Plein-Air Painter Kimberly Trowbridge Captures the Natural World’s Breathtaking Display [Interview]
Kimberly Trowbridge wants you to observe your world through an inquisitive lens and give in to the visceral act of perception—when you’re looking at her art and when you’re folding your laundry.
Trowbridge, a Seattle-based color lecturer, observes the natural world through the attentive eyes of a plein-air painter. “I believe that nature is the most exciting and complex theater for the observation of color and shape relationships,” she writes in her artist statement. Studying these relationships, Trowbridge argues, opens a world of personal experience and feeling for the individual: “Working from nature is a way of re-articulating one’s perception, wherein the boundaries of the self are blurred and our connection to our environment is revealed as deeply intertwined.”
Ritualistic in nature, Trowbridge’s process is an exercise in awareness, similar to meditation—ironic, considering “meditation has always been somewhat elusive” to the plein-air painter. Bathed in the soothing color palette and texture variations of the Pacific Northwest, the artist’s work calls upon her long-term relationship with color theory to capture the natural world’s breathtaking display.
Trowbridge takes on the difficult task of distilling a living, breathing environment into paint and canvas, inviting you into her world with quiet grace. If you start spying small, unappreciated moments everywhere after seeing her work, that’s a big win for Trowbridge.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Kimberly Trowbridge discusses the concept of Arcadia, integrating creativity into everyday life, and facing anxiety and fear with a calm, clear mind.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Kimberly Trowbridge: Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art, by Lewis Hyde
Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Essays by Jane Hirshfield.
Which cultural concepts, themes, or philosophies inform your work?
KT: For over a decade I have been drawn to the concept of Arcadia. In classical painting and poetry, Arcadia is synonymous with Paradise—a pastoral, bucolic existence in harmony with nature. But it is also the stage upon which mortality is revealed. It is the acknowledgment of the inevitable presence of death within the cycle of life. I love engaging with this concept in my work as a plein-air painter. I spend a significant amount of time in natural settings that are astonishing theaters of both beauty and decay. To witness and to reveal multiple layers of perception as part of this phenomenal experience of being alive on Earth.
What are you trying to express with your art?
KT: Perception, for me, is a full-body experience. I hope that through my work others can become more aware of the beauty that surrounds them every day. To open up the possibilities of being a sentient being, in dialog with the forms, colors, and rhythms of experience. To feel part of a larger expression of life; a sentient being in a sentient universe.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
KT: I have found that I need full integration of my creative self into all aspects of my life. To dismantle barriers between different facets of my life, so that my entire existence is one larger gesture of presentness with, and awareness of, my ever-changing experience. Folding laundry, warm from the dryer. Walking in the forest and listening. Taking a nap. Making a painting. Reading a poem. Each element and activity is both mundane and sacred.
What does generosity mean to you as an artist?
KT: Generosity is fundamental to my practice as an artist and a teacher. Exposing the component parts of my visual language, so that others may identify a method and means for finding their own visual agency.
What does success mean to you as an artist?
KT: Success for me is creating a sustainable, daily practice of showing up for myself. Success is creating a lifestyle that holds creative inquiry at the center of all other actions.
What role does the artist have in society?
KT: Occupying the space between what is known and unknown. Threading the unknown into the fabric of our existence and thus expanding our perceptions of reality.
What’s your relationship with money?
KT: Only recently, after 20 years of a solid, prolific artistic practice, have I entered a place where I feel comfortable selling my work, and where I feel a healthy relationship with money. For most of my life, money has been tied to power and value in a way that never aligned with my own intuitions, and so I was operating from a place of defense. I think now that I am secure and confident in my practice as a meaningful way of life no matter the trends in the market or popularity, I am operating from a more generous place, where releasing my work into the world and being financially valued for my contributions feels natural and much easier.
Have you ever turned down an opportunity? Why?
KT: A major part of my own development as an artist has been learning to say “No,” even to potentially meaningful and/or lucrative opportunities. I used to say “Yes” to everything, and I was often burned-out and full of anxiety. I had to learn the hard way of finding my own balance which, for me, must include an unusual amount of solitude and creative space that is unattached to specific outcomes.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
KT: Next year I will be taking a sabbatical from teaching in order to focus on writing my book on color. This book will incorporate my practice-based color theory as a means for translating one’s experience into a poetic, visual language.
How does your geographical location affect your work and/or success?
KT: Living in the Pacific Northwest has an enormous influence on my work and my lifestyle. Being surrounded by moss and ferns and old-growth trees is a constant inspiration to me. The palette, the forms, and the textures are deeply embedded in my painting practice. It is also a place that is not by any means the center of the art world, which is important to me. I prefer to be on the periphery, where the rituals and meaning of my personal, artistic journey are prioritized over the clutter of external voices and expectations.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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