Katharina Heise defied her parents’ wishes by attending the School of Arts and Crafts in Magdeburg. In 1912, she enrolled in the private Ladies’ Painting School run by Ferdinand Dorsch in Dresden. In 1913, Heise went to Paris along with her sister Annemarie Heise, who was also an artist. Katharina continued studying there, attending the Academie de La Palette, the Academie Ranson and the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. Back in Germany, Heise was about to return to Paris when the First World War broke out in 1914. So she stayed in Berlin, where she became friends with Kathe Kollwitz, whose studio she took over in the Tiergarten.
She made woodcuts for the journal “Die Aktion” under the male pseudonym “Karl Luis Heinrich-Salze”. She also worked for the political journal “Der Widerstand” edited by Ernst Nieckisch. In 1920 she joined the Association of Women Artists (the Frauenkunstverband), and in 1925 she was made the secretary and deputy chairwoman of the Society of Berlin Women Artists. Her friend Kathe Kollwitz was an honorary member of the Society, and it was she who had encouraged Heise to begin sculpting, back in 1917. In 1924, Heise took part in the first Exhibition of German Art in the Soviet Union. In 1927, she exhibited her woodcuts with the November Group at the Great Art Exhibition in Berlin.
When the Nazis assumed power in 1933, Heise’s opportunities to exhibit fell away, and her work was denounced as “degenerate”. After 1945, she was no longer able to build upon her earlier successes. The artistic policies of the GDR meant she became isolated and increasingly marginalised.