Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kate Long Stevenson:
On classicism in music and painting and how Russian art influences her work. Also. Dr. Dre. Yeah

Kate Long Stevenson. Left: Romeo and Juliet, Prokofiev x28; Right: Prokofiev

This interview was supposed to go up a couple of days ago but I struggled with the introduction. Not because I didn't know what to say but because I had too much to say. So let me try again and please be patient if I ramble.

Kate Long Stevenson's beautiful paintings are inspired by classicism: in music and in art. Her abstract paintings, are interpretations of the music to which she is listening. I adore her work and found the particular paintings I'm sharing with you today on Pinterest, which is really bizarre because...   

... Katie and I have known each other since we were babies. Well, not really, but sort of. We both went to Sewanee and took a whole lot of classes together that I think have informed my intellectual interests ever since but at the time were mostly driven by the fact that I had a huge puppy crush on a certain history professor {turns out I was not the only one}. I knew that Kate was an artist in college and I knew that she had continued to paint professionally. However, it wasn't until I recently saw her work on some random stranger's board that I realized how we must have been really busy doing the college thing because even though we took every single Russian History class the school had to offer (including History of Socialism!!!), we never actually talked about what truly moved us and inspired us.  

But, as the conversation below will suggest, it turns out that what they say about art bringing people together is true. Here we talk about Kate's influences and how her obsession with the Romanovs led to a life-long passion for Russian art, history and culture.
On a slightly sentimental note, I  felt my heart grow bigger as I was reading Katie's responses. As an immigrant, I think I often struggle to negotiate my background with my current life and often find myself pushing parts of myself to a corner... somewhere. That's practical in many ways– and, I am sure, many people need to do that...whatever multitudes of identities they are trying to juggle– but sometimes I feel that makes for a choppy, incomplete self...   

Talking to Kate, I am reminded how thoughtful, authentic art can really fill those empty spaces we all have inside. And it can push us to tell completely new stories about ourselves and how we wish we could be.

I hope you enjoy.  

Kate, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me! Your work is very much inspired by classical music. The paintings above are your interpretations of Prokofiev pieces. How closely are the paintings and the music related? Could you describe your process? 

Music really is the foundation of every painting I create, and some are literal interpretations of the same piece; in the case with these two, Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet." The movement, brushstrokes, color and tempo were all dictated by the music, beginning with gestural strokes of charcoal + red oil pastel topped with stronger "chords" of color in gouache and oil paint. Regardless of Russia's history in the 20th century, the music just "sounds" red to me, hence the dominant use of that color. With "Romeo and Juliet, 28x" the 28x means the twenty-eight times I listened to the music straight through before the painting was complete. The "Prokofiev" piece was a looser interpretation of the music, in that it was "built" by listening to Prokofiev but not repeatedly.

Has classical music always been important to you? Which composers seem to influence your work the most?

I grew up studying both classical ballet and the violin, which furthered an intrinsic love of music. I've painted Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet", Beethoven's "Seventh Symphony Allegretto", and Philip Glass's "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra" a handful of times, each…oddly enough, however, "Forget about Dre" has been really influential in my most recent body of work. It's got a great beat! :)

If I remember correctly, in college we both took all the Russian history classes we could and I see that so many years later (ok, not THAT many) you still seem to have a soft spot for Russian history and culture. I just get a huge kick out of that because I do too! People always ask me why and I have such a hard time explaining. All I want to say is read a Chekhov short story! Or listen to Shostakovich! You will get it! So... now I'm going to put you on the spot and ask, how do YOU explain your interest in Russian music, history, art?

We did! More precisely, every class taught by Dr. Goldberg that I could get into! What a phenomenal teacher. I love the quote, "Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma"---always in search of itself and magnificent in its geography, beauty, mysticism, scandal, and tumultuousness. Century after century, they just can't get it right! My real interest in Russian anything began with my high school summer reading assignment of Robert K. Massie's, "Nicholas and Alexandra." It was utterly fascinating, and so began a total obsession with the Romanovs (in fact, I heard "Romeo + Juliet" for the first time when watching a National Geographic video on the family). That sparked greater attention paid to the Russian arts that I'd already loved but of which I was suddenly more aware: Tchaikovsky, Mark Rothko, "Dr. Zchivago" etc etc…

As a painter, do you find it difficult to continue to create work that takes care, thoughtfulness and time when such a huge portion of how we live seems to take place in digital, fast-forward mode? 

Great question, but I can't say that I find any difficulty in that…if anything, it makes life easier for me as an artist and I'm besotted with anything Apple. The contrast of working with paint + canvas is a refreshing departure from the daily grind. It's so basic, so uninhibited and free…which, on the flip side, takes a lot of patience and discipline.

Where do you look when you need a break from your work? Do you have any good book recommendations or websites you like that you can recommend? 

When I'm in need of a break, it's usually because I'm utterly and completely stumped, so studying the work of other abstract expressionists (Willem de Kooning is my all-time favorite, and Joan Mitchell has been a recent influence) helps in giving me permission to stop overthinking a piece, as their work is so perfect in its imperfection. Visiting galleries and museums is essential in gathering a fresh perspective (The MOMA is a favorite, as well as the Met's Impressionist wing, which leads right into the abstract expressionist area and houses my favorite de Kooning of all time, "Easter Monday"). I love Pinterest…a few of my paintings were inspired by color combinations in interior spaces that I'd liked. Just as with the aforementioned Dr. Dre influence, a painting can come from anything. Book-wise, I recommend Steve Martin's brilliant novel, "An Object of Beauty" which is such an entertaining perspective on the New York art world.

You can view more of Kate's work at

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