A Ghost Exhibition Reincarnated


Over the past fifty years, Kathleen Callery has been creating art in a number of mediums. In the last several decades, she has focused on creating oil paintings in a number of series which she has called by names reflecting their subjects or techniques: California Rooftops, Pattern, Interchange, Dogue Creek, Diebenkorn, Guitar, Eleven, Prime, Clear Gesso, Fireworks, Color Block, Jewel Tones, and her latest, Nature’s Jewel Tones. In each series, she has explored questions of how to handle particular facets of the traditional concerns of art, such as color, line, form, composition, etc., in a contemporary and personal manner. As each particular series begins to wind down, she moves to new explorations, with stronger tools and broader experience.

In 2019, recognizing her apt subject matter and sympathetic sensibilities, the American Horticultural Society’s (AHS) Janet Daniels booked an exhibition of her work for the summer of 2020 at their headquarters at River Farm. Titled Nature’s Jewel Tones, it consisted of 39 oil paintings, works created over the previous 25 years.  All preparations were made. The invitations were printed, publicity arranged, a full-color catalog was produced, and the show was hung in the Art Space of the Estate House there. Then, overnight, as with many other art exhibits around the world during the pandemic, it became a “ghost show” due to the necessity to protect people from the Covid-19 virus. The doors of the exhibit were never opened to the public and it was eventually dismantled.

Callery started her latest series of paintings in early 2020, while organizing the show that never was, building on the previous work contained in the ghost show. She began to arrange groups of flowers in natural light from the gardens in and around Alexandria, Virginia, and record them on her cell phone. Using editing software, parts of the photographs are enlarged and enhanced, and colors and composition altered, to achieve her goals. She prints the resulting images and a square grid is overlaid on the prints. Then, a much larger corresponding blue-line square grid is drawn on a hand-stretched canvas surface that has been prepared with white gesso. This traditional method, called ‘squaring-up,’ facilitates transferring the smaller digital print to the much larger canvas. As she draws the many individual squares in pencil onto the canvas, each becomes an abstraction itself, emphasizing her technique. For her, drawing from the digital file, because of the great subject detail, evokes a sensation similar to drawing from life. As squares are added, the final image emerges. The subject is then painted with thin layers of non-toxic oil paint that are backlit by the white gesso on the canvas.

“In my show, Nature’s Jewel Tones II, the work shares my emotional response to the nature of daylight in this geographical area. It is a creative light. Inside the house, as I pass my studio window with yet another load of laundry, the light always captures my attention, especially when the color and transparency of the flower petals are the objects of the light’s touch.

“This comforting, familiar seasonal pattern occurs year after year. The early spring blooming of the forsythia is followed by the quince, then the azaleas, and next, the irises. As the sun warms the earth, the roses begin to bloom. Right around July 4th, the fireworks go off and the mass of yellow daylilies planted outside the kitchen window explode in the bright July sunlight. The sedum arrives at the end of the summer, anticipating the fall with its rust-colored blooms. The emerald-evergreen magnolia stands out against the snow in the winter landscape. The colors of these flowers, shrubs, and trees seem like gems sparkling in sunlight to me.”

As a successor to the “ghost” exhibition of 2020, which was never allowed a public audience due to the pandemic, Callery has been invited back. This latest solo show, Nature’s Jewel Tones II: New Paintings by Kathleen Callery, will be held in the Art Space of the Estate House at the American Horticultural Society’s headquarters at River Farm from July 7, 2022, through October 3, 2022. Curated by Leslie Bauman, it features 39 of Callery’s recent works, almost all created during the Covid pandemic. Two public receptions with the artist will be held: one on Sunday, August 28, and a second on Sunday, September 25, each from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Show admission is free and open to the public. The Art Space’s hours are: Monday through Friday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (federal holidays excepted). For more information, please call (703) 768-5700, ext. 114, or visit: https://www.ahsgardening.org .  Full-color catalogs of each of her two solo exhibitions at AHS are available on Amazon Books or in person at River Farm.

About the Artist:

Born in Patuxent River, Maryland, Kathleen Callery lives and works in Alexandria, Virginia. She has a Bachelor of Science degree from Florida International University and has been a practicing artist for more than a half-century. She is a former Torpedo Factory artist and has taught drawing and acrylic painting at the Art League School in Alexandria. She has shown in both group and solo exhibitions and was listed in Art in America’s 2004-2005 Guide to Museums, Galleries, and Artists. Callery lives on land from one of George Washington’s former farms with her husband, daughter, and two cats.

For more information about the artist, please visit her website.