Katee Boyle: Telling stories from a personal place03/21/2023 12:54PM ● By Richard Gaw
Photo by Richard L. Gaw Recent works by the multi-media artist Katee Boyle are currently on display at The Oxford Arts Alliance in Oxford and The Art Trust in West Chester.
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” Artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
The sun of the early spring shone through the window of Katee Boyle’s Scarlett Forge Studio, and onto the multi-colored textures of the sculptural objects that were gathered on a work table – most of which will find their way to a permanent place in the firmament of her art.
For the last seven years of Boyle’s career as a Chester County-based multidisciplinary artist, Scarlett Forge has served as the receptacle of everything she has thrown at it: oil paintings, illustrations, abstract sculpture, video, sound and installation. Defined but not categorized, hers has been a creative life where everything is scraped up and becomes art — the metallic refuse, the recreation of a pair of old boots from the bottom of a pile at the antique store and the scattered, viscerally raw emotions of what it is to be human.
“Ultimately, I want to teach people to learn to look, to take the time to dig deeper and experience a reaction from my work, because indifference isn’t an option for me,” Boyle said at her studio. “When I see a reaction that someone has to my work, that’s success to me, but if someone just casually walks past my work and onto the next piece in the gallery, I feel that something isn’t right, that something is amiss.”
For the next several weeks, area audiences will get to render their reactions to Boyle’s latest work. She is one of nine artists whose abstract sculptures are featured in “Imagined,” now at the Oxford Arts Alliance through March 31. Curated by local artist Jill Beech, the exhibit is both diverse in the artists’ use of technique and choice of materials, but connected through each artist’s expression of individual memories and experiences.
Boyle is also one of three artists featured in “A Terrible Beauty,” which runs through April 21 at The Art Trust Gallery at Meridian Bank in West Chester. Sharing the exhibit space with artists Diane Cirafesi and Mia Fabrizio, Boyle’s 15 works – that include sculptures and her painting “Treasure Island, Redux” – explore both memory and emotion. The exhibit’s title and the work contained in it is inspired by the figurative painter Francis Bacon, who was known for his raw and unsettling imagery.
While many of Boyle’s pieces in the show are new, a few were selected on a tour of her studio that she conducted with Cirafesi and Fabrizio, one that unveiled older works of hers, such as “The Harvest Dress” and “Chastity, All of Me.”
“I normally do not exhibit my work more than once, but I felt that each piece draws on the various themes of the exhibit,” Boyle said. “When I share work in an exhibit, there is a hidden thread that connects everything together, and the narrative I am telling has to be set up a certain way in order to best tell that story.”
Writing on the canvas
If there is one medium that figuratively – and literally – hides from Boyle’s work as an artist, it is in her writing, either contained within a notebook or in the case of her painting, directly on the canvas before the painting begins.
“My paintings do not begin from the standpoint of, ‘Here’s the exhibit’s title and here’s the painting idea I have so now it’s time to get to work,’” she said. “I do the writing on the canvas and start to lay down the painting, based on the narrative of the writing and the story I wish to expand on. It could just begin as a thought, and then all of a sudden it is three hours later, and I will back up and there will be something on the canvas.
“It allows me to come back and either continue pursuing that thought or come back and scribble it out and begin again.”
The cursive script that appears at the beginning of Boyle’s canvases has a galloping feel to it, as if it is chasing down the wandering muse of the artist, which on any given day may focus on a painting nearing completion, or tend to a sculpture that at the moment is merely a collection of ideas and artifacts. Her work in Oxford and West Chester – and throughout her journey as an artist -- is reflective of a narrative rooted in the gravitational pull of storytelling that eventually finds its chosen medium.
“My work leads me,” Boyle said. “If I come to the studio intending to paint and I find myself being pulled off to focus on another medium, then I have to follow that. Otherwise, I would just paint all day and waste the next six hours, rather than follow that piece of metal and see where it will take me.”
‘A Thief’s Daughter’
When Boyle was growing up in Chadds Ford, she befriended a neighbor, Margaret Hoffman, 70 years her senior, and found that Hoffman owned a painting that the artist N.C. Wyeth had given her entitled “A Thief’s Daughter,” (later donated to the Brandywine River Museum of Art) which depicts a young woman preparing opium before three seedy-looking men and her father.
“N.C. Wyeth is the reason I became an artist, and if I could drill it down to one influence, it would be this painting that I would get to know intimately over the 18 years I lived alongside Mrs. Hoffman,” Boyle said. “I understood that this was a story that N.C. Wyeth was telling, and that his illustrations were all a frozen moment in time. I used to imagine what the lives of these five subjects were like and what it would be like to expand on their stories. In recent years, I dug back and started this in my work beginning with the daughter by placing her in various situations.”
On the support of a substantial back catalog of exhibits, private and public sales and an ever-expanding repertoire of mediums, Boyle has become one of the most influential artists in the Chester County region. Her eventual goal – and what she calls “her ultimate measure of success” -- is to display her art in museums, whether as an individual installation or as a collected body of work, told as a story she is continuing to tell.
Meanwhile, the objects on her work table at Scarlett Forge reflect the light from outside, looking to be of service.
“I am trying to push my narrative or expand it further so that I can learn more, not just about myself, but the entire strategy of people, community and the environment we live in,” Boyle said. “I am a storyteller and with each piece, I set out to write a full novel. I am writing stories from a personal place, and I am setting out to do something that I have no other choice but to do…to create.”
be open to the public through March 31 at the Oxford Art Alliance, 38 S Third Street in
Oxford. To learn more, visit www.oxfordart.org.
“A Terrible Beauty” will be on view through April 21 at The Art Trust, 16 West Market Street in West Chester. To learn more, visit www.thearttrust.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].