Photo by Adam Finkle

Five years ago, Kat Martin’s husband Jimmy, whom she describes as a “full-on geek,” talked her into painting a zombie figure into the background of a mundane landscape to hang in his mancave.

“I was pretty resistant at first, because it was so far from the art I was doing, which was more for mothers who wanted a beautiful pastel of their baby,” Martin says. “In the back of my mind, I thought, ‘It isn’t my work.’ But everyone loved the zombie painting.”

That Christmas, Jimmy gave her a dozen hackneyed landscapes that needed her macabre touch. “Landscapes are not hard to find” Martin says. “They’re at every DI [Deseret Industries] and thrift store in town. It’s gotten to the point that people dump them on my porch.”

Her nerdy spouse had innocently inspired an art niche that Martin now calls “Retro Interventions” or “Altered Landscapes.” More than 200 paintings later, with a list of customers around the world, Martin is only beginning to embrace what she has created—let alone accept her growing underground fame. 

“I don’t know if it’s art. I am by no means a great artist. It started just for fun—I try not to think deeper into it,” Martin says. “I’m happy that people are getting excited about it. And I tell myself, ‘OK, maybe I’m cool.’ Or am I just turning into a geek?”

About a third of the images on which she “intervenes” are original oils. “Paintings that someone’s grandmother did, then gave to them,” she explains. “When I find an original, I get excited because I get to paint oil on oil.”

Neither Martin nor the people who dug Granny’s original out of a closet think her unworldly additions deface or disrespect the paintings. “They tell me, ‘This is an ugly painting, but if you did something cool with it, I’d hang it on my living room wall.’” Still, some of the paintings brought to her are so awful that they are beyond hope even for her twisted artistic vision. “The whole Bob Ross movement was that anyone can learn how to paint. It didn’t work.”

An ironic turnabout came for Martin three years ago when she stumbled onto one of her altered landscapes at a yard sale. She had donated the painting to a Girl Scouts fundraising auction and the winner, obviously, was not smitten.

“The woman who was selling it was so upset and apologetic when I told her I was the artist,“ Martin says. “I didn’t care. If I really liked it, I wouldn’t have given it away.”

Need an Art Intervention?

If you’ve got a landscape in need of an abominable snowman, Darth Vader, zombies, Doctor Who’s Tardis or Breaking Bad’s RV, Kat Martin’s your artist. Starting at $50, up to $500—depending on the work involved, she’ll make it happen. 

2225 S. 500 East, Suite 207 (text first), 801-403-7342, artistkat.com.

Back>>>Read other stories in our Jan/Feb 2014 issue.