For most people, a thistle is simply a weed, but Durant artist Kathy Sturch sees a story in the purple bloom of the simple plant. Everything she paints, whether in a floral, a landscape or a portrait, has a story that speaks to her. “There is beauty in the things that we discard,” she said. “Flowers have personalities that are beautiful. [Painting them is] like working with the women’s portraits that I do.”
Early in her artistic career, Sturch did abstract and experimental painting, but as she has grown older, her style of painting has evolved into what she refers to as “realistic expressionism,”a style combining familiar images that people can recognize with aspects of the impressionism of such 19th century artists as Renoir, Monet, Cezanne and Degas.
Working mainly in watercolors, she estimates she has done more than one hundred commissioned portraits, and this side of her work, the portraits, has helped shaped her other work as she searches for the story she wants to paint.
“It’s more than just a person sitting there. It’s a personality. I like to paint beyond what you’re seeing visually and to perceive an inner quality. Painting figures to me is just like painting anything else. It’s part of nature. It’s full of life. People are full of life, and they tell a story in the way they talk, the way they sit, what they look like, and I love to paint the story.”
Beyond portraiture, Sturch finds a market for what she calls “people portraits,” and as a mother of five and a grandmother of thirteen, she calls on her extended family to pose for her. In one case, she used a son to portray a young man with a musical horn.
“My thought as a professional artist was that people were not going to buy a picture of people unless they were their people, unless it was their child, grandchild, husband or wife, but they do. They buy them if they see something in the painting that speaks to them.”
Sturch has been painting professionally for more than two decades since earning her Masters of Art Education at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. She also has taught in public and private schools and in the teaching environment been obliged to explore more subjects than just people and things.
Landscapes, in particular, were a challenge. “When I look at a landscape, I see this huge wonderful expanse of the world out there, and how do I figure out what part of that to paint. I began relating my landscape to the way I painted a portrait. Pick out something and paint that.”
Simple enough, but for Sturch, painting is more than that. “Painting is all about seeing the unseen. Interpreting nature and people and relationships in the medium of watercolor is exciting as well as challenging. Just watching the paint move and find a rightful place on paper is enough to keep me painting.”