Kitty North is a painter of landscapes and people. Her works present familiar sites turned visions; these spiritual and hazy canvases, for me, evoke some sense of ‘home’. Kitty’s work appears as if a celebration of colour; of its delicacies, its ability to be pastel, warming and gentle, or vibrant, exclamatory, bold, unafraid. Here I focus on her works in oil, delving into their nostalgic tones and disquiet subtleties. I will raise the nature of familiarity within North’s work, discussing the power of signs, and the intrinsic link between togetherness and solitude.
North lives and works in the Yorkshire Dales. She aims to reveal the “pulse and spirituality of her subjects”. The artist’s recurring use of deep and pale pinks, and the way in which these pigments are applied, reminds me very much of certain paintings by Chagall. He drew the viewer into a spiritual plane via relentless, luminous canvases, so unafraid of vibrancy, presenting his subjects within a pictorial space ablaze with colour. North’s deep pinks and yellows within ‘Going Home’ (above) call this to mind. That and the textural quality of this piece, its almost gritty areas of black-greys and yellows, which intervene across smooth pale lilac, make me think of Chagall’s ‘Circus’, in which startling reds and pinks are interrupted by lines of Marc’s favourite Mediterranean blue.
‘Going Home’ sees a cluster of four figures, huddled and in motion, headed towards a house close by. The group are highlighted by a golden yellow, which permeates the canvas and serves the artist well, focusing our eye on a tree beyond and the moon in the sky. I find the notion of familiarity fascinating – that with a few brush strokes an artist can create a nostalgic vision, displaying a little house in the distance that has the power to make each viewer recall their own notion of ‘going home’. Through the depiction of a little roofed structure and a huddle of people on a path, we are beckoned to think of home, and those dearest to us.
North seems preoccupied by this theme. In ‘Family Afternoon’ (above) we see a group of people striding across a dazzling orange landscape, close to a house and a couple of trees. The artist requires no more than these signs to indicate the concerns of the work. Kitty’s paintings are deeply embedded within ‘the familiar’. She takes a commonplace scene and enlivens it with colours that appear almost ephemeral – it is as though the figures are wandering home before dusk, under a soon to be setting sun, as blue shadows pervade a golden scene. North here uses blue as Chagall often did; key aspects of the scene are depicted in navy, echoed within the sky above.
A video explores the way in which Kitty works within the landscape, matching shades of paint with the very grass beneath her feet. It demonstrates her fascination with nature and that, next to a painterly world full of glowing pinks and oranges, she remains intrigued by the natural tones of her surroundings. ‘Summer in the Dales’ (above) gestures towards this. The painting consists of sweeping bright yellows and greens; one can imagine finding such tones across a summer meadow; the yellow is reminiscent of Springtime rapeseed. A flurry of vivid blue marks an arching sky. North’s work is textural; the sky is made up of blues and whites with little spirals that hint at clouds. The painting is full of subtle details that indicate Kitty’s presence within the landscape upon creation, demonstrating her close relationship with the Yorkshire Dales and her belief in its beauty.
Not all of North’s work is as effulgent. In a representation of Bolton Abbey (below), the artist employs subtler chalky blues, pale yellows and purples to dance with white and black. These gentler tones make for a calm canvas, focusing our eyes on the black outline of the Abbey in the immediate distance. For a local viewer, familiarity will here ignite the memory and encourage a feeling of affiliation. I have been working in a gallery lately and, many times, upon seeing a print on the wall, a visitor has said “is that Bamburgh Castle?”. It is the most common question I have received while working there. This indicates the viewers’ enjoyment upon seeing a site within an artwork that is recognisable, that speaks of something experienced before. North’s paintings have this power to beckon remembrance.
Kitty continues playing with notions of the familiar within her least busy canvases. ‘Nearly Home’ (below) and ‘Tranquility’ (second below) are appealing in their focusing on only a few elements: the walkers, the sky, and the ground beneath them. The former presents a couple wandering home under a deep yellow sun, which again appears to permeate its surroundings – the figures are highlighted by the same shade, while scratches of yellow are present within the pale blue sky. Is there a swan behind them, drifting away on a body of water beyond? A pale lilac and pink foreground does nothing to interrupt this serene moment.
Notions of togetherness and solitude are brought out within these works. These couples appear tiny amidst their surroundings, lone pairs wandering across a silent scene. Kitty singles them out, offering emphasis on the act of walking together in nature. They appear within remote settings, singular groupings, in lone-togetherness. In ‘Tranquility’, the sky appears to engulf the ground, implying night’s victory over daytime. Striking deep blues and purples sweep across the canvas, harmonious, while a small moon sits atop a lone walking couple. Kitty takes wholly recognisable scenes and showers them with rich colours, offering them theatricality and meaning. The familiar and the mundane are presented as shimmering and timeless.
For a chance to see a range of Kitty’s paintings: Prospect Gallery will be opening every Friday in September from 10.00 am – 4.30 pm.
Kitty North, ‘Going Home’. Oil on canvas, 91 x 108 cm. Source.
Kitty North, ‘Family Afternoon’. Oil on canvas, 26 x 30cm. Source.
Kitty North, ‘Summer in the Dales’. Oil on canvas, 101 x 121 cm. Source.
Kitty North, ‘Bolton Abbey’. Oil on canvas, 90 x 106 cm. Source.
Kitty North, ‘Nearly Home’. Oil on canvas. Source.
Kitty North, ‘Tranquility’. Oil on canvas, 150 x 180 cm. Source.
Katherine April Caddy, 26th July 2014.