creative and dynamic
approaches to nature
Katherine Wolf Webb’s art celebrates the world
GBy Kathryn Manis ROWING UP in the 1950s, Katherine Wolf Webb wasn’t able to devote herself
to art-making. Later, because of prevailing social conventions and family
commitments, Webb dedicated much of her time to her growing family.
However, when Webb was 7 years old her mother had gifted the budding
painter a watercolor palette, encouraging Webb to cultivate her gift. This
medium became one of her favorites for its ease of transport and for the
speed with which she could deploy it during precious free time.
As Webb explains, “I raised three boys during the 1960s to the 1980s, and I was a child of the
1940s and 1950s. So, I was the perfect wife and the perfect mother, which meant that I had no
time for myself. During that time, watercolor was the quickest and easiest thing that I could do.”
She also says that watercolors encourage an important balance of skill and flexibility in the
user, a quality that has always appealed to her.
“Watercolor is inexpensive, it’s quick, it’s easy to transport,” she says. “It’s fun and it does its
own thing, which means that you have to learn to be comfortable letting it do its thing and
learn how to use that.”
Webb has continued to nurture this early connection to watercolors, exploring contemporary
and historical techniques. Some of her newest pieces, like “Tiger Lily” and “Small Bouquet,” dem-onstrate
an affinity for Japanese watercolors. These smaller paintings, 9.5 x 9.5 inches and 6 x 11
inches respectively, have an intimate and delicate feel that is enhanced by the fine paper most
often used in the medium.
“Tiger Lily” depicts an elaborate arrangement of bright flowers and large-leafed greenery fixed
centrally in the composition. Lilies rendered in bright shades of red and orange are surrounded by
broad ferns, tall bamboo and dainty budding flowers, and are flanked by a tropical green tree frog
and perching monarch butterfly.
Though the piece is fixed, there is a palpable sense of motion to it; the butterfly seems to have
just alighted, the frog is poised to hop out from under its floral cover, and the foliage seems on
the verge of swaying in a light breeze. Webb fills in the space between the plant leaves and stalks
with shades of blue, from jewel-toned to a near-grey. This creates an eye-catching and brighten-ing
balance between the represented wildlife and the stark white of the paper.
Where “Tiger Lily” showcases its still-life from some distance, “Small Bouquet” features a close-up view of small-petalled
and deep purple flowers that are framed by graceful, heart-shaped leaves. Both images invite the viewer to come closer and
appreciate them privately, encouraging a personal and quiet experience.
They likewise demonstrate Webb’s ultimate hope for the works that she creates. While Webb always makes art that gives
her joy and is unwilling to work in styles that are trending or “popular” for that reason alone, she also uses her art to cultivate
an appreciation for the natural world.
As Webb puts it, “I think beauty is the main object of my work. But I also want it to be interesting and unusual; hopefully,
my pieces can help people look at things a different way and see things a different way when they see them in nature.”
With the responsibilities and efforts of domestic duties largely completed, Webb has more recently been able to focus
solely on her art practice, opening up more time for experimentation. Webb remarks with a good-natured and contagious
laugh that art is both what she has always done and the only thing that she can do. This dogged preoccupation with her
craft, Webb says, has led her to pursue many creative avenues and try out an impressive array of artistic techniques.
WBM september 2019