For this week's Flower Person, we spoke with Katie Whipple, a professional artist based in Queens, NY. She has studied academic painting at the Grand Central Atelier and gone on to receive a variety of accolades for her astonishing talents. Katie has been the recipient of scholarships from the Grand Central Atelier, the Art Renewal Center, and a purchase award from the Indiana State Museum for their permanent collection. After receiving the 2013-2014 Alma Schapiro Prize, Katie traveled to Rome to study at the American Academy. After years of her academic art training and an unexpected transition in her work, Katie has devoted her work to the flowers, painting life into her incredibly detailed and breathtaking floral and botanical paintings.
Below, we talk about her professional art education, aesthetic evolution, and of course, her predilection for flowers.
Hi Katie! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
I am a "professional artist" which just means I paint paintings as my full-time job. I was academically trained in figurative oil painting at the Grand Central Atelier, where I now teach. I dedicated my painting practice entirely to flowers approximately five years ago. It was a shift in my work that I never saw coming, but I am infinitely grateful to the flowers for choosing me.
It's so poetic how the flowers chose you! Where are you from and where do you call home now?
I grew up in central Indiana, and for the past ten years I have lived in New York City. Most of the time I live in Queens, New York, but I am living out the current quarantine on Eastern Long Island at my in-law's home. I am so grateful to have flowers to paint and a yard for my dog to play in!
I'm glad to hear the flowers have followed you even to Eastern Long Island. Where did your love for flowers come from or what first drew you to flowers?
I remember playing with flowers and enjoying flowers growing up in Indiana, but it wasn't until I experienced springtime in New York City that my relationship to flowers really changed. There is something miraculous about spending a very long, very cold winter in a completely colorless city that makes the first spring flowers seem like a complete miracle. I will never forget that first New York spring... It was exactly 10 years ago! During that first New York spring, I began sketching flowers en plein air, but it wasn't until I was living in Italy 4 years later that I began to pull away from painting people and transition into painting flora.
New York City is so lively and full of color in the spring and it's amazing to see that translated into your paintings! Can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of your aesthetic?
My training at GCA was based in the Renaissance and 19th century French Academy. I was very devoted to becoming a figurative and portrait painter following in this European tradition. Upon graduating from GCA I received the Alma Schapiro Prize, which sent me to the American Academy in Rome for three months to study the old masters. This trip completely changed my life. It was in Rome where I discovered my love for Ancient Roman Wall Paintings, as well as the Quattrocento. I thought I was going to Rome to copy Raphael and Caravaggio, whose paintings are much more in line with what I studied in school. Instead, I fell in love with Fra Angelico and 2,000 year old frescos of lemon trees. It was also during this same stretch of time when I went to Paris for the first time and discovered the work of Odilon Redon. This "trifecta" if you will--Ancient Roman frescos, Fra Angelico, and Odilon Redon--are still the inspiration for nearly all of my paintings 6 years later. I still can't really explain why the subject matter of my work shifted so dramatically to flowers, but I blame the flowers themselves for seducing me. :)
It's astonishing to hear about your extensive experience and training in the European tradition. Since ultimately the flowers have seduced you, what’s your favorite flower and why?
My absolute favorite flowers are magnolias. I am looking at our past-peak saucer magnolia tree out the window as I type this. I think a lot of my love for these unbelievably beautiful trees has to do with the fact that I've always lived in places where their giant pink and white blooms were the first sign of spring. There is something so utterly magical about a tree that has such enormous flowers on skinny grey branches with nary a leaf in sight. The rest of the world is still hibernating, but magnolias show up at just the right time in full glory.
There is certainly a magical beauty and visual language that magnolias elicit. Now, what are some inspiring words you love and live by?
"Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you." -- Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
"Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden - in all the places." -- Frances Hodgson Burnett, 'The Secret Garden'
Great quotes! I love how you've united the magic of literature to the inspiration you find as an artist. What are you working on right now that you’d like to share?
I'm working on preparatory studies for a large magnolia painting! I began making the studies one year ago when the magnolias were in bloom last season. I hope in the next few days I will have enough studies gathered for the final painting! All of these paintings are for my first solo exhibition at Arcadia Contemporary. If everything goes to plan, the show will open at the gallery in Pasadena, CA September 5th. I will have around 20 paintings on exhibition.
Your preparation for your first solo exhibition is incredible. I admire your dedication to flowers in every sense. How do you incorporate flowers into your daily ritual?
I paint them every day :)
And what’s the last flower you bought?
I bought many Icelandic Poppies from the New York Flower Market (before quarantine and COVID shut everything down) to finish up a large poppy painting. I am so incredibly grateful it is spring and I can work with things growing in the yard right now!
Finally, what’s a wellness tip you’d like to share with our community?
Eat more cookies. I guarantee it will make you feel better -- happy, sad, frustrated, anxious. Eat a cookie and drink some tea. Life is way too short not to eat the cookies.
Here you can find more about Katie and her work: