Three nudes are sketched with Conté Crayon. This is the work of Katie Runde, now hanging in the Spotlight Gallery.

The show’s title, “Etudes,” tells you something about the artist. She is a clarinetist and saxophonist who studied at the Eastman  School of Music. She plays in pit orchestras and a sassy band called The Party Crashers. She also has an advanced degree in religious studies and has been a Waldorf teacher. When she recently dedicated herself to making visual art, she came to the vocation she “had been trying to run away from that finally caught up with (her).”

A Family Affair

Katie’s family is centered in the humanities. Her parents, and even her godparents, have degrees in English — her father a PhD. When her “life is falling apart,” she calls him; he recites an apropos poem to her. Her sister, who is “good at everything … an incentive to spend my childhood drawing my brains out to catch up with her in something'” just finished a PhD in medieval literature; Katie calls her a “medieval manuscript sleuth.” Her mother is an artist whose career is inspiring Katie now and always has. “While I was little she did some calligraphy and illustration, so I was often around a working artist and was able to see that as something both legitimate and peaceful. She was a stay-at-home mom and did a lot of drawing with my sister and I … then went back to school to get her BFA from Lyme Academy College of Fine Art at age 60!”

When Katie left teaching as a career in 2013 she was teaching art classes, milking cows, designing labels, and “driving all over creation for lessons.” As the overwork became unsustainable, she had to make choices. She committed to painting as of this summer, and, “There’s no turning back now!”

In the transition Katie “looked back to art in a large part because (her mother) had paved the way. I couldn’t have done any of it without her … she’s doing some great art down in Hartford, Connecticut now and working so hard she keeps me on my toes.” Katie is on her toes and working from the heart. “I feel like I’ve come home. This is where my five-year-old self wanted to be the whole time.”

Other Artists

“I’ve always resonated with the academic traditions of the 19th century.” These are some of her favorites: “Sargent, of course. Bouguereau. He’s a little on the saccharin side, but he’s got chops.” Also Wayne Thiebaud, whose “colors are delicious,” and the Russian painter Ilya Repin “whose portraits look back at you.” For living artists, she loves Adrian Gottlieb, who “does magic with light,” and her teacher Evan Wilson.

She is also inspired by the late Lew Soloff, a trumpet player. After teaching a workshop Katie attended in 2002, he became a long-distance mentor. Their work together focused on rhythm first, then soul. To Katie, visual art is the same. Her photorealistic representation is akin to a song’s rhythm. Then, she adds soul: “You can have all the chops in the world, but it’s gotta’ have spark to it. I have to live into them, or else there’s no point.” She wants her painting to show “breadth of experience as a human being.”

Reverence, Light, and Beauty

Although she paints them, strawberries and roses once held little interest for Katie. Inanimate subjects lacked “that life spark that was interesting and always had been.”  This shifted when she started “seeing how the light colors something — how it shapes it. Not ‘here is the essence of apple, but the essence of light.'”

The study became awe. “You have to rejoice in it, have to dig down in it.” She holds the objects in reverence. “So much of what you’re seeing is about color and light. Everything comes down to light.” The sense of awe pushes beyond painting. For Katie, “There’s a connection between theology and realist art. They’re both about attunement and digging into the mundane we experience every day and never necessarily notice. The more you do it, the more you see things deeply.”

One effect on Katie is that she has become more particular about her surroundings. “The ‘real world’ is almost painful now. I grew up in the suburbs and I couldn’t go back.” Vermont’s “pace, priorities, and extensive natural beauty make it the ideal haven to hunker down and get to work, and keep things in perspective.”

Take a few minutes to see Katie’s art. If for no other reason, because “beauty is important and nourishing to people whether they remember it or not.”

read the artist statement

Katie Runde’s website

Susan McDowell

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