AUP students enjoying an evening picnic at the Seine river.

Paris

AUP Fine Arts Gallery Exhibits Katherine Dolgy Ludwig’s Light City

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On June 6–24, 2019, New York–based artist Katherine Dolgy Ludwig exhibited her collection of Paris-inspired watercolors in the AUP Fine Arts Gallery. The exhibition, entitled “Light City: Paintings of Paris,” was curated by Professor Jonathan Shimony. AUP student Alexandra Stearns caught up with Ludwig to discuss Ludwig’s singular approach to painting and the unique benefits of practicing fine arts in Paris.

Alexandra: When you’ve said “Paris is forever our Light City,” do you mean that figuratively or literally?

Katherine: I was at a dinner party a couple nights ago where I was asked to use one word as an artist to describe Paris. Instantly I thought of “Past” – when I am here I feel I am walking with the greats, columns of light who died long ago, but who are still here, figures shining right beside us every day. You can have a day at Musée Marmottan Monet, touch the sculptures on the Invalides bridge, and you are there with those who gave us this illuminated city. A painter walks with Delacroix and Monet every day in Paris.

I think about my responsibility to honor the memory of Soutine, who painted glorious, terrifying subjects, to share the glowing way he saw simple things. I think of the poverty of Monet for most of his life, and Renoir. But, all of these greats worked like angels to bring their vision of pure light to those around them. It is important to see this city – to really look – to see the truthful beauty of places and people.

Monet never minded people watching him paint. There is light all around me as people enjoy that I am painting in public. Our universal language is color and shape. The visual brain is not the thinking brain; it’s a way of seeing purely, seeing in numbers. The process begins with three colors to mix, one brush, a sheet of paper, a cup of water, and the ability to empty your mind and only see. Like a musician, your years of theory are there, but to play well you empty your mind.

Image | The Thinker by KDL, watercolor, 30x22in, 2019 

Alexandra: Have you always engaged with experimental uses of color? What was your journey like when finding your painting style? 

Katherine: I had excellent teachers: Marshall McLuhan, Graham Coughtry, Chinkok Tan, Ornette Coleman. I think the goal is to become more yourself. The greats, at every stage of their career, you can see their hand. Your paintings should look like only you could have made them. Painting is pure; like a tuning fork, you can hear it when it’s right. And there’s no overlay of writing in some essay on the wall beside the painting, because that doesn’t move people, and for me is very boring. If I wanted to do that I’d write a book. Creating for visual brain pleasure is something different: there is no gender, no age, no race, no religion, no politics. There is no trick: I’m just moving color on a sheet of paper. I don’t draw it first. I have no idea what is going to occur. The painting is successful if the shapes, colors and chroma activate the surface. The painting should have a charge of light come out at you.

Alexandra: The 40 artworks in this exhibition were all painted in Paris. What is your experience of working in a home environment and in the public eye?

Katherine: Well, every place becomes home when I paint it. I miss every place I leave and I’m excited to be in every new place, because I’m going to paint there. I wake up fully engaged. When it rains, I paint still life. I get to know a new room; I bring objects into it, and also value what is there already. It’s up to me to notice meaning. Every object is full of this content. Rooms resonate with what happened there. I feel a relationship to things people have touched. As I do outdoors, I set up the paints and paper and empty my mind to receive the painting. When it’s done I’m surprised and delighted.

Image | My Raspail Kitchen, Painted by KDL, watercolor, 22x30in, 2018

Alexandra: Many stylistic elements in your works, such as The Thinker at the Rodin Gardens (2019) and Flowers in My Garibaldi Room (2019), have key elements that correspond to the fauvist and impressionist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Can you talk about your inspirations?

Katherine: We work in a ladder of artists over time and somehow become ourselves in our work over the long arc of our careers. I know so much art history thanks to paintings, and I see my hand doing things, as I work in oil or watercolor or printmaking, that I’ve seen before: the turn of Rembrandt’s hand, the mark of Gaugin, the way Picasso moved across the surface in the corner of a painting of a room. I feel fortunate to be so in touch with all these ancestors. They are very helpful – full of advice and encouragement.

Image | Saxe-Breteuil Marche, gift to permanent collection for AUP President. 2019

Alexandra: You’ve said, “I believe in being an artist every day in all ways.” What do you mean by that?

Katherine: I like that. I think the commitment is total; it’s all you want to do because you feel great when you do it. But I believe a balanced life makes it work: commitment to my family, good health, public service and to my own inner light. Take care of your special inner light – as an artist and as a lifelong learner.

Here at the university you have a marvelous opportunity to explore what is special in yourself and others: your colleagues in your classes and also those that are long gone, the greats that came before and have a light they shine at you from history.

Charge up here with all that big energy from the past, and the present, and go forward to become more yourself. Then give it your all when you find that bright shining thing that you uniquely are supposed to do.