At the tail end of August, West Branch Gallery hosted yet another elegant and inimitable evening. The night was clear and cool as invited guests meandered through the gallery, looking at Rebecca Kinkead’s latest work and conversing. In addition to her larger oil paintings, a selection of small works on paper and linen from her personal collection adorned the walls. Paintings of rabbits, pigs, a mouse, ermine, dogs, owls, a warbler − all adorable, endearing creatures − occupied a small wing off of the Central Gallery.
After much schmoozing and laughter, Kinkead and interviewer, Fran Stoddard, had a lively conversation. Stoddard has been the host of Vermont Public Television’s “Profile” for many years. She is a veteran questioner, always researching her subjects in advance, ready to draw them out; prepared, intelligent, and warm.
Near the two seated women was Kinkead’s large oil painting, Fetch (Birch Branch). A black lab is earnestly swimming with a white birch stick, ready to deliver the prize to his or her owner. Kinkead is able to capture with a few deft strokes the dog’s delight. “Her paintings always make me happy,” one guest remarked.
Indeed. Kinkead is happy. After years of struggling as an artist, Kinkead’s work is flying out the doors. She’s now in collections around the world, as well as having commissions building up to be painted. “I am so blessed to paint full time,” she said. “It is a gift to go to my studio every day and paint – a dream come true.
Stoddard asked many astute questions, including inquiring what Kinkead hopes to communicate through her paintings. Kinkead replied, “I am going for moments when I’m really alive and in the moment. When I paint children, I want openness. When I paint animals, I want to have conversations with them.” That is part of the charm of her animal paintings. They are communicating with the viewer; active, open and available. The viewer feels an intimacy with the animals, in part because the first thing Kinkead paints is their eyes. “I make eye contact with my wild animals,” she said.
Her paintings of children are also active. The children are at play; swimming, skiing, biking. The joy each child is experiencing is palpable. And yet, the children don’t have distinct features. “I don’t do faces,” Kinkead said. “I go for their body language, their energy. I want multiple narratives, open to the viewer.” Oprah Winfrey recently bought Kinkead’s painting of three little girls in tutus sitting on a bench.
Stoddard asked about Kinkead’s technique. “Your paintings look encaustic, with thick layers of paint and wax. But they’re not encaustic. How do you do that?” Kinkead answered, “The texture of my paintings is important to me. Having trained as a ceramist in school, I want my surfaces to feel alive. Mixing my oil paints with wax and clay feels sculptural to me. I also use squeegees that move the paint beautifully.” Currently in her spacious, barn-style studio, Kinkead is painting life-size horses. “I’m more comfortable painting large and now I have the studio to do that,” she said.
Joy is infused in all of Rebecca Kinkead’s paintings. Joy infused the evening at West Branch, where her work has been exhibited for the past six years. That’s a lot of beautiful work, maybe because, as she said, “When I’m in the studio, I don’t know when to stop.” We hope she never does.