I am a realist painter, known for my depictions of Australian rural life. Based in North East Victoria, I have become well-regarded as an equestrian artist, with a passion for painting draught horses. I began painting and sculpting full-time in 2009, and since this time, I have exhibited twice a year or more.
I grew up on my family’s apple orchard in Beechworth. After finishing school I thought the logical path would be to complete a Biology Degree with a major in plant science. I took a ‘gap year’ on an agricultural exchange program to Canada, where I met my future husband Chris, whom I would eventually join on his family’s farm in central Queensland. I began painting after myself and Chris took on our own 20,000 acre property in south-west Queensland in 2003. I spent many years pursuing a variety of career paths including high school teaching and financial planning, but it wasn't until I picked up a paint brush that I finally found what I was put here to do. I also needed a creative outlet to counterbalance the struggles of rural life, which befell our farm with alarming regularity (combating droughts, wild dogs, and endless weed infestations was a part of daily life).
I took my first workshop in oil painting with Wolfgang ‘Bill’ Sass, and found that painting didn’t come naturally: developing technical proficiency was something I had to pursue with dogged determination. With further tuition under seasoned realist painters John Wilson and Lyn Diefenbach, I honed my skills, learning to paint in both oil and acrylic, on canvas and linen.
Since this time, my style has developed into a blend of photographic realism combined with dense painterly detail that only appears on closer inspection. Mark-making remains important to my creative practice — especially the act of ‘loading the brush’ with the right combination of colours, in which I often apply several unblended colours at once. I think that far more than colour, creating the right tone to express light and shadow, is the most important technical aspect of my work. On a deeper level, I believe that if I put positive energy into my work as I paint, it will permeate the space where the painting is hung.
My creative intent remains simple. The world we live in today is full of fear and anger. Rather than add to it, I want to create works which balance that out. I want people to look at my paintings and feel up-lifted; to feel a sense of joy. I also want people viewing my paintings to feel connected to life in rural Australia in a positive way.
After 20 years in the Queensland ‘outback’, in 2015, I moved back to North East Victoria with Chris and our two children, to settle on 1000 acres in the Greta Valley, farming beef cattle. I have set up my studio in the farm’s original tobacco kiln; a space I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams. With the family farm located across the valley from the old Kelly family selection, and surrounded by country that bushranger Ned Kelly knew like the back of his hand, the move to North East Victoria has seen me adding the landscapes of ‘Kelly country’ to my creative output.
The subject of draught horses has also caught my eye. Once settled on the new farm, I began pursuing scenes of ‘heavy horses’ at work, attending events like the Barellan Working Clydesdales and Heavy Horses Weekend, and Moora Working Draught Horse Muster. These animals have become my muse because they are emblematic of rural life. I paint them to reflect on the values of hard work, and steady, calm strength, which ultimately draught horses symbolise for me.
In 2018, I opened my own art gallery and workshop space, Kathy Ellem Fine Art, in the historic gold rush town of Beechworth. Having won the prestigious Australian National Equine Art Prize in 2017 (with an $8000 cash prize), and more recently, the Christine Drewyer Award at the Women Artists Of The West 48th National Exhibition (United States), I split my time between my studio in Hansonville and exhibiting and running workshops in the Beechworth gallery and across rural and remote Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
2018 has been a huge year with opening of my new gallery at 45 Ford Street Beechworth, and look forward to seeing you there.
Gallery 107 (Dalby Art Gallery), QLD, (forthcoming 2020)
Beef Week, Rockhampton, QLD, 2018
Somerset Regional Art Gallery (The Condensery), QLD, June, 2017
Cunnamulla Fella Centre Art Gallery and Museum, QLD, 2016
Dogwood Crossing Art Gallery and Community Centre, Miles, QLD, 2016
Mitchell on Maranoa (Maranoa Art Gallery), QLD, 2015
Waltzing Matilda Centre (Outback Regional Gallery), Winton, QLD, 2014
Gallery 107 (Dalby Art Gallery), QLD, 2014
Surat on Balonne Gallery (Surat Art Gallery), QLD, November — December 2011
Mitchell on Maranoa (Maranoa Art Gallery), QLD, September 2010, and January 2011
Women artists of the west, Best of show (for 'Together we will succeed'), Settlers west gallery, Tucson AZ, USA, 2020.
John Villiers Outback Art Prize (for the painting 'Hearts as Big as the Sky'), Waltzing Matilda Centre, Winton, 2020
Women Artists of the West online summer exhibition, United States, (First Place), 2018
Christine Drewyer Award of Distinction (First in 2D), Women Artists of the West 48th National Juried Exhibition, United States, 2018
National Equine Art Prize, Mansfield, Victoria (First Place, including an $8000 prize), 2017
Somerset Bendigo Bank Art Awards, Esk, QLD, (First Place), 2017
Bell Art Exhibition, Bell, QLD, 2017 (First Place)
Lane Cove Municipal Art Award, 2016 (First Place)
Australian Embassy, Baghdad, Iraq (acquired 2019)
Blackall-Tambo Regional Council collection (acquired 2018)
Lane Cove Council collection (acquired 2016)
Origin Energy, Australia (commission, 2014)
I was also awarded an Australia Day medal for contribution to Culture 2012 in Surat, and member contribution in 2014.