Erin Shafkind’s Illustrated Studio Tours, Part 5: Kimberly Trowbridge

I drive up to Kimberly Trowbridge’s house in South Seattle and the first thing I see is her large green yard. This space is an important aspect to her painting, since much of her work revolves around what is known as the Arcadian tradition, or using ideas that are woven throughout literature dealing with idealism, perfection and pastoral-like spaces where shepherds and nymphs alike confront mortality.

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) is probably one of the best known painters from this tradition, and his work later influenced painters like Jacques-Louis David and Paul Cézanne, as well as Trowbridge.

Beyond the yard, I find Trowbridge's rustic studio, marked by a simple sign and a pink shard of wood on the door.

The splintery fragment is refuse from her garage remodel. She and her partner, Michael, replaced the garage door with plexiglass panels in order to let more light in the space that would become Trowbridge’s at-home studio. Spending roughly twenty-five hours a week painting, she also works as an educator at Gage Academy and teaches privately in her studio.

While they were tearing down the door, she saw the shape and kept it. It’s beautiful in it’s form, color and structure: simple, yet also a part of Trowbridge’s visual language.

The inside of the space is bright and airy, with a spaciousness that allows for thought and movement.

Amongst several projects she’s working on is a triptych. She is in the process of painting two of the large canvases right now. She’s planning to start the the third canvas in the fall or early winter of this year. [Visit her Flickr page for a sneak peak.]

Trowbridge’s large canvases amaze and overwhelm.

The first image, Arcadia, shows us paradise. The second, Gravediggers, came about from “walking behind” the left-side curtain of the former painting, and so, into the shadow world of another painting. In the third, she plans to show the space of the graveyard that appears on the left side of Gravediggers.

The paintings are over seven feet high and fourteen feet long. Their immensity is a testament to her ability, and she loves the actual movement related to filling a large canvas. In a way, she dances with her figures as she paints them.

Trowbridge shows me several smaller works in progress, too. We talk about form.  

“Deep down I am formalist,” she says.

She means she uses the medium of oil paint to create a reference to figure, landscape, or still life, but she also searches for lasting meaning in her process. She is interested in shapes, color, line and composition. While the subject is meaningful, the form is at the heart of the work. The fact that paint covers the surface of the canvas is one of the most important aspects of her art.

“Ideas are there; without the vessel you don’t have a thing.”

She tells me she loves triangles. “It’s the perfect shape,” she says, “the most structured.”

Since completing an MFA in painting at the University of Washington in 2006, Trowbridge has continued her studio practice and feels that she’s just beginning. “I feel like I have barely gotten started.”

Recovering from a recent car accident and dealing with her father’s triple bypass surgery, she is working out her themes in painting while exploring the fragility of life. Pulling together abstraction and figuration, Trowbridge's work expresses the human condition, love, beauty, sex, life and death.

“Art is about finding solutions to problems,” she says.

Stop by Trowbridge's one-night show at Gallery 40 on September 9 during Capitol Hill Art Blitz (maybe even vote for her during the Art Walk Awards, if she's nominated). You can also see more of her work on her Web site kimberlytrowbridge.com.

Erin Shafkind is a local artist/writer and teaches visual art in Seattle Public Schools. To learn more about her work please visit her Web site erinshafkind.com or read her blog poorworm.com.