Grandma tells stories through her painting

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2004

HOMER There are some things that cannot be controlled, according to artist Pat Kennedy, who prefers being known as "Grandma Pat." But painting is certainly not one of them. One glance at Kennedy's paintings currently on exhibit at Picture Alaska art gallery in Homer, and it is clear that this self-taught painter from Ninilchik has a firm grasp on her brushes and the flow of paint to canvas.

Liberally mixing imagination and humor with acrylics, Kennedy creates scenes filled with eye-catching details. Moose drop by parachute into a settlement of lighthouses, homes and churches. A pickup filled with waving people bounces along a dirt road. A river divides the scene as it flows toward a larger body of water that is bordered by looming mountains. And in a lower corner, logging activities are supervised by a bald eagle circling overhead.

In another painting, Kennedy relies on bold, vibrant colors for her interpretation of Ninilchik village. Deep blue river water wraps around century-old structures before emptying into Cook Inlet. Yellow provides a perfect contrast, highlighting fall-faded birch leaves and domes on the Russian Orthodox church. Boats sit on shore. Seagulls lift into the salt-laden air. The 77-year-old artist's eye captures the details, arranging them as her creativity dictates.

"I love the vibrant colors of everything," Kennedy says. "And pastels ... I really love pastels."

In a picture of a Russian Orthodox church, she displays that passion by backing away from overpowering vibrant hues to create a softer presentation that relies, instead, on the clean lines of shape.

"I can sit for hours and just make a story out of the painting," Kennedy says. It is the sitting for hours that she cannot control. "My body's crippled up so I sit at the dining room table because I really can't do too much."

Osteoporosis has resulted in multiple fractures of her back. Her heart is in bad health. Emphysema requires that a bottle of oxygen be close at hand.

Having dabbled at painting over the years, Kennedy determined that all that time sitting could be used to develop her creativity.

"I sit at the dining table and my imagination goes crazy."

In July, Kennedy suffered a stroke. "Right now, I'm working real hard trying to get my hand in use again," she said. And, again, painting is her answer.

"It's coming along, but it will probably take a little time. By the grace of God, he lets me go on and I'm thankful for that. Even though my old hands shake from the stroke."

Her love affair with painting is a long-term commitment.

"I don't think I'd ever give up painting, even if I had to paint with my feet," she said. "It just put something into my life that I can't explain. I love painting and I put a lot of that love in the pictures."

She also loves the paintings by Alaskan artist Sydney Lawrence and his contemporaries.

"They're true artists," she said. "I could never paint like those folks. I'm just kind of a primitive artist."

Her inspiration comes from "looking out at the beauty that God gave us ... the snow ... the birds. And every once in awhile, I come up with something like that."

Focusing on the outer world is Kennedy's way of maintaining a healthy outlook.

"It takes so much of thinking about yourself during the day away," she said. "You forget your pain and your struggles .... It's like working a jigsaw puzzle. You add another piece to the picture and just go on from there."

The aging process is something else Kennedy cannot control, but she can control the way she approaches it. "I didn't want to be an old lady," she said. "I wanted to do something active. At least I can live active in these pictures.

"I hope everyone enjoys them because I sure enjoy them," she said. "I hope they go to homes where people have love for them because they have a lot of love in them."

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