Sometimes being a painter can be a lonely experience, says Wilton artist Tara McKiernan Kovach. 

“You’re in the studio for hours, by yourself, it can be solitary. You miss those days like back in grad school, with so much around you, so much inspiration, have someone to bounce ideas off of,” she says.

But other times being the only one is an opportunity–like the opportunity for Kovach to get the spotlight on just her work as the solo featured artist at an exhibition at Axel Interiors in Norwalk, opening this Saturday, Sept. 16, and running through Nov. 11. There’s an opening reception Saturday evening from 5-8 p.m. to which the public is invited. It’s also Axel’s first show featuring just one artist, an even bigger deal.

As an abstract painter, Kovach looks for inspiration in nature and expresses it in a way that a viewer can really feel her emotion and soul that she’s put into the work. Consider the way Axel describes her paintings.

“There’ is nothing timid in these paintings; the themes are explosive and passionate, fertile and joyous. The subject matter is abstracted, yet recognizable as macro views of flowers, berries, leaves, smoke, sky, water and earth, undulating and throbbing with vibrancy and life. Her pieces range in size from small and intimate to monumental; her palette is rich, varied and luscious, from soft and pale to deep, saturated and dark.” 

Kovach fell in love with art during high school, and pursued that passion, earning her Master of Fine Arts at Ithaca College and then her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Savannah College of Art. But after pulling back a bit during the years of raising her three children, who are 11-, 9- and 6-years old, she has now seized the opportunity to focus on her work living and working in the pastoral beauty of Wilton.

She and her husband built a barn on her property to give her a studio where she’s able to take advantage of the natural light and surroundings–it was a dream, she says, as well as a practical decision with little ones at home.

“Even on the second floor in the house, you could smell the paint, and I just said I needed a separate space, a separate building. It makes a big difference to have a certain space, and not get everything out, then clean it up, make sure everything is safe. This is my space, I can have it however I want it. Whenever I need to be here. There’s beautiful natural light but also great lighting if I’m working at night too. It’s really whatever I need it to be.”

It’s a space where she gets to paint what she loves–nature captured in the abstract. She says as an abstract artist, she feels best able to be expressive, and show what she’s inspired by.

“It totally changes. When it’s summertime, there are flowers and the colors! I’m infatuated with the variance–look at these, they come from just one bush and just this range of gorgeous colors. I just started two panels with this inspiration of colors in here. Or it’s going over to Ambler Farm and seeing the sunset, and the colors of the sky or the field of sunflowers. Looking at the landscape or certain natural objects, and remembering them, they’re in there,” she says, gesturing to her head. “Like this painting, it’s based on a batch of crabs the kids caught last year in New Jersey. These crabs are beautiful, before you cook them, the range of colors–the blues, and greens, the colors are magnificent! That doesn’t look like a pile of crabs but it’s this remembrance of the relationship of the colors and the shapes.”

What she put into that painting are the memories she created with her children, on the beach, learning, touching, maybe one of them was afraid to touch a crab, all of those things are invested in the work and that emotion comes through.

“It’s really true. What I find really gratifying is that’s what I’m putting in there, but someone can come in to a show and see a painting and say, ‘Those are the colors of my grandmother’s bedroom,’ or people have a personal reaction that’s triggered for them, which I think is really special. It’s broad enough that it affects everyone differently,” Kovach says.

The show, appropriately, is called “Colors in Nature.” At Axel Interiors, a design firm, her paintings will be shown in the context of living areas and decor, as they would be seen in a home.

“It’s a really great venue. As opposed to a gallery with bare white walls, you have these little vignettes, it’s great for people to see the work in that way. Because sometimes people think, ‘Oh it’s abstract and it’s not going to go with my traditional home.’ When actually it’s such a great counterpart. When I was in Savannah, and people would purchase my work and put them in these very traditional, antebellum homes, it offsets everything. Instead of a sea of traditional you get the juxtaposition. It will be good to see it this way for the show,” she says.

In doing any exhibition and having people view her work, she says there’s also an artist’s vulnerability no matter what. It’s the same whether she’s creating something original herself or being commissioned to create something for a particular client.

“There’s a different amount of stress to paint something out of my head but that fits with what they’re envisioning. It’s two different stresses–you have to present it to a client and you hope it was what they were saying is what you translated onto a panel. Versus a show like this where I’m painting–and baring my soul, and I hope that people like what I want to see.

That anxiety fades with the experience of having a client overjoyed at receiving a work, which Kovach says is thrilling.

“When they love it–I had a client that cried, and that’s the best feeling! There are wonderful things–only only two or three ulcers!” she laughs.

Kovach’s particular process of creating a painting is fluid.

“Usually I start on the floor, with acrylic, water-based paint, and I paint on panels, not canvas. It keeps it nice and smooth, it’s a nice sturdy surface. I work with a few layers of the acrylic paint until I feel that’s as far as I want to go. With acrylic, there are so many levels of dimension because you can see some through the layers. Then I go in with oil, usually up on the easel, with washes of color and adding thicker paint. I just love that play, back and forth, diving into the panel, deep flat areas and thick luscious areas, I find that super interesting, being able to adapt with different consistencies of paint.”

She continues. “I typically work on at least two paintings at once, because, I sit on that bench, and I just stare at them, thinking, ‘what needs to come out? Sometimes with the all-over composition, I have to figure out what’s going to be the focal point, what’s going to work. I spend a lot of time just looking at them and switching back and forth. There are times when I’ve got one I’ve been struggling with, I can’t figure out what comes next. So I set it aside and get a different one but I can’t stop looking at the first one, and I keep going over and painting on it,” she laughs. “I can’t work on just one at once. I need that bouncing back and forth.”

Kovach is looking forward to having people look at her work as well, when the exhibition opens Saturday.

“Getting your name out there, people seeing your work, any opportunity to put yourself out there, you never know what will come of it. I could not sell one painting during the show, but in a year or two, there’s always something that comes out of it. But it’s a wonderful opportunity to get my work out there.”

Axel Interiors is located at 33 North Ave. in Norwalk.