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Color me Kathy

Kathy Sullivan with her Commission of the Labrador

Kathy Sullivan with her Commission of the Labrador

By Kristin Hackler

There’s a painting that looks a shade too familiar hanging in the front window of Sandpiper Art Gallery on Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island. The wild face of a Doberman smiles from a cool blue-green background and the myriad of colors creates more of the impression of solid colors than actually composing them. It takes a minute, but if you’re a bourbon lover, you’ve already snapped your fingers in recognition. It’s the same artist who painted the rainbow-streaming muzzle of a race horse on Woodford Reserve’s commemorative 2006 Kentucky Derby bottle.

Artist Kathy Sullivan moved to Charleston just over a year and a half ago after spending 12 years in Louisville, Kentucky, where her career received the kind of jump start that you only read about in novels.

“I was driving by Churchhill Downs with a friend of mine who’s also an art dealer, and he was telling me about how he was taking some paintings by the Downs later that week,” said Kathy. “I asked him why he wasn’t taking any of mine, to which he pointed out that I didn’t paint.” She smiled, but for Kathy, that was a challenge. She went home, painted a few pieces, and gave them to her friend to show the people at Churchill Downs. They bought one of them on the spot and today, Churchill Downs displays more than 25 of Kathy’s oil paintings. Other painting sales came almost as easily, with the national insurance corporation Humana purchasing four of her paintings and spirits distributor Brown Forman requisitioning a massive 10 foot tall painting from the burgeoning artist.

Between her first sale and her later sales, Kathy moved away from her initial goal of a PhD in Art Therapy from the Art Institute of Chicago and began to focus more on her own art. After working with her friend and mentor Susan Howe at the American Academy of Art, Kathy fully realized her passion for working in oils. Her ability to capture the subtle colors of any given image and elaborate on them in her paintings has made her works as enjoyable as they are recognizable.

Although Kathy had never been to Sullivan’s Island, it only took a call from her sister, Jenny, and an invitation to stay in the Sanford family home for her to fall in love with Charleston. After a month on the island, Kathy packed up her bags and moved to Mount Pleasant.

Today, Kathy’s greatest passion is painting unique and vibrant animal portraits; particularly of family dogs. One of her favorites is a painting that she did from a still of her two Bassett Hounds. The pair is peeking out of the backseat window of her car. One is able to rest her whole head on the sill, while the other is only able to get half a snout in the air. The portrait is warm and poignantly endearing; especially since the shorter one, Duke, passed away this past September.

Although there is a wide variety of Kathy’s original oils at Sandpiper Gallery, she is also doing animal portraits on request. Her most recent commission, a painting of a Labrador, was commissioned after the dog’s owners saw her painting of a black lab in the gallery window.

“I love how many people love dogs,” smiled Kathy. “And I love to paint that love. One day I’ll get to kids, but right now, I’m all about the dogs.”

For more information about Kathy Sullivan, visit, call 737-3373 or email

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