Kat Houseman: Brush of beauty

by Brent Cole

Local painter Kat Houseman sidesteps contemporary art for wildlife portraits, bringing out the beauty of animals with the stroke of a brush.

Kat, hailing from Montana,  began her artistic path as a child, checking out “How to Draw Animals” books out of the library as a middle schooler in Great Falls and submitting works to local art show competitions. Her early works included “a lot of dogs and horses,” animals commonly seen on the Montana landscape.

After high school, Kat studied art at Montana State in Bozeman, where she met her husband and artist, Corey Urlacher. While studying art, she found herself constantly in a battle with the more contemporary art department, driven by her desire to create Western style paintings.

“It’s all I’ve ever done and all I’ve ever wanted to do,” she said matter of factly, adding, “I’ve always painted animals, I’ve never focused on any other subject.”

After college (Kat had to change her thesis two weeks before graduation), she and Corey stayed in town for a year before heading west, spending a brief time in Anacortes with family before coming to Bellingham, a town they’d never been to before. Within a week of seeing Bellingham, they found an apartment downtown, had jobs and settled in.

Soon after, they found an art space at Michelle Schutte’s The Clinic and their immersion into Bellingham’s art culture began in earnest. Over the next six years, Kat’s work grew, showing locally while primarily continuing to show in Montana and Wyoming. The commute and need for a change led them to Missoula, where they lived for 13 months, but Corey and Kat recently returned to Bellingham, where they say is home.

While Bellingham has a thriving contemporary art scene, Kat has never wavered from her desire to paint wildlife, which comes from a strong innate desire as well as an emotional connection to wildlife.

“I just like animals. There’s probably way more to it than that… they are peaceful, simple creatures. They have a very straightforward way of living. They are uncomplicated in comparison to how we live.” She added, “Animals are not as plentiful as human beings, our population has doubled since the 1970s and the animal population has decreased by half. I’ve always felt they should be admired and represented.”

It’s obvious in looking at her paintings that growing up in Montana had a large influence on her, though she points out not just in the most obvious way. “Growing up you’d see antelope, deer and elk. Montana is very proud of their animals and wildlife and that’s definitely part of me. My favorite western art were the ones that depicted the animals,” but she added living in Great Falls also allowed her to see other artists making a living doing “fantastic Western” art. She realized art could be her profession, though during slower seasons she’ll take on a part-time job as needed.

As Kat heads into her busy summer season, she has a show at the Redlight in May followed by shows in Big Fork, Montana, Toledo, Oregon, Virginia City, Montana and Boise, Idaho as well as more prominent works in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For her works at the Redlight, Kat moved a bit out of her norm.

“The Redlight pieces say a little more. They’re dark – some of the landscapes are cityscapes and empty branches. They’re not as typical for me,” she said. “I’ve been playing with my pallet – I never paint with black and for this one I have added black to a couple of the pieces. It gives it a grayer feel.”

The paintings are also framed using pieces she’s found or picked up along the way.

In addition to her gallery work, Kat paints commission pieces, ranging from dogs to hummingbirds. But whether it’s for someone else or a gallery show, Kat’s work is steadfastly wildlife oriented. Always has been and always will be.

Published in the May 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine