When Kathryn Trotter moved to Birmingham from Atlanta, she didn’t paint, not for two years. And her energy diminished. “We were in an apartment, and I wasn’t about to leave my kids and get a separate studio space. And I certainly wasn’t inspired by the décor,” she says with a laugh. Instead, she focused on her kids. “But it’s amazing kind of what all you crave when you don’t get what you really need,” she recalls. “You’re just constantly needing something else…You’re just more likely to go to extremes with something else when you’re not getting fed that creativity.”
The hiatus has now ended and she’s back into paint, but it helped Kathryn to see the importance of finding time every day to express her creativity. “If I don’t have time to paint, I find something else creative to do. Because otherwise it comes out in other ways, like you might shop too much or eat too much, you know? Other things get out of balance. I think if you’re creative, if you don’t channel that passion into somewhere, it comes out somewhere else because it has to come out.”
Today Kathryn’s paintings, tapestry works done with a palette knife, hang throughout the Grand Bohemian Mountain Brook Gallery. Her fashion-oriented works, including portraits of chic women in Chanel-esque attire going about their daily lives, greet people as they walk inside. To Kathryn, these women represent a time, she says, women were “softer.”
“The fashion is really inspired by…that vintage woman from decades ago who kind of knew her place in this world,” she says. “She was strong but she knew when to take a step back and be quietly strong. Whereas a lot of times women these days feel like they need to prove something in this world, that they’re a woman and they have all this power and the women back then had a lot of power. You would be surprised how many men are drawn to those paintings because they know what woman I’m painting and they miss that feminine woman…soft but very strong.”
Toward the back of the gallery, sunshine beams illuminate her vibrant paintings of birds on display. Mary Smith, the operator of the gallery, says the birds are a favorite amongst the staff and patrons. “We’ve dubbed the corner ‘The Aviary,’” she says with a laugh. The birds are not inspired by any particular breed, Kathryn says, but more so reflect the ones that have stood out to her, perhaps from a book or during a trip to the zoo. One large piece in particular she points out has “a lot of peacock qualities.”
Kathryn’s journey toward artistry started when she was a young girl in Mississippi. Her parents were always encouraging of her artistic streak, but her father was wary of art school. “He always encouraged me being an artist and he always was like, ‘You should make that your career if you want it to be your career.’ But we were in Charleston one year and we were able to meet with a very well-known artist, John Carol Doyle. He looked at my portfolio and he said, ‘You cannot go to art school. It will ruin you,’ and my dad really took that to heart. He didn’t want it corrupting my style.”
Kathryn is grateful for that advice, however, as she’s seen how it can hinder some artist’s creativity. “I see a lot of artists in galleries who kind of morph their style to other artists and you don’t recognize their work anymore,” she says.
Instead of art school, Kathryn graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in textiles and apparel design. From there she focused her creative expression in areas of design ranging from wallpaper design to the New York fashion scene, all the while painting on the side. She even credits her painting style to her work in textile design and her love of French tapestry. “I just felt that was sort of lacking in the art world,” she says. “It’s one of those pieces of art that doesn’t always have a strong focal point, and it can kind of hang in any room and take a back seat or it can become the focal point. And that’s one reason a lot of people love them because they can make it the focal point or they can make it this beautiful piece of art that can feel just like a fabric and make the room feel warm.”
Kathryn and her family now reside in Mountain Brook, a place where she’s happy to show her art and raise her family. “With the villages and the pedestrian aspect of it, everyone can kind of be out and about, and it’s easier to meet people and see everyone, so it was a better fit for us as newcomers.”
Today amidst her art career, Kathryn’s three children, an 18-month-old boy and two girls ages 5 and 7, are her top priority. “I have to be a mom before I put all my efforts into my art, or else it just makes me anxious,” she says. “It just creates this dissonance because in my heart and in my mind I know that that is tip-top priority to me. So if it gets out of balance, it comes out in my art.”
Her 7-year-old, Caroline, has even taken after her mother’s creativity, something Kathryn says she is more than happy to encourage. “All of these parents have their children enrolled in all of these different things like softball, ballet, soccer, and we just asked her, ‘What do you want to do?’ And she just loves art. She loves to draw and paint.” Kathryn even consults with her daughter if she encounters any obstacles with a project. “If I’m stuck, she’s the first person I’m going to ask. She’ll come in and she’ll know immediately what I need to do.”
For more information on Kathryn Trotter and her work, visit kathryntrotterart.com. Her work is currently displayed in the Grand Bohemian Mountain Brook Gallery.