Kathleen Cammarata: Painting Connections

What are the chances, I wonder, of moving to another country and finding, quite by accident, that three other people from your little hometown in northern New Jersey, USA — women who actually attended the same high school you did at about the same time — live there now too?

That’s been my happy experience in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. My “homies” here include retired business executive and active SMA volunteer Suzanne Bacon, watercolor artist and teacher Linda Whynman, and visual artist Kathleen Cammarata – all of whom I’m now getting to know in ways I never did when we were girls growing up in ‘Jersey. It’s been a joy.

In March I attended Kathleen’s last Open Studio of the season at her lovely home in the San Antonio neighborhood of San Miguel. On that occasion I took this photo of her beside one of her works-in-progress at the time, depicting sisters:

Kathleen Cammarata by her easel at her Open Studio in March

She and I subsequently made a plan for me to return as soon as possible to speak with her in more depth about her work and her thoughts about life and art. This week we were able to do that.

Kathleen’s completed Sisters painting

I learned that Kathleen, now seventy-two, has been an oil painter since she was thirty-five. Before then she was a children’s book illustrator, while teaching in a Montessori school and raising her two children. She later left the Montessori classroom and moved on to teaching art at two museums and a university. In San Miguel for the past nine years with her husband Frank, she now pursues drawing, oil painting, and mixed mediums full-time.

Kathleen in her studio work space — with inspiring quotes on the wall

Sitting with her in her spacious, white, light-filled studio, I asked Kathleen a number of questions, including — because I’m now trying my hand at watercolor painting — her thoughts on the ability of people to learn art later in life.

“Since I’ve taught students from three years old to seventy years old, I believe anybody can learn anything at any age,” she said. “It’s not easy, however. If you want to be a really good piano player, you’re going to have to stay with it for a good ten years. Many people, when they retire, want to start painting, and I think that’s great. Maybe they shouldn’t call themselves artists, though. They should just say, ‘I’m having fun.’ It took me many years before I could call myself an artist.”

Kathleen by her body of work

I asked her what that discipline entailed.

“If you really want to get there,” she said, “you have to show up every day. It doesn’t mean you have to pick up a brush or a pencil. It just means you have to go into the space and be in the space – like ‘A Room of Her Own’ – and spend time there, whether you’re thinking, meditating, or painting. That’s the main ingredient. … I don’t wait for inspiration to fall out of the sky. Unless I get in here and start looking at past work and materials and tools, nothing will happen.”

And where, I asked her, does she get her inspiration?

“I really believe that one thing feeds the next. So I’m always looking for connections – the connections from my paintings to the drawings and back again, to the next, to the next; the connections with my work and the greater world. And when I see those connections, I start to see what the next thing is. It’s a sense of connection.”

One of the examples of this “connection,” she showed me, was her COVID series. “Due to COVID, we were severed from our family and friends. So once I started this series,” she said, “I knew it had to be two people – one person over here and the other person over there… And then I’d work on that for a while, and then I’d start the next one. And then I looked back at the first one and saw the connection in the paintings.”

Throughout her work on the COVID series, Kathleen told me, she was motivated by the question, What can art bring to the problem?

“I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse, I’m not a political person who can mandate mask-wearing,” she said. “So I had to ask myself, ‘What can artists do in the middle of a pandemic to help people see their way through?’ Then I created the series and posted each one on Facebook. That was a particular calling to address the pandemic.”

Another example is her series called Hemisphere. “How can I as an artist address the issue of climate change?” she asked rhetorically. “I’m still trying to answer that question. I believe if we really understood the vastness of the whole universe and all the things in it and how each thing impacts another, then maybe we would have much more respect for our ground and sky.”

One of Kathleen’s Hemisphere paintings

When I asked what she felt was her biggest accomplishment, Kathleen told me her ultimate goal has always been to have her paintings in a museum one day. “That would be my biggest accomplishment,” she said. “I haven’t achieved it yet. … In the past, women artists represented only about 10 percent of the art in museums. It’s something like 40 percent now. But we still have a ways to go.”

Kathleen’s favorite painting is this one, Moonstone

Finally, as I do in all WOW interviews, I asked Kathleen what she’d like her legacy to be.

“I’d like to think that I’ve inspired other people to be creative,” she said. “Not necessarily artists, just be creative. Creativity is a way of connecting with the world.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Kathleen plans to resume her Open Studios in September. Before then, if you’d like to see all of her work in her beautiful studio, you can email her for an appointment at katcammarata@gmail.com or message her on Facebook.

16 thoughts on “Kathleen Cammarata: Painting Connections”

  1. Muy interesante, BonnieDear. I love her work, especially her Hemisphere painting. I also like what she said about connections. I’ve always noticed them but never actually thought of them as inspiration to create. Nice post! xoxo ~ Be

    1. Yes, BeDear! Her Hemisphere piece is my favorite too! If I had a house with lots of blank walls (and not a small rental apartment with no empty wall space), I’d be really tempted to buy it. I LOVE her work and I’m in awe of her immense talent. IMHO her work certainly deserves to be in a museum.

  2. Dear Bon,

    What a wonderful spirit shines out of Ms. Cammarata. Even on the printed pages it can be felt. I was struck by her thoughts on connections, which I see so often myself. As I get older I become more attuned to the connections among things. Sometimes it even startles me to perceive how interrelated everything seem to be. I never saw this when I was younger.
    Also, I love her belief that it’s never too late to learn something. I see this too. Being older is the perfect time to learn or begin something new because we can bring to it the fullness of our experience. I’m not sure if experience is the same as confidence, but if it isn’t, I believe it surpasses confidence in usefulness


    1. Yes, Paul dear, you’re so right. It was a pleasure to interview Kathleen, hear her thoughts, and be surrounded by her stunning work. I just hope, in this short post, I was able to do it all some justice. — xx

  3. I had the same rare chance of meeting someone here in San Miguel I went to school with. He asked where I had grown up. I answered London, Ontario. He said, me too. He asked me which high school I had gone to. I answered Beck. He said, me too. He asked what year I had graduated. When I answered, he replied, me too. We obviously had not recognized each other.

  4. Hi Bonnie,

    Thanks for the interview I have been a Kathleen fan since I first saw her work in 2015 and bought some painting and prints over the years. I always enjoy looking at them and I continue to see something new in each one.

  5. I too am blown away by Kathleen’s work and the fact that the four of us have this connection. SMA is a magical place where connections like this abound. Thanks for the mention!!

    1. Thanks, Suzanne! Yes, “blown away” expresses my reaction to Kathleen’s paintings too. I look forward to the day when the four of us PVHSers can have a ladies lunch here in SMA together!

  6. Thank you s much Bonnie for re-introducing me to Kathleen’s beautiful works of art, her thoughts and ideas which inspire. I visited her Open Studio many years ago and loved the chance to revisit it through a new lens, your interview and her words. It also caused a longing in me to return to my career as a visual artist which I’ve left in the dust, as I found myself drawn to writing. Well, there’s always tomorrow!

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