Growing up in the Midwest, I am accustomed to thunder storms. Each humid summer brings forth its share of powerful storms that hasten across the Iowa landscape. The rain’s soft cadence is displaced by the violent cracks of lightning and claps of thunder. The sky’s palette fluctuates between yellows, browns, greys, deep blues, and greens like a giant lava lamp with bulbous clouds rising to exponential heights releasing the downpours from above.
I had the incredible opportunity to live in New Zealand for a year. It was the experience of a lifetime, but there were things I missed – my relatives, real pepperoni pizza, and oddly enough, thunderstorms. There is something incredibly peaceful and humbling about storms. Perhaps that is why the work of Kathleen Rash resonates with me to such a degree. Kathleen is a certified storm spotter, a self-proclaimed storm geek, but, above all else, an incredibly talented artist. She shares my Midwest background, appreciation of the rural landscape, and love of thunderstorms.
“I remember riding as a youngster for what seemed like hours to my grandparent’s house to pick up my dad who had been working on the farm. As an adult, it took 20 minutes, but looking out the window at the Iowa landscape in central Iowa just had this imprint on me that has never left.”
Her passion for storms has fueled three series of works dedicated to their power, beauty, spontaneity, and fleeting nature. These same qualities are echoed in the production of her work where pastel pigments are applied to the paper, combined with surrounding hues, and burnished with the palm and fingers into explosive arrays of shades and tones.
“I am making a mess with the pastel. It is hands-on. I am touching the earth and putting it on paper, and I love it!”
These are monumental works whose sizes command attention. They draw you in and surround you. You can almost hear the rumble of thunder in the distance, smell the electricity in the air, and taste the sweetness of freshly fallen rain. Viewing her work is an emotional experience and it is meant to be.
Making them has been a pensive journey through a personal storm of sorts to a place of contentment, the harbor in the tempest. It is this place where Kathleen confronted the death of her partner, letting her emotions pour onto the page, channeling the energy of the storms she had witnessed and photographed first hand. This creative vigor has produced over ninety works, and she is far from being finished.
“This is me on the page. This is all about me dealing with who I’ve become after my partner’s death. This is me figuring out who I’ve been for 58 years. This is me finding new answers and asking new questions, which is even more exciting.”
As the series has evolved, the pieces have become more abstract, which she attributes to her own personal growth, and to her mentor and friend, Hans Breder, who passed away in 2017. Breder saw the potency of her pastels, seeing glimpses of Cezanne and Rothko in her art. He encouraged her to let go of the constraints of the horizon and focus on the emotive nature of her work. The results have even surprised Kathleen. Her new direction no longer follows a compass – there are no geographic coordinates to constrain her work. She has put herself onto the paper in this cathartic journey, and the rest is up to the viewer’s interpretation.
Mark Rothko, the famous abstract expressionist painter once said, “A painting is not a picture of an experience, but is the experience.” Take a walk through The Art Mission, Kathleen’s gallery in downtown Iowa City, and ask to view her work. As you look through the storms, see which pieces make you stop and take a closer look. Often, you can’t put your finger on what made you pause, but yet it drew you in, immersed you in the image. Great artists have this ability to convey emotion through their composition, balance, color, and depth. Great works of art require an audience and survive through companionship. The invitation is open … come experience the power of Kathleen’s storm series first hand.
Kathleen’s work can be found at The Art Mission, 114 South Linn Street, in Iowa City. Please see our resource page for more information.