Kathleen Shaver & The Big Idea

Posted by: Roy Wilbur

In the winter of 2017, Kathleen Shaver ’83 exhibited her paintings in the “Big Idea” at The Painting Center in New York City. In this video, you’ll hear Kathy, along with The Painting Center’s Director Shazzi Thomas and Curator Sue Collier talk about their inspirations for that exhibition.

Kathleen Shaver is a Philadelphia painter who studied at Moore College of Art & Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) with teachers and mentors including Bill Richards, Chuck Fahlen, and Thomas Chimes. Her work has been included in a major survey of contemporary Philadelphia artists at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and in exhibits at PAFA, Woodmere Art Museum, the James A. Michener Art Museum, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, and Moore.

The artist produces oil paintings and mixed media works on paper. A lush paint application and lively gestural strokes characterize her recent paintings, which often exhibit a highly textured surface and dense buildup of pigment. The influences of abstract expressionism and neo-expressionism are evident. Shaver admires such painters as Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Joan Mitchell, Anselm Kiefer, Cecily Brown, Neo Rauch, and Louise Fishman.

In addition to the Rodger LaPelle Galleries and 3rd Street Gallery in Philadelphia, Shaver has exhibited in galleries located in Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and Texas.  She is the recipient of numerous awards for painting and her work is included in both private and corporate collections.

Shaver is also a graduate of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.  In 2011, she completed a permanent installation of 27 paintings, The History of Nursing as Seen Through the Lens of Art, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing to celebrate 125 years of nursing at Penn.

My paintings are best described as a search for the primal. My approach is informed by abstract expressionism and a love of paint.  I work from a place where intuitive gestures and mark-making record a quest for a pre-linguistic awareness. I am inspired by the Lascaux cave painters, whose images transcend time, culture, and language. This quest for a primal, wordless image, touches, what is to me, the deepest mystery of human existence: Where did I come from and where am I going? My paintings invite viewers to consider an existence that is not limited by words, preconceptions, or conventional identities, yet one that is framed by an unknowable mystery.

My artistic process can also be described as a primal searching.  Although I work within the tradition of paint on canvas, I am constantly shifting my approach in pursuit of the unexpected. Discovery happens when I paint faster than I can think. I work on multiple pieces at a time, with canvases ranging in size from very large to very small. I may start with thin washes of paint combined with calligraphic lines, eventually building up to a thick, textured surface.To apply the paint, I use a variety of spatulas, palette knives, rollers, and misshapen old brushes, as well as my hands. I let the work dry between sessions. I do not plan my approach.

Motivated by a kind of anxiety or doggedness combined with belief, I allow my intuitive and emotional self to react to the canvas and to determine the next step. Building up the paint surface and then scraping it down in areas, I seek to reveal something unknown.  I hope that the viewer senses a discovery, beyond words, and is touched by the mystery of human existence that my work explores.