Kim McCarty has been painting for over 30 years—her work has evolved from formal figurative oils to ethereal images and elfin-like creatures using watercolor. The work is anything but casual.
I fell in love with one of her oil paintings 20 years ago when she had a small show at a local clothing shop in my neighborhood. I bought it—paid it off in increments—and have adored it every day since.
We were introduced not long after that at a restaurant in Malibu—when I discovered she was married to Michael McCarty of the legendary Michael’s in Santa Monica and NYC. She is a superstar in her own right—and the duo create a force to be reckoned with.
She has remained on my radar ever since, and I thought, “who better to talk to to kick off my blog Q + A?”
Kim splits her time between the two coasts, but calls California home.
I met her at her Malibu studio atop a sunny vineyard covered hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean (of course they make wine too! The Malibu Vineyard).
I went to discuss her process and evolution—and get the inside skinny on her everyday stuff.
AQC: You’ve been painting with watercolors for years now, but you started in oils, what prompted the media switch?
KM: Our house burned down (1993 Topanga Fire) and I lost my studio- which was an open space where my oils could have air… I couldn’t keep using the oils in the new studio- with my kids and the fumes, so I started doing a lot of drawing and works on paper- I found I loved it, loved the immediacy and feeling of it. With the oils i was always working and overworking – and this was uncharted territory. I had done watercolors growing up- but it was not (a medium) taken seriously, or considered to be a finished product. It was a way to show a means to an end, and was considered a very feminine medium. By the late 90’s there was a lot of experimentation going on, the gender thing changed, and it made sense to make this switch -because it’s the way my life is… it’s very immediate. And I love that it is so hit and miss. It’s the obsession of getting it right that keeps me going- when it works, it really works, when it doesn’t – which is most of the time, I just tear it up! (She points to a row of huge black trash bags stuffed with rejects).
AQC– That leads me to the next question- Working wet on wet with your paint- you say that you have to start over many times before you get it right, do you find it frustrating or exciting, and do your intentions change once the paint hits the paper?
KM– It’s so mood oriented, it’s like a mood sensor. What’s going on in your life effects how the brush hits the paper….. like if you’re nervous, it will show- and that’s disgusting! It’s so intuitive how it happens- you think you know it’s right and then it changes while it dries in front of you… and you can’t go back. All the stars have to be aligned- if the day starts well, the whole day goes well. You just wait for that hit. If I am preparing for a show, I can work for 3 months with nothing and then that last week it all comes together. This is not a format that you can plan and work toward methodically.
AQC– Do you learn to trust that it will come… the pieces will fall together?
KM– I guess yes, I do, you have to have some kind of faith in telling your story. Its all about crazy obsession- there’s something that drives everybody, your story you have to tell. You have to figure out what yours is to keep you going in this weird world.
AQC-How does living against the Pacific ocean, the water and the light, effect your work and the choice of medium?
KM– I think the open air and space here have a lot to do with my work out here- because when I work in NY, its so different. I work tighter and very tiny and have to fight from making things extremely opaque. The paint dries very differently in NY-with the heat and AC- it’s NOT about light and air.
AQC– This past spring, you had a show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art- where you not only had an exhibition, but you sat for a number of sessions, painting in public space with a live participatory audience- What surprised you most about that experience?
KM– What surprised me most was that I thought I would have a hard time working in front of people, and truthfully it wasn’t that hard- because as people started to come and join me in the painting, I realized that they had a story to share and it was not all about me. It was a wonderful way for people to let their guard down, play and express themselves- it was really all about them. We learn in life, with family, children, none of its all about us anyway. I found that I could do quite a lot of things at one time. Of course I couldn’t focus on my work as much- but talk and listen while still working- must be something I picked up from helping in the restaurant business.
It was fun, but exhausting.
AQC– Did you sell the works you made during this project?
KM– Yes- I sold over 90 paintings! They were all very small and reasonably priced- most of proceeds went to the Santa Monica Museum.
AQC– What is your soundtrack to work to?
KM– NPR, Terry Gross, Alex Baldwin’s Heres The Thing on WNYC …. I LOVE his interviews! Los Angeles Public Library interviews ALOUD– I feel like need real information, I live in my fantasy head so much of the time I like to engage in real life when I can. – I don’t want to go into fiction, I already live fiction!
AQC– What’s on your Kindle this summer?
KM– Mountain to Mountain by Tracy Kidder– about Haiti, my daughter is working there alot. Eric Fischl’s book on being an artist- Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas; George Saunders’ Short Stories- Tenth of December…..Everybody says its amazing!
AQC– What is your go-to summer look?
KM– (laughs hard) Always white jeans, some decent scarves, white shirts-my look is just all white- preferably without any stains on it.
AQC– Flip flops or Birkenstocks?
KM– It would have to be flip flops- I’m not a Birkenstock girl.
AQC– Who cooks, you or Michael?
KM– no hesitation– Michael
AQC– Instagram or Pinterest?
KM– I do both- but I LOVE Instagram
AQC– Rosé or mojito?
KM– Sancerre with ice.
AQC– Gin rummy or go-fish
AQC– Paddle Board or Jet- Ski?
KM– Oy Vey- if given the choice- paddle board
To find out more about Kim and her gallery go to-Kim McCarty