Kay Stratman was trained in traditional Asian brush painting, a watercolor method that uses distinctive brush strokes to create delicate yet vibrant color washes.
But, over the years, her technique has morphed into something distinctly her own.
Her latest exhibit, “Natural Abstractions,” on display at the Art Association Gallery at the Center for the Arts from Friday to July 29, takes inspiration from nature and turns it into abstract, colorful, vibrant paintings.
Broadly speaking her work is made up of colorful landscapes and scenes of wildlife. The exhibit draws its inspiration from nature as well — even though the final, abstracted result could be interpreted in an infinite number of ways.
“For me, they’re not completely abstract but for others they might be,” she said. “It’s fun for people to see something completely different from what I intended.”
Her painting method combines the control and precision of her training with the spontaneity and fluidity of the natural subjects she likes to paint.
The subject matter of her paintings includes hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, exploding nebulae in the night sky or even a walk through the woods among the elms. One of her paintings in the exhibit, “Nova,” is based on photographs from NASA’s Hubble telescope.
“Everything’s an exaggeration of nature,” she said.
Her technique involves layering stained rice paper infused with molten beeswax, also known as the encaustic method, in order to create depth and visual interest in her paintings. At the opening reception Stratman will demonstrate the fusion technique she used to create her art — blowtorch and all — and will raffle a small piece.
“I used the watercolor on the rice paper in a very abstract way,” she said. “I would stain the paper to make all these colors run together and add interesting textures.”
Stratman has worked on this body of work for years and accumulated about 30 pieces. The exhibit will occupy two floors at the Center.
Seen in person, Stratman’s work has an added dimension to it.
“One thing that photographs don’t show you is the surface texture, which has all sorts of ripples and wrinkles in it,” she said.
While the aqua blues and greens of nature dominate, one piece from the exhibit uses muted tones of gray, pink and purple.
While the inspiration usually comes first and the execution second, sometimes the process will be reversed — she’ll notice that she’s created colored papers that look like something she didn’t intend them to, like fall foliage.
“I layer four or five pieces of paper on my painting boards and then I’ll splash and paint puddles of color on them,” she said.
In that process some layers end up saturated with color and others less so. Stratman then peels them apart and decides which ones she feels work best for her artistic vision.
But Stratman hasn’t completely abandoned the form she was trained in, and the exhibit includes references to Asian brush painting. If you look at the colorful abstractions long enough, you’ll notice elements like bamboo amidst the Western landscapes.
Stratman will give an artist’s talk July 20 at 6 p.m., coinciding with the townwide Gallery Art Walk.