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Flower power

Coastal painters Katia Kyte and Victoria Biedron agree that flowers “exist to give you joy.”

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Coming up this month in the Upstairs Gallery of the Newport Visual Arts Center: Flower Girls, a two-person exhibit by Lincoln County artists Victoria Biedron and Katia Kyte. The self-taught artists share a great pleasure in the subject of flowers.

The exhibit of 24 oil paintings of flowers native to Oregon originally was to open Jan. 16, running through March 20, but due to COVID the opening has been pushed back — tentatively — to Jan. 23. Some of the images will also be online. We talked with the artists about their work.  Comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Katia Kyte recalls being drawn to art since childhood, but in her native country of Russia, art was not encouraged. “No one would even think you could even be a painter,” she said. “You could be a doctor, or teacher…. In Russia, I would be shamed by my parents.” Kyte lives with her daughter in Lincoln City, where she teaches art and yoga.

Lincoln City artist Katia Kyte says she prefers to keep her paintings suggestive rather than refining them to a polished state -- that saying less is more powerful.
Lincoln City artist Katia Kyte says she prefers to keep her paintings suggestive rather than refining them to a polished state — that saying less is more powerful.

How did you end up in Lincoln City and how did that inspire you to paint?

Kyte: I met my husband in Russia and moved with him to Oregon in 2008 at the age of 26. He was the only family I had. The first time I heard, “What do you want to do?” — that was from my husband. It took me back to painting. I didn’t feel that in Russia. I felt if I wanted to live a more authentic life … that would be here. He died in a car accident in 2015. Now I’m here by myself with my daughter.

Wouldn’t it have been easier to return to Russia?

I had this thought a lot. I grew up in a family that is dysfunctional. Subconsciously, I wanted to live my own life and try something that was mine. I needed to find out who I was. I was given this opportunity to step away from my family and lead my own life and make my choices, to be who I wanted to be. It was scary. I keep the options open. Life is interesting. I’m trying not to be resistant to it and I am trying to be open to changes. 

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What is your preferred medium?

I like painting with oils. At some point, I needed to have some fresh air in my artwork and I tried to paint with watercolors — 100 paintings in 100 days. I like doing challenges. I was painting a flower each day using watercolors. I was thinking it might become my preferred medium. I like that you have control. Smaller scale. Less mess. No solvents. It’s lighter. It was a good break; it gave me good inspiration to come back to oils and see why I liked them in the first place.

“Salmon Roses and Lilies” by Katia Kyte (oil, 12 by 12 inches)
“Salmon Roses and Lilies” by Katia Kyte (oil, 12 by 12 inches)

And?

With oils, you can get textural quality. Brush marks. You cannot achieve that in watercolor. I do enjoy the vibrancy of watercolor. But just for fun. I would consider myself most established with oils.  I tried acrylics, it flattened. It doesn’t give me that juicy, wonderful stroke that will stay the way oils do. With acrylics, it’s kind of plastic-y.

Talk to me about working plein air.

It is being so much in the moment. It is an activity where I can practice mindfulness without any expectations, really. Sometimes in an hour and a half or two hours, I end up with very spontaneous painting. In the studio, I cannot do that. It’s not possible because photographs don’t give you all the necessary feeling you feel at the location … the smells, the wind. I can take the picture, but it’s not the same as you see with your eyes.

What are the challenges of still life?

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If you paint outdoors, the sun can change. Also, on the Oregon Coast, you worry about the wind. I had a couple of instances when my vase just broke. It’s a little bit frustrating; sometimes a lot frustrating. I need to finish a painting in a day.  Sometimes you have just a couple of hours.

Why flowers?

Since I was a kid, I loved looking at flowers. My dad took me to the forest in the spring and we would have … the crocus, first flowers. We would go to the forest and pick flowers and give them to my mom. On the train, I would see colors and see fields of flowers. I wanted the train to stop so I could go see them. Of course, it would never stop. Since then, I just love flowers. I think they exist to give you joy.

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Born in Chicago, Newport’s Victoria Biedron has long had a creative streak, making jewelry and sewing, but she always knew she wanted to paint. It took a move to Oregon to make that happen.

Although she likes painting plein air, Newport artist Victoria Biedron says one of the advantages of still lifes is, if you can't get outside because of the weather, you can always get a bouquet of flowers and go to work.
Although she likes painting plein air, Newport artist Victoria Biedron says one of the advantages of still lifes is, if you can’t get outside because of the weather, you can always get a bouquet of flowers and go to work.

It took moving to Eugene for you to actually get into painting? Why Eugene?

Biedron: I think it was because of the people I met. I carried around with me, for about 10 years, paintbrushes, a watercolor kit, and watercolor paper. I didn’t know where to start … but I knew I wanted to paint. It was frustrating. I was lost; I didn’t know how to do it. One of the first people I met in Eugene happened to be a watercolorist. We used to kayak and we’d haul out and we’d paint. There was another woman teaching watercolor classes…. We took it together and that’s how I started. It was amazing. It just went from there.

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Talk about working plein air.

I like working in plein air because you are in the moment with the subject you are looking at. It could be trees, a body of water, flowers, mountains, sea grasses, whatever you are looking at. You are in the moment with those elements. You are painting your first feelings about those. You are also outdoors — the sun and wind and climate affecting you. I find it very freeing and open to whatever the elements are telling you. You can paint any way you want to: impressionistic, realistically, abstract. Most paintings are abstract, you are painting a representation of what you see. 

What are the challenges of still life? 

You aim to make a good composition. That’s something you learn along the way. Composition is really an important thing. The background. Complementary colors to flowers. Just arranging the bouquet. It’s just putting it together so it looks balanced and happy. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and you have to start over. It doesn’t always come out perfect and you just keep going at it. And sometimes … you are pleased and happy and it looks balanced and you love it.

"The Single Rose" by Victoria Biedron (oil, 9 by 12 inches)
“The Single Rose” by Victoria Biedron (oil, 9 by 12 inches)

Why flowers?

They’re joyful, beautiful, fragrant; they’ll brighten any day or studio. You can always paint flowers. Even in the winter, you can get them at the grocery store. Also, there is something to be said for painting seasonal flowers. I have nine rhododendrons around the house. They are right there. I can just pick and paint them. It’s like painting a sunflower in the fall, very iconic. If you can’t get out because it’s raining, you can get a bouquet of flowers, put out a dish, lemons, whatever, and paint a still life with flowers. They make me happy.

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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