Wyoming Artist Connects with
Inner Joni Mitchell
By Tim Cotroneo
For a Wyoming-based artist who grew up on the music of the ‘70s, it seems fitting that her latest watercolor work should honor one of that decade’s most prolific vocalists. Kay Stratman, a painter based in scenic Jackson Hole, not only finds visual inspiration from the majestic mountains surrounding her studio, she also credits the unique voice of Joni Mitchell as stimulus for her new collection of “splash ink” paintings.
Stratman specializes in an ancient Chinese painting technique called “P’o Mo.” This former graphic artist’s painting process involves pouring and brushing thickened watercolor or ink onto gold or silver-trimmed rice paper. The titles of Stratman’s latest paintings are from handpicked lyrics gleaned from Mitchell’s song, “Woodstock.”
“In college, I’d listen to Joni Mitchell before bed nearly every night. So I always had her songs floating around in my head. Even now when I’m hiking in the mountains around Jackson Hole, a Joni Mitchell song keeps me from thinking how tired I am,” Stratman said.
Open to Interpretation
Stratman’s musical bent traces back to her playing the flute in college. She has long kept a file containing snippets of song lyrics that she refers to for possible painting titles. After completing one of her watercolor paintings, she sorts through this file to discover the lyric that best matches her painting’s color, vibe, and storyline.
When asked about the message each of her paintings convey, Stratman believes the answer is in the eye of the beholder. “My paintings are like poetry. I let the viewer make his or her own interpretation as to what a subject or landscape means to them.”
The “Joni Mitchell” collection wasn’t conceived as a trio, they just came together that way. When Stratman pondered the titles for her most recent work, it seemed obvious that certain “Woodstock” song lyrics from Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon” album were a perfect match.
Joni Times Three
Stratman describes her P’o Mo watercolors sharing a Joni Mitchell thread:
“We are stardust.” A star-filled sky lit up by northern lights. The area of golden specks near the tree line was a happy, unexpected accident. The title just popped into my head.
“We are golden.” The warmth radiating from this painting is from the sun setting over a northern Minnesota lake where I grew up. To me, this piece is wrapped in a lovely golden aura.
“We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” This one is just as it appears. A picturesque scene of sandhill cranes gliding in for a landing. The title gives the piece a sense of urgency, almost a political statement. In this crazy year in which we are living, we have to find our way back to civility, as well as protect what natural world we have left.
What is it about Joni Mitchell music that so resonates with Stratman? “First of all, her voice and music are hauntingly beautiful. The poetry of her lyrics transcend most other songwriters. I guess Joni came on the music scene during a time in my life that was defined by music. She’s stayed with me ever since.”
Tim Cotroneo is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer specializing in travel, entrepreneurial profiles, and golf.