Local Art: Natural art in unnatural worlds

Published 7:09 pm Friday, September 9, 2011

Painter, illustrator and graphic designer Patty Reddy will have a joint art show Nov. 11 at Circa Arts Gallery in South Bend. Photo by Kathie Kiesselbach

Patty Reddy is the twin of artist Kathy Reddy White, owner of South Bend’s Circa Arts, featured in July’s column. When they were kids, their father took classes at the Chicago Art Institute; their mother did illustrations for stores like Wymans in South Bend, Ind. Their parents encouraged art and it’s certainly no wonder that both girls grew up to be amazing artists.
I met Patty Reddy years ago in St. Joseph, where she works. We started having lunch together occasionally, and I found her to be a very bright, gentle and creative person. I asked her about her artwork and background in art.
“I always did cartooning but ended up wanting to develop my love of color. I would draw and paint — but mostly drawing. In high school I did some acrylic painting.”
At St. Mary’s College, (Notre Dame, Ind.), Reddy took weaving and photography, but her teachers pushed her to use her drawing ability and liked her use of color, so she majored in painting. She studied abstract concepts and metaphysical theories, and exhibited primarily paintings in her bachelor of fine arts show. She had started a painting right after she graduated, a conceptual piece done in a painterly fashion where she paid careful attention to color. Many years later, she intends to continue working on it. Its bright red, nearly horizontal line and pinkish-brown hues reach upward from a dark brown and white base. She wants to do more like this.
It was nearly 30 years ago that Reddy put that painting away and, not having a place to work, she, like so many of us, put her brushes away. Recently, she cut back her graphic design job to four days a week, set up a studio in an old, gutted, two-story house across from the cottage where she lives on Eagle Lake in Edwardsburg, Mich., and started to paint.
“I kept going back and forth between illustrating and painting, back and forth—illustrating and painting. I have finally figured out that I am a painter-illustrator,” Reddy said.
Many questions go through the mind of an artist. Among them are, “what kind of artist am I? In what direction am I going with my art?” Some artists need the answers, some don’t.
Merging the natural world with the unnatural or the other than natural world, i.e., cartooning and nature, comes easily to Reddy. Some of her work has a comical sense about it. Some pieces seemed more nature-based. I found her work to be unlike other artists I have interviewed. She has a very fun sense of humor that is somehow subtle and quiet. It is expressed in these small lighthearted drawings of cats and balloons, and still life paintings that she does in her own distinct style.
My favorite piece is a tiny 4-by-4 inch oil painting of a white and grey cat — a tiny portrait. It is not only beautifully done, but it embodies all the calm and thoughtfulness of this artist.
All artists struggle with calming themselves so that their thoughts can channel freely into their work, so Reddy meditates before she paints. Fear makes things stop flowing. You’ve heard of writer’s block. Fret about things too much and you can’t work. (I remember splitting a pitcher of beer with a fellow student before sculpture class. It helped us avoid the fear that paralyzes.) Things are definitely flowing today for Reddy and she is really enjoying working again. Some days, it is easier to let go of those old fears that artists feel.
Both sisters share a beach house — a compound of sorts — that can only be described as “cottage chic.” It is filled with large, bright paintings, books, wrought iron, stained glass, overstuffed couches and chairs and the necessary clutter that makes people feel like they’ve stepped back into Victorian England on the beach. You expect to see tall, thin ladies in long, white gowns walking among the flowers. Needless to say, it is a very creative atmosphere.
Reddy has been a graphic designer some 30 years now, and has illustrated a children’s book, “Annie’s Rainbow Box,” with writer Rhonda Whitledge (available at Circa Arts in South Bend). Besides churning out very successful graphic design for many years, she’s run a visiting artist’s program, and has put together committees to choose healing art for health local facilities.
You can see her work at www.catological.com or at Circa Arts Gallery in South Bend, where on Nov. 11 she will have a joint show with jeweler Meg Auth and will show her illustrated paintings — many are caricatures of cats, some are landscapes, some are still life, but all have Reddy’s strong sense of humor and calm.

Kathee Kiesselbach enjoys hearing from area artists as well as folks who enjoy reading this column. She can be reached at katheek@concast.com.