Artist Profile Story by Jamey Bradbury
On a late winter day, stepping from the gray, snow-covered sidewalk and into the Sevigny Studio on 4th Avenue, you feel like you’ve been transported to a different world, filled with color and warmth. “People talk about it being a happy place to come to,” explains owner and artist Katie Sevigny. “We have such cool artists in here, and they do such amazing things. We inspire each other, we talk and bounce off ideas. You can feel energy coming from their work.”
Sevigny likes to surround herself with art from people she respects and appreciates. The result is a collection of paintings, pottery, woodwork and glass that seems deliberate, like it was all meant to be seen together, even though the Sevigny Studio features work from about 140 artists, including Katie herself.
The gallery might be a reflection of how Sevigny grew up, with an artistic mother who made sure her children were exposed to great art. “Back then, you could actually go to the library and rent oil paintings,” Sevigny recalls. “(My mother) would change the artwork in our house every month or so, and then I would just … ” she says, dropping her jaw, ogling like someone whose mind has been blown. “This was in northwest Indiana, in the steel mill area,” Sevigny clarifies. “No one else had oil paintings in their house.” Almost no one else had a family like Sevigny’s, either. With her mother’s paintings and stained glass pieces, and her grandmother’s life drawings, art was a constant in Sevigny’s house.
Today, she finds herself imitating her mother by making sure her three sons, ages 10, 8 and 2, have a bounty of quality colored pencils, paints, markers and paper. “If you have good art supplies, it makes a huge difference for kids, because they can feel the richness and see the color going down. It’s like music, where if you have a really good instrument, you can excel.”
Rich colors are part of what makes Sevigny’s own artwork feel so alive and inviting. She credits her decision to move to Alaska with infusing her paintings with such vivid hues. After attending Chicago’s Art Institute and the Academy of Art, and in need of a break from school, she headed to Alaska, thinking she would earn a living commercial fishing.
When fishing didn’t work out, though, she found work bartending, waitressing, writing commercials for a radio station – all the while, continuing to paint.
“It’s a different lifestyle here compared to what I was used to” in Indiana, explains Sevigny. Had she stayed there, she imagines she’d be painting skyscrapers rather than mountains. “I think my artwork would be a lot darker and kind of grittier. In Alaska, it just seems like you can live a fuller life, so even in the winter, the color comes in anyway.”
The composition of most of Sevigny’s pieces happens in her head, before she puts paint to canvas, and often her inspiration comes from her materials. Pointing to a T-shirt featuring a raven rendered with meticulously drawn plumage, she explains, “When I drew that, with all the feathers, it was because I wanted to do something really detailed, with a pen. Or I’ll just want to see one particular color next to another – that’s all the inspiration I need. It’s more organic, where I just feel it out and it changes as I go.”
Change and movement are particularly evident in Sevigny’s earlier work, in which octopus tentacles undulate and trees bow under an invisible wind. She likens the movement in these pieces with the restlessness she felt when she first came to Alaska, before she met her husband, had her sons and opened her studio. “There was a big phase of paintings where motion was a huge part of what I did. Now my subjects are more solid, with more little details. They’re not moving as much.”
She glances around her gallery, home to her own artwork and a sort of haven for fellow artists. Today, she spends much of her time greeting customers from around the world who’ve traveled to Alaska and want to take a small token of it home with them. “I definitely feel more solid in my life now,” Sevigny muses. “It’s funny how life is reflected in these paintings.”