A Visit With Island Lake Artist Elizabeth Kuth

Ed Newman

A few years ago while in the office of Kat Eldred, former director of the Duluth Art Institute, I became captivated by a picture that she had on her office wall. She said it was by an artist who lived out on Island Lake, Elizabeth Kuth and she practically insisted I visit her studio someday.
A few years passed but our paths crossed and someday finally came. Earlier this summer I made the trek out. Here was an artist creating a symphony of shapes, colors and forms under the direction of her own internal conductor. I was utterly impressed.
Upon arriving she began by showing me a number of large canvases she had stored in her garage. From there we went down to her studio, where she talked freely about her various works, her approach to painting and her life as an artist. Much of her work is abstract and large, and impressive.

Eliabeth Kuth: This is one of my earlier ones. I just got angry and (was) using dark colors. This is one of the first ones I was doing drawing on. It’s kind of like rock painting, like prehistoric time. I am looking for simplistic form in that way. I am doing forms that are childlike or animal like. Maybe from living out here so long I have connections with nature forms. I actually need to have a lot of quietness around me. That’s one that started it for me. Scratching marks on it… like a cave drawing. I’ve been told my work is ethereal. I see that… It calms me down. I am so far over in a visual mind rather than a mathematical mind, so my things are about fantasy with fantasy forms. Imaginative forms come out.

EN: How did you become a painter?

EK: I used to draw all the time when I was a little kid, in my bedroom. There were five kids in the family. I didn’t want any conflict so I used to go to my room and draw all the time. When I got out of high school I went to a junior college and then to art school. I knew this was what I wanted to do… went to Minneapolis School of Art & Design. Then I came back here to Duluth because I didn’t have any money to carry on.
So this thing of being a loner started to evolve around then. I liked to be by myself and draw. I liked to be by myself and paint. I did a lot of drawing, pen and ink things, did lithography. I was living in an apartment behind my dad’s dental business. I was doing that and working at a photography store, but that is where I found meaning.
My dad wanted me to open a gift shop downstairs in his place. I was upstairs in an apartment but his building was down below.
I got married and had two children, then took a watercolor class with Cheng-Khee Chee. Did watercolor for 17 years. I taught at the Depot and adult ed classes in the area for a while.
After my divorce I went back to school. That’s when I started oil painting and printmaking. And that’s when I started to draw every day.

EN: Who have been your biggest influences?

EK: A lot of my influences come from German abstract expressionism. That is kind of an intrigue to me.

EN: Where are your forms coming from?

EK: In your genes and who you are, and who your parents were and grandparents were. That’s one thing that started to come out. That interested me because I saw a lot of bones in my earlier work. These bones kept appearing, which was interesting, because my grandfather was a bone surgeon. He did drawings and did a book of illustrations of bones.
I think a lot about spaces, from early childhood. Whether it was the dock I was on or the lake,… even when I’m painting something would hit me from early on and I would go with that for a while.
Sometimes I turn a painting upside down and look at its shapes and forms and work on it as abstract design.
A lot of my images have a sense of falling. Those back there are about something falling down. By turning it upside down I might see something that ignites something in me, and I will see something different.
A lot of my things seem to have a downward position and by turning it I see a new meaning in it.
I am looking for something that hits me. Ah! I like this better. I don’t think about what it’s going to be until it starts to become something.  
I do feel a need to identify something in a piece. Most of my things are figurative, filling up the whole space. There’s a suspension… but also a dominant form.

EN: Did you know Bill Morgan?

EK: Yes. He was my teacher and mentor. Went to UWS a while in art education, but knew that was not for me. Went back later and got a Masters in Art. I may never exhibit these things but it’s influencing me… drawing horses, capturing movement. I also work with paper, oil paint on paper, and I’m really liking them.
EN: Does all come from within or from replicating what you see?

EK: No, it’s just creating and moving forms. If you go through these (sketchbooks) you’ll see how they changed so much. This one is from 2012.  This was early on, and then see how they changed. Sometimes I go back into my sketchbooks and redo them, superimposing on what was once subtle, but now evolved, showing somewhat a development. That’s what I’ve been doing with all my paintings, going back into them, so there’s push and pull. It’s not about the subject, but about forms, forms that have an emotional quality.

That’s kind of what I do.