The Unstoppable Kimberly Trowbridge

Kimberly Trowbridge is a hurricane—a perfect storm of unstoppable energy with a zen core. Armed with an exhaustive foundation in art history and academic painting, she’s followed in the steps of old master painters for years, rendering recumbent nudes in the midst of spectacular, pastoral landscapes. Her ability to paint like Poussin is merely a springboard, however, for more psychologically and spiritually-motivated work, and on the heels of an epiphany-yielding trip to Portugal last year (where she leads instruction-based tours for painting students), Trowbridge’s practice has recently expanded to encompass other mediums, such as video, installation and even musical composition. On entering her Top Hat studio, the mixture of orderliness and feral energy is palpable. Trowbridge gives us a tour of every corner, many of which are filled with works in progress for an upcoming exhibit at Gallery 4Culture in April.

Photography by Miguel Edwards.

 Photos by Miguel Edwards

“This is my showroom,” Trowbridge says as she guides us through a nook just across from her studio, arranged in a vaguely neo-classical style, filled with bright light, dozens of canvases, detritus from projects—even a harp. “I re-curate it a lot so that I can re-see paintings of mine, and for visitors and students as well. I’ve been running a private school here for about six years, although I’m moving it down to Georgetown this fall and starting a satellite atelier program through Gage Academy. Teaching is such an exciting part of my creative process.”

“A lot of these works are components for the 4Culture show,” she says, once we are in the studio proper. “Much of it is based on my recent experience in Portugal. I think the palette of that place, the inherent color, was a huge part of my experience. But bigger than that—or maybe inclusive of it—I felt like I was walking through the landscape I’ve been trying to paint my whole life. It was as though there were zero distinguishing between dream and reality. In a way it alleviated the need to make a painting—or make anything at all. But as an image-maker, I have a perpetual response to document, so filming became a really obvious option. I filmed a lot in Portugal, and it got me thinking of my paintings as documents in a similar vein as filmmaking, especially because I am dealing with these super-bucolic, pastoral themes. But my relationship to these images is completely different now because I am not nostalgic about them. I found them in reality. Now I’m actually documenting what I’m seeing.”

Nearly all Trowbridge’s paintings are dappled with crystalline foliage shot through with sunlight. “Landscape paintings have always moved me,” she says. “The figures that inhabit the landscapes are free of consciousness. They don’t yet understand mortality. Perhaps it alludes to an earlier stage of humanity. But since my experience in Portugal, there’s this other cool thing that’s happening: instead of it being like a harkening back in time, I feel that this freedom exists in the present as well. There is a presentness, rather than yearning for something lost. Like maybe time is over. Maybe we can give up the idea of time. Maybe this is a golden age here and now. It gives me chills. So I’m not just painting Portugal here, I’m painting Portugal through the Northwest. This is the pine tree in my back yard. Top Hat is Portugal, it turns out. There’s no difference.”

“I only met Eric Macrae about a year ago. He and I immediately hit it off and knew we wanted to collaborate in some way. We didn’t know it would be music, because I didn’t play any instruments at the time, but now I do. So this is the set list we have been rearranging and playing with. We discovered it’s a lot easier for me to play our songs if I translate it into color. He has a pretty strong relationship with color too, so we compose just with colors. He slapped those down and we played it and liked it. This is what I wrote on my birthday a few weeks ago—my birthday song! I’ve really been focusing on guitar the last few weeks. It’s so fun. I’ve never truly, deeply collaborated before. And yes those are drawings of butts—those are booty beats.”

“With this table and its objects, I’m thinking of the character of the spiritual warrior. The simplicity of the things you might need. For this show, I want to think of the space I’m creating as being an intimate space—say, a bedroom—I’m inviting you into. Emily Pothast just did something similar, creating a simulacrum environment of her living room and library that she’s inviting you into. I also got a similar feeling recently with Allyce Wood’s current exhibition in the back of SOIL, which was filled with her table, her poetry. She’s really letting us inside of her space, inside her interesting mind. I think it’s a cool thing female artists are doing right now: saying, I’m inviting you into my intimate space on my terms. It’s kind of a big fucking deal, I think. It’s powerful.”

“I found some of these objects on the beach recently. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I would find sticks on the beach that I imagined someone had left for me, like magic wands. I used to find sticks and wrap them with copper wire and crystals and leave them out in the woods and let people find them. Then this rooster. My grandmother sent me this rooster years ago and I absolutely hated it. Then it broke and I ended up pouring gesso on it and painting it with gouache and it really aesthetically works with the idea of the country in Portugal.”

On the figure: “It has always been been a part of my practice. I learned how to paint through self portraiture, so for me painting has always been a way to record my relationship to the world—either intimately with a self portrait, or far more removed and allegorical—as the story of humanity. The nude portion of it is incredibly important to me because I’m not necessarily interested in painting portraits of specific people or of dropping them in a certain decade. The nude is universal, you know? Throughout the history of art too, I’m interested in the way humanity has always represented itself. Of course that’s imbedded in abstract art too, but I’m really interested in the image of the human. That being said, the incredible spiritual experience of plein air painting and landscape painting is amazing, because when I’m not representing the human, my humanness is the vessel through which all that moves. The figure isn’t necessary anymore. It’s implied. I’m there.”

“I never know when I’m finished with a painting. And I don’t care at all about that. Finished? is not the question I’m asking anymore. Every step of the process is meaningful to me. But this painting in particular has remained in the state it is now for a long time. It’s endured without me touching it for a while and I’ve just been falling in love.”