Paintings by Kathryn O’Grady on view at Adkins Arboretum
RIDGELY — Artist Kathryn O’Grady will make you think differently about the flocks of blackbirds that are such a familiar sight in the Chesapeake region. In “Four and Twenty,” a series of blackbird “portraits” on view in Adkins Arboretum’s Visitors Center through Sept. 29, every bird is an individual with its own quirky personality.
In “Close to the Big Pond,” her show of oil paintings and watercolors augmented with crayon and metallic pigment, O’Grady zeros in on nature’s diversity and energy.
There will be a reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, to meet the artist and learn how she became so entranced with Maryland’s birds and rural landscapes.
O’Grady always has been in love with color.
“It’s a deep-seated obsession,” she said. “I remember when I found out that Crayolas came in more than eight colors when I was 2 or 3, I felt like my mother had been holding out on me.”
Exhibiting at the arboretum courtesy of Baltimore’s Steven Scott Gallery, O’Grady earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Michigan State University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Texas. She has shown her work widely in the United States. In 1997, she moved from Texas to the rural town of Tracys Landing, south of Annapolis, where she has been painting the landscapes and birds near her house ever since.
“When we first moved here from Texas, my first overwhelming impression was I’ve got to find more colors of green paint,” she said.
She quickly began to discover the many colors that underlie the green of plants and make it so lively. Like an Impressionist artist, when she painted an old tobacco barn sagging under the weight of a complicated tangle of vines, she did it with thousands of tiny strokes of scarlet, maroon, yellow, lime, pine green and shadowy blue. A riot of color and activity, it brilliantly captures how plants reclaim any building or field left vacant.
“I like seeing the plants take over,” O’Grady said. “In Texas, it’s so hot and dry, it takes a lot longer for the plant life to reclaim the structures. Here, it happens as soon as you turn your back.”
O’Grady already had been keeping chickens and peacocks when her daughter rescued a lost mallard duckling eight years ago and brought it home. Less than a day old, the bird fell asleep in O’Grady’s hand. Rather than put it in the aviary with her other birds, she raised it in the house until it was old enough to move to a nearby pond. Not long afterward, the duck returned, bringing along a new mate that she presented to O’Grady. The pair soon nested and began an extended family that still lives near the artist’s home.
“It changed the way I look at all birds,” O’Grady said. “I learned from my ducks that birds are individuals.”
In several portraits she has painted of her ducks, there’s no doubt of this. Each bird has its own distinct personality. Some of the portraits are accompanied by the ducks’ own stories told by writer Peter Guttmacher.
Throughout her paintings, O’Grady has a knack for capturing the energy of birds and plants, conveying her awe of the indomitable spirit and complexity of the natural world.
For more information, visit www.adkinsarboretum.org, email info@adkinsarboretum. org or call 410-634-2847.