Catherine Freshley moved to Oklahoma several years ago and was immediately drawn in by the big skies and endless horizons. Having quit her advertising job a year and a half ago to focus on her painting, Freshley now spends her days in her studio, honing her technique and producing landscapes. Here, she discusses how Oklahoma has captured her imagination, appreciating daily life, and her potential foray into Colorist landscapes.
“I’ve always felt connected to natural beauty. I spent a lot of time in a rural, small town off the Washington coast. I used to write about this place: creative nonfiction, poetry, etc. But for some reason, after getting through school, I had had enough of writing, so I switched to painting landscapes. But whether it was through writing or painting, I was trying to visually document these rural places. When I first moved to Oklahoma, I was awestruck and captivated by its vastness. It’s really flat here in Enid. The land feels like it goes on forever, and the sky is huge and beautiful. Aside from the crops changing with the seasons, there’s not much variety in the vegetation or the physical landscape. But what does constantly change is the sky. Sometimes it’s clear and vast and open, sometimes it’s crazy clouds and sunsets.
I’ve been trying to focus on scenes of everyday beauty. I’m not interested in mountains or canyons or places that people regard as breathtaking or spectacular—and I’m not saying these places aren’t breathtaking or spectacular. Neither are as compelling to me as normal scenes, which I think are beautiful in their own right. I heard this quote: ‘It’s better to make much of little than little of much.’ That resonates with me in celebrating scenes of everyday life. I’ve talked to people who’ve lived in Oklahoma forever, and they say my paintings make them stop and appreciate the skies that they’ve seen their whole lives.
I took a plein air painting workshop recently. It’s something that I’d like to do more of in the future. But Oklahoma is so windy and dusty, there are so many bugs, and the weather changes quickly. I haven’t been brave enough to brace the elements yet. Because I’m not painting outside, I take a photo to work from in my studio, but I also try to get a good visual memory. I want to know what it felt like to be there in the moment—the feel of the wind, the smell of the land, and the sounds of the wheat blowing in the wind.
One of my favorite paintings is Drummond Sunset #2. It’s a unique composition for me and has a new color scheme. There’s a lot of red dirt in the foreground, and there’s texture in the dirt. I don’t usually give attention to the foreground—you might see suggestions of blades of grass or wheat sheaths but you’re not going to see specific detail. That’s not my thing. And normally I have a low horizon line because the skies here are the most interesting thing to me. But there’s a higher horizon in Drummond Sunset #2, contrasted to the red in the foreground and the light pink and periwinkle of the clouds. I was excited to try it and see if I could pull it off. Even if I’ve painted a certain kind of sky before, I always feel like I have to reteach myself. I never really know if it’s going to work out.
Eventually, I would like to paint simpler compositions, because I like to look at simple compositions. What I paint ends up more complicated with too many clouds and details of the land. My ideal painting would be a cross between Mark Rothko’s style and my own. The result would be landscapes that are large color fields. So, for example, if you squint at Drummond Sunset #2, you see the red at the bottom of the painting and then pink and periwinkle at the top. At some point, I would like to move toward doing something like this. I think my painting is evolving. I’m always interested in the next thing.”