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Curious composition

Theater meets "huh?" in Katharine Gracey's art. "My work tends to have a bit of a whimsical slant to it," says the Jacksonville artist. "I like to try to do something kind of unexpected."

Described as "magical realism," many of Gracey's works feature an unusual or out-of-place character: a ballerina, ghost or punchinello, an Italian clown.

"I add them because it adds another dimension to the painting, taking it from real to surreal," says the artist.

Gracey is one of the featured artists at this month's Art Amble, held Friday, July 22, in downtown Jacksonville.

Gracey earned her art degree from the University of Wisconsin in the 1970s. At first, landscapes constituted the bulk of her work, particularly French and Italian countrysides. But as her art evolved, Gracey became fascinated by theatrical scenes involving people and activities.

She adopted the "three-dimensionality of the theater" to create backdrops for her characters depicted in the foreground. With white rather than flesh-toned skin, her figures appear ethereal while their clothes or "costumes" recall 17th- and 18th-century garb.

"I love costumes, so I always like to put something interesting on people ... so there is another theatrical part to the paintings," she says.

In contrast to the ghostlike appearance of these figures, Gracey incorporates vibrant reds and mystical shades of blue into her work. The color schemes, as well as architecture, often reflect Parisian and Venetian themes, inspired by numerous trips to Europe.

Gracey determines her medium by the amount of detail she wants to include. Oil allows for looser, more fluid strokes while acrylics tend to be tighter. However, true to Gracey's "detailist" nature, all of her works contain pockets of detail. For example, the oil painting "Banquet Under the Stars" features modest details, with the exception of lace on the woman's collar and the tablecloth, which are much more involved.

"I try to be loose and fluid, but then I get those darn No. 1 paintbrushes in my hand," she says.

Gracey's most recent series "Circus, Circus" comprises 12 acrylic, posterlike paintings and is scheduled to be displayed at South Stage Cellars and the Medford library this fall.

Visit www.katharinegracey.com.

'Banquet Under the Stars,' an oil painting by Katharine Gracey, showcases her style of combining real with surreal.