Kathy Kosins is a master of improvisation. Her art quite literally translates from stage to canvas. She may be best-known for her successful career as a critically acclaimed jazz vocalist, yet all the while Kosins has been quietly gaining ground in the modern art world as well.
“For me, art and music are one in the same,” Kosins says. “There’s no separation and there never has been.”
A self-taught artist on both stage and canvas, Kosins creates acrylic paintings on canvas, and occasionally other materials like plexiglass or wood. A mid-century modern aesthetic has long inspired her work. Cubist and surrealist artists of the 1950s and 1960s inform her technique. She’s a self-confessed devotee of such abstract impressionists as Franz Kline, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning or Robert Motherwell.
Kosins studied liberal arts in college, but never formally studied art or music. Still, she’s made a decades-long career in those fields. “My artwork is total improvisation,” she says. “There is no preconceived composition.”
At most, Kosins may choose a color palette ahead of time. She believes in creating art when the moment strikes. That is exactly how she began painting from a live music stage.
“I was performing in a small performing arts space in Nebraska when the artistic director asked me to paint from the stage as a multi-disciplined event,” she recalls. “I agreed, and have been doing this at nearly every performance since.”
Those who have had the opportunity to see Kosins perform - and paint on stage - know it’s a rarity. Kosins often says she “hears color and sees sound,” a condition known as synesthesia. As the band continues to play an impromptu instrumental on stage, she applies color and strokes - each inspired by the visual interpretation of the music. The end result is an abstraction of the music being played. But it’s even more than that for Kosins. “Art sets me free,” she says. “It is an out-of-body experience for me – at once completely different than and an extension of music. It exists without the stress of touring or rehearsing.”
On stage, Kosins relies on a limited color palette and foam brushes. She adjusts her music stand to function as an easel. The paintings range in size from 12 x 12 to 20 x 20 canvas so all materials travel easily. And, more often than not, her artwork sells straight from the stage, the paint still wet. Each painting might be considered a solo. Rather than using her voice or an instrument, this time it’s made with brush, color and canvas. Her visual interpretation is one of a kind.
Her art has been featured in venues across her home state of Michigan and across the country. Her first solo show was at State of the Art gallery in Ferndale, Michigan in 2008. Kosins was a featured artist at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale University in 2017. The following year she was featured at the Ahh Ha School for the Arts in Telluride, Colorado. Kosins held a three-month residency of 30 works, hung from September to December 2019 at Two James Distillery in Detroit’s historic Corktown neighborhood.
She currently has pieces on display at River’s Edge Gallery in Wyandotte, Michigan. Earlier in 2020, she participated in her first virtual group show organized by Hamtramck’s Hatch Art gallery and is currently in three national gallery group shows along with an in personal gallery show at a prestigious arts center in Birmingham, Michigan She’s among the artists invited to participate in the 2021 Funky Ferndale Art Festival in her hometown and has recently been juried into four additional festivals also in various parts of Michigan.
Kosins is passionate about making art. Enough so that she created a clinic to guide aspiring or professional artists through the process itself. Titled Improvisation on Canvas, Kosins has taught courses to students of all ages - at high schools, performing arts schools, colleges and continuing education courses across the country. She’s even worked with children as young as 4 years old through a program at Birmingham, Michigan’s Community House.
When she’s not teaching or creating art - on stage or otherwise – Kosins enjoys traveling or cooking, gardening and decorating her home in Ferndale, Mich. It’s not unusual to find her exploring new towns for an extra day while she’s on tour. Works by Kathy Kosins may be available for inclusion in upcoming shows and she does take commission projects. Contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Skype at kathy.kosins54.