The City Magazine Since 1975

Picture This

Picture This
July 2019

Katherine Dunlap finds inspiration in old photos

Katherine Dunlap in her Redux studio in front of Pearing (acryla gouache on birch panel, 60 by 60 inches)

What does the gap between truth and memory look like? In painter Katherine Dunlap’s world, that space is filled with brightly colored, stylized landscapes; figures who hover on the borders of abstraction—women harvesting oranges, a beachscape, people pulling a suitcase out of a car. These types of hazy images inspire the Redux-based artist who moved to Charleston from Athens, Georgia, about two years ago. After leaving University of Georgia, armed with a BFA in painting and drawing, Dunlap was lured by the Holy City’s beauty and its reputation as a welcoming locale for artists pursuing their craft.

Today, she spends her working hours in her Redux studio. She gathers inspiration from vintage photographs, many of which depict vacationers in recognizable scenes: riding a horse, leaping off a diving board, water skiing behind a motorboat.

Imaginary terrain: When I first moved here, I was interested in working mostly with landscapes. I was influenced by the tropical aspects of this town, which make it distinctly different from other places that I’ve lived. I started by collaging elements I saw with images from my imagination. I create places that are in a sense fictitious, but not necessarily because one can reference them to something real. I find they’re easily identifiable to most people.

Photographic memory: Over time my style has morphed. Now I work mostly from old family photos. Both of my grandparents passed away recently, and in their home we found an abundance of photographs and slides. Most of the ones I’ve used as inspiration are from the 1920s to the 1960s, depicting my grandparents’ and parents’ childhoods.

(Left) Just the Two of Us (acryla gouache on paper, 16 by 20 inches); (Right) Dive In - It’s hot. Really Hot. So hot, you might just want to dive into a pool. Or, at least stare longingly at one. We suggest this cool water scene painted by Katherine Dunlap.

Collective identity: Now that I’m working from these old photos, I’m still trying to create spaces that most people can identify with. I pick these images because I find them relatable to my own childhood. I figure that if I can connect to them, most people can too.

Moments in time: I call my paintings idealized memories. Each represents an ordinary moment in time that’s glorified with plants and colors. It looks like a dreamy situation though it really might have been just an ordinary day.

The process: I use acryla gouache, which is a newer product. I can layer it, but it dries super matte. There’s no sheen—it’s very flat and kind of velvety. I work either on birch panels or on paper which is what I’ve been gravitating to recently.


Images by (portrait) MaryKat Hoeser & courtesy of (Painting) Katherine Dunlap