Editorial & Fine Art Photography

By Aireonna McCall-Dubé

Meet The Artist: Katy Richards

Katy Richards born in Cleveland, Ohio, grew up in South Russell a suburb southeast of Cleveland. When asking Katy how where she is from affect's her work she stated, "The change of seasons we get has affected how I work. It influences my palette and I notice I tend to get brighter when its darker out. I try to cure my winter blues with saturation. The seasons make me aware of the cyclical nature of life, and though I get bummed out by the cold it usually brings me into a state of reflection, and I produce a lot during those cold months."

Ever since she was little, creating art has always been a passion of hers. Richards says "I loved to draw and paint, create forts or use mud and sticks to create villages for my plastic animals and barbies. I would say I wasn’t serious about being an artist until later in high school. I was encouraged to apply to art school by my high school art teacher. It made sense to me because I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I am a full time artist, but have always needed a second or third job. I knew coming out of school I wanted to focus on creating art and have chosen secondary jobs that allow me to prioritize the studio. I’ve been a bartender and waitress while simultaneously adjunct teaching. I have been able to cut out working at a restaurant and now only teach and paint."

"If you want to be an artist you must make the studio the center of your universe"

It's no surprise that to be an artist, you have to make time to be in the studio and it's no easy feat to do. HEDGE Gallery Director, Hilary Gent, will tell you first hand that Katy in constantly creating in her studio.

Gent states "it's important for an artist to experiment and to be able to attempt a variety of subject matters in order to create a successful body of work and Katy definitely does that."

Role Models + Influences

Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we are creative or not, we all have role models that often influence us in our personal and professional lives. For an artist, more times than not, that influence is usually from another artist.

For Katy, it's the artist Betty Tompkins. Tompkins has been making her work for decades without receiving the recognition the work deserved until recently. She is someone Richards' admires because of her perseverance and dedication to her practice and not to mention that her paintings are badass! The same can be said about Katy. In a recent review, Shawn Mishak of Cleveland Scene Magazine states:

"Her work is lush with expressive bursts of color, at times focusing intently on the body, exploiting its fleshy lusciousness. There are intimate narratives captured in her still-lifes and figures. Her impressionistic brush strokes are dashed on with exuberance and are executed with the fluidity of mastery."

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How do you balance time in the studio with other commitments?

"I’m huge with to do lists. I plan daily lists and monthly goals. I have to be very strategic about how I use my time so I am able to accomplish what I need to get done in the studio."

How do you feel your practice has changed over time?

"I feel more sure of myself, not overly questioning my decisions, and trusting the process more. The best thing about my medium is if it doesn’t work out I can just paint over it. It's very liberating. I’ve always been interested in creating different surfaces and have been exploring different ways to handle the paint. At times I focus on accuracy and representation and other times I am more focused on mark making and a looser approach. My palette and understanding or color has changed throughout the years. I try to limit my palette with an average of five or six colors plus white. Sometimes I’ve just used 3 colors plus white to make a painting. I’ll switch up the colors I choose for different paintings, but this simplification of less has led me to create more complex color relationships. Sometimes less is more. My practice is always evolving."

Gallery Installation view of Katy Richards' solo exhibit, Pocket Full of Posies | on view through May 5th

Katy's Approach

Richards creates fleshy oil paintings that are concerned with the materiality of paint as well as the physicality of the human body. She is inspired by underwater and sea life, and paints from experiences as well as reference photography. Her work is in the Progressive Art Collection, the Cleveland Art Association (cARTa) and many other private and public collections. Richards teaches painting and drawing at Kent State University and received a BFA from The Cleveland Institute of Art and an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art.

When it comes to the medium she loves most, hands down it's oil paint.

"Oil paint is so juicy. There is so much you can do with it in creating different surfaces. The best thing about my medium is painting wet into wet. Also, if it doesn’t work out I can just paint over it. It's very liberating. At times I’ll take a break from oil and work with other painting mediums like watercolor, gouache and acrylic. And when I do return to oil I appreciate the medium even more."

Artist Bio from HEDGE Gallery

Current exhibition

pocket full of posies at HEDGE Gallery

In Richards current exhibit, Still lifes and the human figure are subject matters for her recent work, and she reveals them under layers of color and floral patterns, almost as if old wallpaper was being removed from the surface of her canvases. 

Symbolism is embedded throughout her paintings, exploring themes of desire, beauty, concealment, death and temporality.  

Katy states, “I use repeating imagery like the skull and flower as a reminder of the inevitability of death, and the fragility of life. The flower's bloom, especially a peony which shows up in multiple works, is so brief. Flowers wither and die, a reminder of our own fate.”'

The show's title comes from a verse from the nursery rhyme "Ring Around the Rosie”. According to folklore the rhyme refers to the bubonic plague. Posies are a small bouquet of flowers one would carry in order to mask the smell of death. The contrast between the playfulness of the rhyme and the heaviness of death becomes a theme that Richards’ paintings embody. 


Pictured: Katy Richards, Wishbone, Oil on Panel, 24in x 36in, 2021 | Exhibited at HEDGE Gallery

Pictured Left to Right: Katy Richards, Hummingbirds and Roses, Acrylic and Oil on Panel, 48in x 36in, 2023 + Beauty and Brains, Oil on Panel, 30in x 24in, 2022 | Exhibited at HEDGE Gallery

I still remember when I was first introduced to Richards' work. For those of you that don't know, my day job is working as a gallery manager, graphic designer and photographer for HEDGE Gallery, located inside of 78th Street Studios arts complex. Kicking off "Artists in Cleveland" with Katy only felt right to pay tribute to a Gallery and an artist I have had the pleasure of working with for the last few years.

In her August 2020 show, "See Myself Something Different", Richards exhibited a series of seductive oil paintings with a remarkable photorealistic sensibility that focused on tightly cropped images of the human figure that were both candid and erotic, celebrating our flesh and all its strangeness, imperfections and beauty, with an objective to remove any notions of shame that surround the body.

I not only had the opportunity to experience this incredible body of work in person, but I also assisted in the curatorial/installation process and even submitted an image of myself to be painted and included in the exhibition.

Considering that this exhibit took place in the midst of a pandemic, going from a time of being secluded inside our homes to then the required to wearing masks and maintain 6 feet when in public, Katy’s paintings couldn’t have been more relevant. Gallery Director, Hilary Gent stated "It was a time where many we're sensing their skin rebelling against seclusion and craving human interaction...this exhibit boldly addressed the necessity of social and emotional touch and how it affects our emotional state of mind."

It's been absolutely wonderful witnessing first hand the evolution of Katy's work, and I can't wait to see where her explorations take her next!

Katy Richards, "See Myself Something Different" Exhibited at HEDGE Gallery in August 2020

Exhibition Overview

Katy Richards | See Myself Something Different

Her current exhibit, Pocket Full of Posies, highlights a body of work that Katy has been creating over the last four years experimenting with form, depth, subject matter and perspective.

in the CAN Journal article, "The Flesh Behind The Florals: Katy Richards at HEDGE", Jo Steigerwald writes, "Death cracks open and the flowers come out in Katy Richard’s Pocket Full of Posies...Here are rooms where skeletons ache behind strips of floral wallpaper, bodies shimmer underneath a heavy mask of stylized blooms twisting on vines, and the underside of a pink petal shifts to show skin."

Pictured: Katy Richards, Palm and Floral Screen, Oil on Canvas, 36in x 48in, 2022 | Exhibited at HEDGE Gallery

Richards' Exhibit Pocket Full of Posies is on view at HEDGE Gallery through May 5, 2023.

The Role of artists in society

I am lucky enough to have seen first hand how art and artists can have an impact on a society, and am truly grateful to have experienced the importance of living with art. According to Artwork Archive, "Creative thinkers and makers provide their communities with joy, interaction, and inspiration, but they also give thoughtful critique to our political, economic, and social systems — pushing communities to engage thoughtfully and make steps toward social progress."

To Katy, the role of the artist is to create something that engages with people. "Art has the ability to connect with people on multiple levels politically, spiritually, emotionally and phenomenologically. It fills the gaps of communicating the human experience where words fall short." When it comes to the art scene in Cleveland, Richards' elaborated that seeing art stimulates creativity in others and can be a uniting force in a community. "It’s also pleasurable and creates a rich culture. Art in Cleveland has been beneficial in contributing to the city’s economy and creating a strong and growing community of artists and art appreciators."

In the Cleveland art community there is currently great deal of conversation happening around spaces for artist to create and exhibit, especially after the closing of the Art Craft building in Downtown Cleveland displacing dozens of artists so the space can be turned into a headquarters for police. When asking Katy how she would like to see the art scene in Cleveland evolve she commented, "There’s a lot of buildings being under utilized. I would love to see more galleries, more spaces for pop up exhibitions, and art studios to move in. I would also like to see more opportunities to connect with other cities, especially other cities in the midwest."

Gallery Installation view of Katy Richards' exhibit, Pocket Full of Posies

Pictured: Katy Richards, Ruby Red Stains, Oil on Canvas, 27.5in x 30in, 2021

Growing from mistakes

Let's get real for a moment. Mistakes happen...to everyone and for creatives, we even tend to be impacted from time to time by our good friend "imposter syndrome."

When asking Katy about what mistakes she's made in the past, she stated, "I wish I didn’t let self doubt get the best of me. It led me to not starting projects or abandoning projects because I didn’t trust that I could make it work or that the idea was dumb. And I destroyed a lot of paintings and drawings that I didn’t trust were good at the time, but looking back they had something there."

But that is the beauty of "mistakes", they teach us to learn and grow, and even inspire us to make different decisions the next time we're faced with a similar challenge.

Needless to say, when it comes to honing in on your craft, Richards' does it in a way that seems almost effortless but with an abundant amount of technique and skill. In a sense, her words are inspiring for emerging artist...words of wisdom to not doubt yourself even when your brain keeps trying to tell you otherwise.

Pictured: Katy Richards, Glass Skull, Oil on Panel, 24in x 18in, 2021

Pictured: Artist, Katy Richards

Pictured: Katy Richards, Sunset Peony, Acrylic and Oil on Panel, 16in x 12in, 2022 | Exhibited at HEDGE Gallery

So What's next for katy?

While Richards doesn't necessarily have any "dream projects", she is constantly dreaming up ideas for future paintings. There's not just one project in particular that's on her mind, she is always thinking of multiple projects for paintings.

Her current solo show at HEDGE Gallery “Pocket Full of Posies” will be up until this Friday May 5th and will then have a solo show at Fawick Art Gallery at Baldwin Wallace University in the fall of 2025.

Currently, she is working on still life paintings and has started doing studies on paper for future paintings. In these studies, she is continuing to experiment with using pattern, layering space, and using different styles of representation. 

One thing about Katy that you might not have known before this, is that if she could have any super power in the world, it would be to fly. "Like most children I have always wanted to fly. I still think that would be an awesome super power. Flying would be exhilarating."

To that I say, continue to soar Katy!



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