Kathleen Gamberling Addison Biography

Kathleen Gamberling Addison




Kathleen Gemberling Adkison was one of the first American artists to abandon easels and traditional brushwork in favor of applying paint directly to canvases set on the floor.  She learned this radical approach from her primary teacher, Mark Tobey.  For his part, Tobey, while living in Seattle, had developed these techniques in an effort to produce paintings inspired by Oriental calligraphy.

Kathleen Gemberling was born July 5, 1917 in Beatrice, Nebraska.  In 1936 her family moved to Seattle, where she attended West Seattle High School and began private art lessons with realist painter Leon Berbyshire.

From 1946-1950, she studied in Seattle with both Morris Graves and Mark Tobey, though it was Tobey whom she considered to be her most influential teacher.

Adkison (her married name) soon moved on to Spokane, Washington, where she set up a studio in the basement of her home. There, she stretched and primed canvases, laid them out on the floor, and poured, spattered, brushed, pooled and dripped paint on them to achieve her naturalistic effects.  She also used the more traditional technique of encaustic, or hot-wax painting, to lend greater depth and luminosity to her oils.

While Ms. Gemberling Adkison always accepted the label of abstract expressionist, she insisted that her artistic inspiration was rooted in nature, “its mystery, its surprise, its cycle of growth,” as she told agents at one of the Seattle art galleries that represent her.  This genesis is reflected in the titles that she consistently gave her works, such as New Season, Basalt Event, Winter Retreat and Crystalline Face.  To find that inspiration she loved to observe nature in depth, taking long hiking and back-packing trips in Asia, Europe and around the United States.

Ms. Gemberling Adkison’s first gallery show was at Zoe Dusanne Gallery in Seattle in 1958.  Her first one-person exhibition was at Washington State University in 1960.  The Seattle Art Museum presented her work in 1962, in a show curated by its founder and director Richard E. Fuller.  Also in 1962, Adkison’s piece Change-Over was displayed at the Seattle World’s Fair exhibition.

Many years later, after a full career of museum and gallery shows and various awards, her work was presented in a 1999 retrospective at the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane.  Her work was also included in the 2005 exhibition titled "Northwest Matriarchs of Modernism: 12 Proto-feminists from Oregon and Washington," at the Schneider Museum of Art, Southern Oregon University.  As recently as 2009, her work was included in a group show at Gonzaga University.

Ms. Gemberling Adkison’s work is held by many art museums, including the Seattle Art Museum, the Butler Institute of American Art, the Museum of Northwest Art, the Frye Art Museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Boise Art Museum and the Museum of Northwest Arts and Culture.  Her work is also held in numerous public, corporate and private collections, including the Washington State Capital Museum in Olympia.

Ms. Gemberling Adkison continued painting well into the first decade of the 21st century.  She passed away on August 3, 2010 in Spokane, Washington.