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Cement Takes on a Beautiful New Form for a Fountain Hills Artist

Artist Kathleen Hope with “Serendipity,” a large-scale piece created with handmade paper on cement

A Fountain Hills artist starts with a most mundane material to create the colorful, textural works of art that have earned her a devoted following.

The word “cement” doesn’t generally conjure up thoughts of pretty things. In Kathleen Hope’s hands, however, the utilitarian material becomes a literal work of art. Hope, who lives in Fountain Hills, calls herself a mixed-media artist, and it’s true that her pieces incorporate all sorts of elements, from acrylic paint and various stains to paper and even the occasional sprinkling of marble dust, but cement is always the starting point.

Her relationship with cement goes back long before she began creating with it. Like so many artists, Hope spent years making a living at other endeavors. “I wanted to study art in college,” the 60-year-old native of Duluth, Minn., says,  “but back then, and coming from an industrial town, my father wasn’t going for it.” 

While she studied nutrition and fitness, she took as many art classes as she could and, after graduation ,found herself taking an interest in color and design. She studied with a master decorative painter, then earned a certificate in color psychology and physiological effects from the San Diego-based U.S. chapter of the International Association of Color Consultants, which led to a career working in the Minneapolis area as a color specialist in residential and commercial design. 

“I was the person on site who actually worked with the plaster guys,” she relates. “I would tell them what powdered pigment to use to make the stucco or concrete or plaster the right color. I had to know the product, and any time a new one came along I had to figure it out. I’ve always been fascinated with concrete as a material.”

All the while, she did her own painting and dreamed of moving to a warmer place. Then clients in Minneapolis bought a house in Rio Verde and asked Hope to come help them make it their own. “I flew out and stayed with them for a month, and I just fell in love with the desert,” she recalls. “It wasn’t on my radar, but it’s my place.”

1. The ancient symbols of Japanese kanji writing inspired “Color Conversation,” 60″H by 36″W. 2. “My Companion” is a response to the human desire for connection amid the isolation caused by COVID-19. 36″H by 36″W. 3. Hope began her “Birds on a Wire” series as an homage to her mother, a bird lover and a realist painter who confessed she didn’t always understand her daughter’s abstract work. 36″H by 60″W.

The more she painted, the more she felt she hadn’t found the right medium. “As an artist, you have a vision of what you want to create, and sometimes the materials don’t match your vision, or you can’t find the material that’s in your head,” she explains. “I was always looking for that medium that would let me express my voice.”

She finally found it when she turned to cement. Every painting, whether it’s one of her petite 8-inch squares or a commanding 60 inches by 70 inches, starts with a wood panel to which she applies a thin veneer of cement. She builds on that base with a variety of materials, including more cement and acrylic paints.

Her work is sometimes frankly abstract, as in works such as “Golden Hour,” a luminous piece with multiple layers of acrylic paint and gold cement. Other pieces lean ever so slightly toward the representational, such as the figurative “My Companion,” or the almost-floral “Retro Vibes.” Still others are geometric: lines or grids or circles, often in repeating patterns.

What all her work has in common is its texture and a pleasing sense of color play, attributes that have led to a devoted following among collectors and gallery owners. Shelly Spence, owner of Grace Renee Gallery in Carefree, one of a dozen galleries nationwide that carries Hope’s work, says, “I don’t know anyone else who uses cement like Kathleen does. Her work has a really organic feel to it. She also has a beautiful way of blending her colors to work in almost any home, which amazes me. I don’t know how she does it, honestly.”

Diane Covalciuc doesn’t know how Hope does it either, but she can’t get enough of it. She estimates that she has close to 20 pieces, including a dozen of Hope’s 8-inch squares, in her Scottsdale home. “My late husband, who also loved Kathleen’s work, once joked that we had more concrete in the house than we did in the driveway,” she says.

“I prefer abstract art,” Covalciuc adds. “I like that Kathleen doesn’t explain her work too much. She lets you have your own interpretation. Plus, she’s just a wonderful person. She becomes your friend.”

The last part of that statement might be the most gratifying to Hope. “I love creating art and making a living from it,” she says. “But it’s the connection I make with people that’s so cool.”

1. Hope’s background in design and her fascination with pairing colors and patterns for a pleasing result is reflected in “Garden Escape.” 36″W X 60″H.  2. The collage work Henri Matisse did in his later years served as inspiration for Hope’s simple, geometric pieces, including “Retro Vibes.” 36″H by 60″W. 3. For “Golden Hour,” Hope splattered acrylic paint, ink and stains on a white cement background, poured vertical and horizontal lines of gold-tinted cement, then drizzled blue-tinted cement on one portion and squeegeed it to reveal the gold and color beneath. 60″H by 60″W.

Kathleen Hope, Fountain Hills,


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