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Kathleen Rhee & the Necessity of Art

Art Lovers | 26 October 2020

by Sunnefa Hamar Penning


Gold Coast based painter and art therapist Kathleen Rhee is a gift to the world of arts. Her commitment to understanding and sharing the knowledge of art is next to none. “Created intuitively I want my paintings to gently transport the viewer to a place of meditative calm and experience a pure radiating energy”. She lives and breathes her art to the point that it affects her deeply if she is deprived of doing what she loves.It is painful when I am not painting!! For my physically and mental well being I need to be creating everyday”.

Growing up in balmy temperatures in the Brisbane hinterland meant that Kathleen enjoyed an active childhood spent in nature walking, observing colour, shape, composition and collecting references for what would become a huge career in the arts. In those early days Kathleen used photography as a way to explore and was constantly creating.It was the only thing I wanted to do from a small child. I was always creating, designing, drawing and painting”. It was during her formative high school years that Kathleen knew for certain that she wanted to be a professional artist. With no time to waste she commenced a three-year apprenticeship under her father where she trained as a printer and illustrator while simultaneously studying at the Brisbane Institute of Art.

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Quiet Abstract Series Ash Pink | 92 x 122cm | Acrylic on canvas

After graduation, Kathleen was hungry for new experiences and travelled to Japan on a working holiday visa. It was there that she met the love of her life, a native New Yorker, who later convinced her to join him in the USA. Life in the big apple was an adventure that presented Kathleen with ample opportunities. “My time at Parsons School of Design in New York was pure heaven for me, was a dream come true and I relished every moment. I worked in mainly publishing, book design, advertising and illustration”. When she finished at Parsons she secured a full-time job working at Columbia House SONY Music and continued to enjoy her life in New York.

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Tidal No 1 | 120 x 100cm | Acrylic on canvas

In 2002, after a four-year stint in New York, Kathleen relocated to Canberra and for the love of it, returned to part-time study at ANU.“Since then I have had 2 children, now young teens. In 2006 I started up my own art studio and 2009 I completed my art therapy study at The Initiatic Art Therapy School Melbourne”. Her interest in art therapy stemmed from wanting to develop a deeper understanding of how to effectively engage communities in art, to bring greater meaning to the lives of others, and to connect with art on another level. “I wanted to learn how to connect and access inspiration, to create freely and intuitively”. Kathleen has now been sharing her knowledge for over ten years with preschool children, disability groups facilitating art projects and classes.


Monet Colour: Big Love Series | 264 x 182cm | Acrylic on heavy duty raw canvas

Being an artist is the biggest privilege Kathleen can think of.I love everything about it…the freedom of creating and expressing myself through painting and making a living from it.I love that people appreciate my work to buy it and live with it in their homes on a daily basis”. Her relationship with art is built on respect and pure admiration calling it a necessity for everyone to have in their life, “we cannot live without it”. Her philosophy on art and life is as profound as the relationship she has with it. Art is education, children drawing, painting, creating for learning and development. Art for expression and art therapy, helping us as a tool to navigate difficult times in our lives. Art for conveying messages, stories and creating change. Art to visit in galleries, to enjoy and appreciate for the sake of creativity and expression“.

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I can see clearly now | 152 x 122cm | Acrylic on canvas

Rhee’s personal style has an atmospheric, powerful, mesmerising touch that she achieves by using subtle colour and depth “my artwork is an honest inner reflection of my feelings and representation of the gentle beauty in my surroundings”. Mindful not to use materials that are toxic to the environment or herself, she works mostly with acrylic and large canvases. Acrylic is her favourite due to the fast-drying qualities of the paint and it’s playfulness “for layering and texture”. She feels a connection to all of her creations and regards each painting as her favourite. “A lot of my paintings that come quickly and to me unconsciously seem to be my favourite, I guess they come as a surprise!”

Serene | 152 x 76cm | Acrylic on canvas

Artists that have deeply influenced Kathleen’s development as a painter include Monet, Picasso, Basquiat, Pollock, Andy Warhol and Australia’s Ken Done. As well as feeling inspired by other artists motivation to paint comes from her surrounding environment.“I find it a continual source for my creative process, I transfer all my observations, feelings and colour into each painting”. As much as she goes outward to seek inspiration she also listens to her inner self, letting her emotions guide her. “It’s just always with me, continually in my mind and being, for me it is an unconscious process. I let intuition take over, let the paintings come to life on their own, sometimes it happens immediately, or sometimes it takes a few layers before the painting tells me it’s done”.

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Quiet Abstract Series No 4 | 122 x 183cm | Acrylic on canvas | **This artwork is featured on The Block 2020 in Harry & Tash’s house.

Looking into the future Kathleen would love to exhibit in the USA one day when world travel opens up again. “I have so many friends and family over there would be a wonderful experience to share with them“. Another dream of hers is to do a residency overseas to get out of her comfort zone, widen her perspective and meet new people. “Art is my life, I know I was born to be doing what I am doing, I want my work to help and assist others…for the greater good of all”.

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Kathleen at work in her studio

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