Painting into a corner

Metro Spirit | July 5, 2007
Favorite Augusta painter Bea Kuhlke defected to Aiken two years ago with her husband and found heaven in a studio they converted from a small storage shed in their back yard.

“I really don’t ever want to leave the property. Everything I love is right here,” Kuhlke said of her art, her husband and her two rescue dogs.

For 25 years, the painter was a beloved instructor at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art. She had studied painting with Hans J. Staude in Florence, Italy; with noted Chicago painter, sculptor and teacher Freeman Schoolcraft; and with acrylic painter Marjorie Dean Andruk. But she was just as happy being a starving artist.

“I wanted to paint and if you just put that first, you take a lot of chances. I didn’t have anything and I was just happy as a lark painting,” she said. “If you’re a painter, it’s who you are. It’s more who you are than what you do.”

What she did was create colorful watercolors and now bright and brilliant acrylics. But if life is art, Bea Kuhlke’s art is life.

“I work from my experience of being there. I insert all the feelings I have about being there. I can’t work from a photograph from two years ago, because the experience is gone,” she said.

And as her life has changed, so has her art.

“For many years I did nothing but transparent watercolor and I see it in people’s homes and I think ‘I wish I could do that,’ but I can’t. I don’t think that way. I’m not that person,” she said.

Instead, she’s working on three easels at the same time, creating a number of smaller-than-usual works to show at Sacred Heart Cultural Center. The pieces have her usual post-impressionistic feel, with broad strokes building light on top of dark, and making less sense the closer you move towards it.

“She’s done a whole phase of new work for this show,” said Judy Evans, Sacred Heart art hall director. “She hasn’t been in Sacred Heart for a while, and is just very enthusiastic.”

Kuhlke’s enthusiasm may stem from gratitude. Two galleries in Augusta carry her work, and she’s finalizing an arrangement with a dealer on the West Coast. Hundreds of her paintings hang in private and corporate collections. Kuhlke isn’t letting it go to her head.

“I’m really lucky that people want my art,” she said. “I just paint what I want to paint.”

Because of her success, she no longer does portrait or commission work. She finds it too hard to create solely for the money. She only takes a limited number of private students and conducts occasional workshops. Doing more, she said, would just drag her down.

“I put every ounce into it,” she said. “It’s either paint or teach, but I think I’ve got some more work to do.”
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