Artist Kathleen Niven describes herself as a dual soul, influenced by the juxtaposition of spending her early years in Mexico City with her later schooling and life in Southern California. She found the rich ambience of Mexico, including the beauty, tradition, fatalism and drama, contrasted with the newness, materialism and opportunity of the United States. Her art reflects the rich and sometimes heartbreaking confluence of both the cultural and natural environments of both countries.
Niven works with a variety of painting media, from paper to scarves and often with items of immense personal meaning. She varies her style and media according to the subject and meaning or feeling she hopes to convey. The subjects include dancers, landscapes, goddesses and dreams, to name a few.
For those of you to whom I have not told… here are some facts about my life and why art is such a part of it.
My father was the son of a Scottish archaeologist, William Niven, who spent most of his adult life fascinated with the ancient Aztec civilization and primarily the artifacts he found buried around Mexico City. It was a labor of love with major difficulties for his large family trying to survive in a foreign country. My father’s great interest was architecture and although he did not follow it, he did receive his degree in that field.
My mother met him when she went on a summer vacation to Mexico City. She was an elementary school teacher in Southern California and went to visit her sister who had just married an American whose family lived in Mexico on an hacienda.
After several years of courtship, visits back and forth between L.A. and Mexico City, and a large body of correspondence… they were married.
I was born into a varied cultural climate: an American citizen, part of a closely-knit anglo society within a rich Mexican colonial and Indian tradition and a cosmopolitan atmosphere brought about by many Europeans who emigrated as a result of World War II. Mexico was undergoing a renaissance in art unparalleled in recent times. As a teenager I made frequent visits to el Palacio de Bellas Artes where Rivera, Kahlo, Orozco, Merida and many other artists showed their work.
After graduating from the American School in Mexico City, Scripps College (Claremont, CA) was my next destination. There I enjoyed the humanities program, the lovely campus and the chance to study with Millard Sheets, Henry Lee McFee, Phil Dike and David Scott. (In those days I wore clothes that I had designed made from Mexican fabrics.)
Cornell University came next, where I received my credential to teach art along with a Master’s degree. There I got a taste of a large university, far from home where I felt mostly at home with foreign students. Besides the beauty of the changing seasons, two particular highlights while there were: meeting Buckminster Fuller and Frank Lloyd Wright… and hearing them lecture.
Returning to California and still not ready to leave school, I enrolled at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland where I was fortunate to have Richard Diebenkorn as my graduate painting instructor.
Since that time I have continued to paint, have enjoyed teaching art privately part-time and in the public schools while centering my life primarily on my family.
I continue to work both symbolic and natural subjects, finding poetry, mystery and meaning in both. I am concerned with our relationship with the earth and our spirituality. And I celebrate the beauty of nature and people.