M. Katherine Hurley grew up in Gates Mills, a small, rural community, 40 miles east of Cleveland. While her first love was horses, she later focused on landscapes. They both became sanctuaries for her when life grew challenging. She found comfort and beauty in solitary places.
Hurley’s interest in art comes from her family. Her mother, Carol Winterich, was in performing arts, and her father Leo was an artisan who designed and built churches. They influenced her eventual career as an artist at an early age.
Initially, Hurley worked for the family business in Cleveland making stained glass. The smell of sawdust and lacquers created an environment where she learned to have a reverence for sacred imagery.
“When I was 16, I went to Italy and France for the summer,” said Hurley. She saw Michelangelo’s and Leonardo da Vinci’s work. Marble sculptures of four enchained Slaves by Michelangelo at the Accademia Gallery in Florence impressed her. “I was struck by the figures trying to get out of the rock,” she said. Travel also sparked her interest in seeing the world at large. “This was a huge turning point for me,” she said. “It was an introduction into an artistic life to see the masters of the past,” she said.
Claude Monet and Edgar Degas also influenced Hurley’s work. She liked their color, energy, mark making and subjects. In particular, Hurley pointed to Impressionist Monet’s Haystacks with their color, transition of form from and into light, and his layering of paint. Mark Rothko also played a role in Hurley’s development as an artist. She admired his simplicity of form, subtlety of edges, close relationships of color and value.
She graduated from Mt. St. Joseph College, now University, with a BFA concentrating in ceramics in 1974 and a minor in theatre. After college, she married and moved to St. Louis while her then husband finished law school in 1976.
Hurley started her professional career with Frame and Save, now The Raymond Gallery and The Framery, on Edwards Road in Hyde Park. “Mira Enslen, the owner at the time, encouraged me to have a show,” she said. Her first effort was an exhibit of drawings in the late 1970’s. She was bitten by the bug of creating an exhibition.
In 1986, she moved to Frame Concepts in Montgomery as she raised a family of three children, Katie, Dan and John. Her studio was in her home initially. By the mid-1980’s, she took over Carl Samson’s studio on Observatory Ave. and Morten St. in Hyde Park with Mary King. The business was named Atelier, which later moved to Wasson Road.
She focused on color with colored pencils and pastels primarily at this point in her career. Eventually, she used oils. “Her oil paintings and pastel drawings are a contemporary version of the American Sublime, the 19th century movement that followed from the Hudson River School and looked to the works of European Romantics like J. M. W. Turner,” wrote art critic Daniel Brown in the January/February 2008 edition of The Artist’s Magazine.
Norman Miller offered Hurley a show at The Miller Gallery on Hyde Park Square. She thought it was a breakthrough to be represented by this gallery. She enjoyed connecting people through art as a painter and as a curator. Later, Hurley gathered pictures for the 5th St. Gallery and La Poste Eatery and Wine Room in Clifton. This exposure led to several stints as a juror of regional art exhibits.
Another turning point came in the 1980’s when Hurley saw artist Wolf Kahn’s work. Kahn, who founded the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, specialized in color, often manifested in landscapes. “That was my sanctuary growing up,” recalled Hurley. She liked Kahn’s style, color and energy. “I identified with the whole package,” she said. Her association with Kahn gave her credibility; both are considered leading American colorists in their work.
The key to Hurley’s color is tonal painting, a phrase that describes paintings exhibiting a very limited range of closely related tones, or only one or two colors, according to Brown. “Sections of her work are large, abstract color blocks that coalesce less into landscape paintings, but rather paintings that have landscape as their reference,” said Brown. Although Hurley started out as a Neo- Impressionist, she now paints more abstractly.
Moving forward in her career, Hurley painted, curated and exhibited for several years. But, she found her time consumed by the store, her family and her desire to create art. “I couldn’t split myself,” she said. She decided to do art full time, although it was a difficult decision. “I had to break a contract,” she added.
Pendleton Art Gallery attracted her. She has had a studio there since 1993. “I come to paint,” Hurley said. She is not as involved with the gallery as she used to be. “I couldn’t keep up with the pace in the galleries,” she said. In 1995, King and Hurley moved their business to Erie Ave. on Hyde Park Square and renamed it Interiors. By 2006, she joined the 5th Street Gallery, one of many galleries across this country which has represented her work.
Her personal friend artist Paula Wiggins has a studio across the hall at Pendleton. Wiggins and Hurley often trade thoughts, offer support or help solve an artistic problem.
Twenty years ago, Hurley found that art was a male dominated field. She wanted to make a living as an artist. “I didn’t want to be dependent on a man,” she said. Because her specialty requires use of the right side of the brain, she has had to struggle with the left side, leaving activities such as reading, accounting and bookkeeping to other people.
The art world tanked due to the economy in 2008. Corporate collecting died off in the late eighties. “Last year, it started to come back,” she said.
With changes in technology, people can now buy art online. She is seeing fewer and fewer people at Final Friday held at The Pendleton. Cincinnati offers a lot in terms of entertainment that competes with the art world. “Every gallery has its own personality,” she said. “You have to find what works for you. Don’t judge yourself, let go and enjoy the process.”
The future of art has to encompass digital art, which has already had an influence on new art and marketing the art. Hurley said, “I wasn’t trained that way.” So, like other business people, she had to learn Facebook and photography to keep up with technology.
Her personal life changed, too. She married Jens G. Rosenkrantz, Jr., in 2014. “I have to wear so many hats. I want to help Jens with his new career as a photographer,” she said.
Although she wanted to be well-regarded among her peers, she made sacrifices. Hurley exhibits in several galleries, teaches at her studio and at Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center in Covington, Kentucky, and takes care of family life. It’s a busy schedule that ebbs and flows in different directions. She wants to simplify her life to get back into the studio.
With regard to local museums, Hurley became a participant in Artists Reaching Classrooms at the Taft Museum of Art. This program features interaction with professional artists and visits to artists’ studios. “This was a huge influence on my life,” she said because “I am dedicated to passing the baton on to the next generation of artists by telling my story and hopefully inspiring them to believe in themselves.”
She follows current exhibits at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Several artists whose work has been displayed at the two museums attracted her: J. M. W. Turner, George Inness and Ralph Albert Blakelock. She enjoys them because these artists exemplify capturing the mystery and drama of the landscape through color, values, atmosphere and a more abstract style.
Hurley does not care for violent imagery in art. “I am all about beauty. I like to live in a beauty bubble,” she said.
The local art scene is strong, according to Hurley. “The artist community is supportive,’ she said. Her one complaint is that Cincinnati does not have a gallery district, as it did in the eighties (West Fourth Street). She said that the galleries are too far apart. She respects Jason Franz, executive director of Manifest Gallery on Woodburn Ave. in East Walnut Hills, because of the Manifest Artist Residency program.
A recent trip to Cuba resulted in a new style. Rosenkranz and Hurley stayed in Havana and had the opportunity to meet artists. She brought home an appreciation for the bright colors Cuban artists used and has started a new series of paintings. Hurley will display her art at a Cuba show at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center in March 2016.
Hurley’s work has garnered several awards, including honorable mentions by The Pastel Journal for Angel Hovering and Coffee is Ready in 2015.
Children’s Hospital Medical Center recently commissioned Hurley to do five pieces: one triptych and two independent works displayed in the new wing. In addition, she has a two-year artist-in-residence at The University Club downtown.
Currently, she has work in the show Radiance: 2D + 3D with sculptor Margot Gotoff in the C-LINK Gallery at the Brazee Street Studios in Oakley. The exhibit explores rich color, texture and light.
In May 2016, Hurley and minimalist Mark Ross will have a Vanishing Landscape exhibit at the Art Access Gallery in Bexley, Ohio outside Columbus.