Portrait of a Landscape: An Enid artist depicts features of the land that are both ordinary and sublime
I was so honored to be featured in the June/July issue of Etown, Enid's lifestyle magazine. Candace Krebs interviewed me, visited me in my studio and wrote what (I think) is a lovely article. She was such a pleasure to work with. I am publishing the article here courtesy of Etown.
Portrait of a Landscape
An Enid artist depicts features of the land that are both ordinary and sublime
By Candace Krebs
Catherine Freshley’s portraits often evoke a sense of recognition, familiarity or nostalgia. Her subjects aren’t people, though, but rather scenes from the land.
“Places just literally stop me in my tracks sometimes, and it doesn’t have to be anything you’d typically think of as breathtaking,” she says. “Maybe it’s the light or the color of the crops, but something about it speaks to me.”
Using acrylic paints, she sets out to capture that special quality in images that are simple, timeless and spare.
“The thing that I’ve come to realize is a lot of the country looks remarkably similar,” she notes. “A field in one of my paintings could be any of the places I’ve driven through — it might be Montana or Alabama or even the field right next to my house that I didn’t have to leave town to find.”
As she paints in her home studio, she uses Facebook to involve friends and fans in her creative process.
“I was working recently and having a debate online about including a certain element,” she recounts. “It was a scene from Southgate Road near Cleveland Avenue, and I was debating whether to put in the road sign. People were voting no, but I wanted the answer to be yes.”
In the end, she added the sign, and she was later surprised and pleased by how many people told her the scene looked just like their drive to work or some other road they travel regularly.
“My goal is not to paint something so the viewer will know exactly where it is. It is so you can connect with it and maybe it reminds you of a place that’s significant,” she says. “People end up attaching their own meaning to it, which I think is great.”
As for why the speed zone sign ended up being so pivotal to the painting, Freshley says it might have something to do with a concept she was introduced to by her husband, an avid photographer. It has to do with striking the right balance between the man-made and nature.
“An element in a scene might not be what you would consider visually beautiful in the real setting, but it is representative of the reality of the place,” she explains. “It looks wrong without it, but you might not know why.”
While Freshley values the authenticating detail, she also feels increasingly drawn to simplify and unclutter every scene down to its core essence. “What I’ve been asking myself lately is what would you get if you crossed Mark Rothko with my landscapes?” she muses.
Now in her late 20s, Freshley has been down a few roads and seen some memorable scenery prior to arriving in Enid. She grew up in the Pacific Northwest and attended college at Tulane University in New Orleans, where classes in art and creative writing fanned her artistic inclinations. Gradually, writing faded into the background as the call to paint became a priority.
“I like putting paint on the canvas, the movement of it, the action of using my hands,” she says.
Two and a half years ago, she married and later followed her husband to Enid. She has continued to work full-time for a 120-employee ad agency in a unique capacity that allows her to work remotely.
“I’m a strategist in the research department, which functions like an internal consulting group. We study cultural trends and consumers, who they are and what they think, what their challenges are, and how that intersects with products or services,” she explains. “It is extremely interesting work. I spend a lot of time in meetings, on the phone or by video-call, and I do a lot of internet research and reading, occasionally traveling to client offices for interviews with company officials, stakeholders and customers, developing marketing or rebranding campaigns. It’s both quantitative and qualitative research, involving weeks or months of research, and then I turn it into something short and sweet that I can give to the creative team.”
As an artist on the side, Freshley paints on commission and sells her pieces online at CatherineFreshleyArt.com. She looks forward to participating in more area shows like Creative Arts Enid’s Downtown Art Festival held this past spring.
“I was pretty surprised that so many people came out,” she says. “It shows there’s a demand for that type of event and for interaction with art and music and food that I didn’t know existed in Enid. A lot of people were eager to talk to me and to ask questions about my art. It was exciting and encouraging.”
A sampling of her work is currently on display at Garfield Furniture in Enid.
At first blush, Northwest Oklahoma might not seem like the ideal place for a landscape painter, especially when compared with the lush and distinctive terrain of the Pacific Northwest or the Deep South. But Freshley sees rich possibilities in the prairie panorama she now calls home.
“I’m so into the sky, and in Oklahoma it really shows up; the clouds, the sunrises and sunsets are stunning,” she says. “It doesn’t take much for me to be wowed. It could be a flat field but if the color of the crop is pretty, maybe a brilliant green, and the sky or clouds are in some way notable, that’s all I need.”
Even the region’s sometimes-fearsome spring and summer storms are a welcome source of creative inspiration.
“My husband has a degree in meteorology. He likes photography and he likes weather, so he’s really excited about being here,” she says with a laugh.
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