As one of only a few contemporary painters who work exclusively in gouache—an opaque, water soluble pigment that is notoriously difficult to master—Kathleen Marshall is somewhat of an anachronism in today’s art world. Often confused with tempera, gouache-like paints originated in ancient Egypt and Greece, and the medium’s rich history includes modern adherents like Henri Matisse, Jean Dubuffet, and Georges Rouault. Over time, gouache on illustration board became the industry standard for illustrators, designers, and comic book artists who valued its velvety finish, density, and saturated color. Present day use continues to be specialized.
Subject-wise, Marshall is best known for intimately scaled, meticulously rendered depictions of dimly lit, sparsely furnished room interiors commonly found in old European flats or homes. Often, the primary light source is a window or French doors flanked by heavy draperies. In her Cherche Midi series, verdant courtyards are visible through the glass. Though less common than her room interiors, Marshall also creates still lifes and figurative works.
Marshall earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in art history from the University of Santa Barbara, a Master’s degree in painting and drawing from San Diego State University, and, in 1982, a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego. By accident, in 1976, she discovered gouache paints at the venerable Bon Marché department store in Paris and spent years teaching herself to use them. The artist’s interest in somber, European-style room interiors, however, stems from childhood when she frequently visited her grandmother, an artist who managed an estate in Los Angeles. Marshall’s darkly evocative compositions are more than skilled renderings of rooms. “They are metaphors for life,” she says. “I paint interiors that I’m surrounded by and that speak to me.” Empty chairs, for example, are stand-ins for people, doors imply a vanished human presence, and views through windows suggest engagement with the outside world. In 1989 Marshall moved to France permanently, but frequently returns to her hometown of La Jolla.
(Mark Lugo, from 100 Artists, 100 Years: A Century of Creativity in San Diego)