Mt. Airyite an 'absolute master as a batik artist'

by Len Lear
Posted 7/8/21

In the early 1970s, while living in upper Bucks County along the Delaware River, Kathy Robinson took a batik workshop with a local artist and quickly found that this was the technique that would enable her to integrate her interests in both art and design.

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Mt. Airyite an 'absolute master as a batik artist'

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Kathy Robinson, 68, grew up in Plymouth Meeting and attended Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, but she has lived in Mt. Airy for 33 years with her husband and two sons. After high school Robinson attended Drexel University and studied fashion design.

In the early 1970s, while living in upper Bucks County along the Delaware River, she took a batik workshop with a local artist and quickly found that this was the technique that would enable her to integrate her interests in both art and design. (Batik is a type of “resist” printing process in which wax is applied to fabric in specific areas. When the wax hardens, the fabric is submerged in dye. The fabric is then boiled to remove the wax. This fabric-dyeing method makes cotton look crackled. Batik fabric can typically be found in dresses and household décor.)

Robinson went back to school when she was 50, starting with a summer program in painting and figure drawing in Italy at the Florence Academy of Art. For the next 10 years she extended the study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art as a continuing education student and earned a Certificate in their Core Curriculum Program in 2014. She has since become an absolute master as a batik artist.

“The wax in batik, a combination of beeswax and paraffin, acts as a 'resist' to the dyes,” she explained last week. “Wanting a truly 'original' piece when I was designing fashion, I realized that I would need to design and decorate the surface of the fabric too. I was drawn to the unpredictability of the wax, never knowing how the piece would come out until it was removed. It's an organic aspect of the work which I find both liberating and inviting.

“Most recently, in my paintings on rice paper and canvas, along with watercolor, inks and acrylics, I have used that same technique to achieve interesting effects on the artwork. My recent work walks a line between abstract and representational with a desire on my part to achieve more abstract results. With a long history as a floral artist in various mediums, my work has become more abstract. The use of fluid acrylics on canvas has mimicked some of the effects achieved by painting with dyes on silk.”

Recently Robinson has been using soy wax and/or gutta (a thick substance made from latex) with silk dyes to make her art scarves. As in her silk wearable art pieces, in her mixed media acrylic paintings she achieves similar effects using a combination of acrylics, mediums, Japanese papers, inks and canvas. Sometimes she also incorporates hot or cold wax techniques.

Asked about how the pandemic has affected her, Robinson replied, “My heart aches for those we have lost and their loved ones. We have a new grandson in Virginia and another son in California whom we just saw for the first time in 1 1/2 years last week. During my time in quarantine, painting became my 'self-care.' I took lots of masked walks, and the beautiful gardens and wonderful spirit of my neighborhood have begun to find their way into my work.

“It was difficult for me not to return to my work as lead teacher for the Community of Pride art and mural program run through the Mount Airy Art Garage at the Emlen Elementary School. As an artist there are invariably times of near-paralysis where you find yourself without direction or a creative force to move forward. I find that the simple act of cleaning my studio or going to a museum can be helpful.”

What is the hardest thing Robinson ever had to do? “I am an extreme introvert, and when asked to do an artist talk in front of a large group of people, I am terrified. After much practice I have done it, but it still stresses me … The person who has had the greatest impact on my life is my husband of 32 years, Richard, always supporting and encouraging me in my art.”

What artist in history would Robinson most have liked to meet? “In recent years I have been most fascinated by the Swedish artist and mystic Hilma af Klint. Her amazing abstract paintings in the early 1900s, the colors, the scale I find are amazing. She's someone I would love to meet and pick her artistic brain.”

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