Interview with Katherine Coakley

Written by Caroline Browne

Pictured: Katherine Coakley at Perennial Power: Women, Art, and Nature exhibition with her painting Look Again

In this week’s blog we are delighted to feature an interview with Co|So artist member, Katherine Coakley. Kathy has studios in both Miami and New England, and she enjoys painting the beauty of the world when traveling. Kathy’s creative process is continually evolving, including trying new techniques to keep her perspective fresh. She utilizes watercolor, acrylic, oil paint, and most recently alcohol inks to create her bold, colorful designs.

As the exhibitions coordinator for the Florida Chapter of the National Association of Women Artists (NAWA), Kathy has organized and is participating in the Perennial Power: Women, Art & Nature exhibition on view at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. The exhibition features work from artists throughout Florida, sharing their interpretations of the brilliance of nature and women, and commemorates the collective accomplishments and enduring dedication of women in the arts.

In this interview with Katherine, we learn more about her artistic process, career, inspiration, and experience organizing the Perennial Power exhibition.

Pictured: Katherine Coakley, Tuscan Hills, acrylic, 14 x 14”

What is your background and how does it inform your art?

I dreamed about painting and creating art for many years, but while raising three daughters I never had the time or formal instruction. When my children were young, I would sketch scenery and people and envision a day when I would have the time to develop my style as an artist. I had a rewarding career as a business manager in my husband’s dental practice for 30 years. After retiring, I decided it was finally time to pursue my desire to paint. I lived vicariously through my oldest daughter when she studied art and painted in Florence in college. When she graduated, I found a bin of her painting supplies in our basement and asked her to show me how to use them. I was hooked the first time I picked up a paintbrush.

I’d never thought of myself as an artist, but I realized I had been creating art since I could remember. Teaching myself to sew, knit, and crochet, learning calligraphy, Quilling, making mosaics, cake decorating, and even catching butterflies and preserving them under glass in hand painted frames. To me, creating art is all about experimenting and I had been doing that for all my life. After years of reading about art, looking at art, and taking many classes and workshops with local artists, I created paintings I was finally ready to share with the world. Since I made that decision 20 years ago, I have devoted myself to pursuing my passion for art. I work full time in my studio whether I’m in Gloucester or Miami. Today, I feel fortunate I can focus on my artwork and teach my grandchildren by example how to be passionate about doing what they love.

Pictured: Katherine Coakley, Lily Pond, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30”

What prompted you to apply to and join the Copley Society of Art?

Several friends who are associated with the Copley Society encouraged me to submit an application. I have enjoyed success but more importantly, I have been enriched and stimulated by Co|So programs, opportunities, and by the remarkable community of talented artists.

Pictured: Katherine Coakley, Waiting to Paddle, oil on canvas, 11 x 14”

What inspires your artwork or where do you draw inspiration from?

Flowers and oceanscapes are two unlimited sources of inspiration. I grew up surrounded by flowers, as my Dad was a wholesale florist. I helped in the greenhouses and flower packing room and can recall every variety of flower from snap dragons to gerbera daisies. In my art, I am especially attracted to depicting flowers in all forms.

We have had a home in Gloucester, MA for many years and the waves and sunsets also provide endless inspiration. Our home was built on Sunset Rock, a massive boulder by the sea, and I understand why artists from all over the world flock to Cape Ann to capture the golden sunlight that bounces off its granite shores. I love living walking distance from Rocky Neck, the country’s oldest working art colony. When we’re in Miami in the winters, I’m inspired by an entirely different perspective of the Atlantic Ocean, exotic varieties of flowers, and the vibrant art scene in South Beach.

Pictured: Katherine Coakley, Blossoms, oil, metallics, and molding paste, 12 x 12”

What do you consider your most important tool when it comes to making art?

My curiosity is my most important tool. This intense desire to learn and create is the reason I love waking up each morning. I am continuously inspired to tackle new projects on any scale. During the first three months of COVID isolation, I painted 40 alcohol inks on different grounds, adding different materials to see how the inks would react. Currently, I am playing with water soluble pastels.

Pictured: Katherine Coakley at Miami Beach Botanical Garden, Butterfly Room

Could you briefly speak about Perennial Power: Women, Art, & Nature, the exhibition you organized? What was it like working as an exhibitions coordinator? Did you feel there was any overlap in your curatorial and artistic processes?

I am a member of the National Association of Women Artists and head the Exhibition Committee of the Florida Chapter, Miami Dade area. It took more than two years to plan our current exhibition, Perennial Power: Women, Art, and Nature which runs from March 5- April 5, 2021 at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden in conjunction with Women’s History month.

I began by securing the Butterfly Room for the Exhibition at the garden, then created a prospectus, selected a judge, coordinated the deliveries of the artwork, helped curate and hang the show, and organized the reception and awards. All firsts for me, but gratefully, the president of the chapter was a guiding force.

The process of organizing this exhibition was not that different from creating art. They each take dedication, hard work, and perseverance. Also, like the artistic process, I embraced the excitement and experience of learning new skills every step of the way.

Pictured: Katherine Coakley in front of the Copley Society of Art

How have organizations such as the National Association of Women Artists (NAWA) and The Copley Society of Art (Co|So) been beneficial to your career and artistic trajectory?

I never could have imagined the immense joy creating art has given me since I picked up a paintbrush 20 years ago. In addition to Co|So and NAWA, I belong to the North Shore Art Association in Gloucester, MA, seArts, the Experimental Group of the Rockport Art Association and Museum, and the Rocky Neck Art Colony. Each of these organizations have been major influences in my artistic journey.

Pictured: Katherine Coakley, Think Spring, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24”

What do you enjoy most about being an artist?

When I look back at my body of work, I appreciate the journeys I have taken, literally and figuratively, all over the world especially through the inherent beauty of New England and South Florida. I enjoy creating art for many reasons: as form of expression; as a connection with others; as an opportunity to be a part of a vibrant community of artists; as a conversation starter; as a form of meditation; as a way to inspire my children and grandchildren to be passionate about doing what they love. Being able to share my enthusiasm for art with others is the ultimate reward. Thanks to the support and encouragement of Peter, my husband of 52 years, I am living proof that you CAN have a new career later in life.

Congratulations to Kathy Coakley and to the participating artists of the Florida Chapter of the National Association of Women Artists (NAWA) for their successful exhibition! The Perennial Power: Women, Art, and Nature exhibition continues at Miami Beach Botanical Garden through the end of this weekend. You can view more works by Kathy Coakley in our virtual Small Works: Tapestry exhibition, on view through April 25, 2021.