Meet Devon-based abstract painter Kathy Ramsay Carr

After growing up in British Columbia and working as the Head of Design at the National University of Mexico, abstract painter Kathy Ramsay Carr now paints from her secluded garden studio surrounded by fields and hills. She talks to us about the inspiration she finds from coastlines, beaches and moorlands, and the painterly, impasto textures she achieves with her wonderful landscape paintings.

Q: Hi Kathy, can you tell us about where you grew up and whether you think it had a bearing on your work? 

A: As a child, I grew up living in British Columbia, Canada, which had a lasting influence on my work – the sea, mountains, and big spaces.

My father took advantage of the £10 ticket to any of the Commonwealth countries that was being offered to people of certain professions, his being a civil engineer.

His twin brother was already living and working there as a geologist, so we emigrated when I was 3 years old.

Q: Where did you study art?

A: I studied Fine Art at Bath Academy of Art in Corsham in the 1970’s – an extraordinary place at the time for various reasons.

Firstly, it’s hub was at Corsham Court, where the foundation students spent their first year, walking amongst peacocks and sitting by Capability Brown’s lake. 

Secondly, the teaching staff were mostly practising artists, some of them well known, like Sir Howard Hodgkin.

‘It was not usual for a young English woman to travel alone to a country only known for bandits and cactus and my father was horrified, which made me even more determined to go!’

Q: What happened next?

A: At 23 years old, a year out of art college, I had an adventurous spirit! I had seen Mexican art and was drawn to the country. It was not usual for a young English woman to travel alone to a country only known for bandits and cactus and my father was horrified, which made me even more determined to go! (I must have been maddening).

My plan was to travel through Canada, revisit my childhood, buy a horse and ride down through the US to Mexico, and spend about six months to a year there.

But I was offered a job in Mexico City, in Graphic Design and Illustration that I couldn’t refuse, which later lead to taking up an excellent post at the national university so I stayed eight years in all.

I loved living with Mexican people and integrated happily into their culture and language. I came home to the UK eventually, importing Mexican jewellery for ten years and then returned to illustration and printmaking whilst my daughters were young.

Q: If you hadn’t become an artist, what do you think you would have done?

A: I cant imagine anything else.. except perhaps a poet or a gardener.

Q: When is your most productive part of the day to work?

A: Mornings are best but I get a second wind mid-afternoon and the best things can happen with a painting then. I work in a studio in my garden and have a great view of the fields and hills.

Kathy Ramsay Carr’s beautiful garden
Kathy’s secluded studio in Devon

Q: What materials do you use?

A: I mostly work in oil painting on canvas and wood, although I use all types of pencils crayons ink and acrylic painting – and love paper. I could not do without my collection of palette knives.

Q: What are the main themes of your work?

A: The natural environment, space solitude, stillness. I also draw on personal experience. Painting for the last 25 years has been a cathartic exercise for me.

Q: Do you have a current favourite piece of work?

A: My favourite current piece of work is ‘Call of the Curlew’. I was happy with this painting because it captures the mood of a storm passing. The turquoise highlights the electric effect of a thunderous sky. I was thrilled that it sold to a surfer, whose wife hid it under their bed until she could give it to him for his birthday!

Q: Who are your art heroes?

A: J.M.W. Turner, Francis Cadell the Scottish colourist, Peter Lanyon, Barbara Rae and David Tress.

Q: Where do you see yourself in maybe 5 years time?

A: Drawing and painting in France in my campervan, and tending to my garden in Devon! I don’t have any other major ambitions on my list  - I’m happy as I am. 

Q: What would you say have been the highlights in your career?

A: To have been Head of design in the Cultural Institute of the National University of Mexico. Being accepted to teach at Cortijo-Romero, a personal development holiday center in Andalusia, Spain.  To have had my work exhibited at some wonderful galleries in the UK.

Q: How would you describe the life of an artist in less than 5 words...

A: Lucky.

Q: What advice would you give younger artists?

A: Believe in your ability.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice ever given to you?

A: Never give up. (by my family!)

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