From the start our work with IN THE MAKE has brought about a slew of questions from friends, family, acquaintances, and the like about what an artist’s life is really like— they often want to know if the studios really are massive and light filled, and whether or not the names are famous, and if the personalities are as weird and wild as our collective imaginations have always made them out to be. I feel awkward in the face of these questions because my answers are often too specific, too long, too complicated. I suppose as a way of hurrying up my exhaustive attempt to say something true, I’m frequently interrupted in the middle of my response and asked, “But are these artists making any money, how are they paying the bills?” And honestly, I hate that question. I hate it because it hijacks real meaning and value and takes the whole damn subject somewhere else completely. I hate it because money doesn’t legitimize artists or the art they create, despite what Sotheby’s might have you believe. And yet I do understand why that question is so frequently asked, and Klea and I often find ourselves discussing its importance and how as far as we can tell, every artist works out the money thing a bit differently.
Upon arriving at Katy’s studio in Seattle I was struck by how much work filled up her fairly large space and the way her pieces employ shape, color, and dimension to confuse the boundaries of drawing, painting, and sculpture, whether they are made from Dura-Lar, paper, or aluminum. Katy’s pieces are reminiscent of the natural world in flux; there is so much movement, such a flurry of form, a real sense of strong currents coming and going. Katy was easy to talk to, and she had this way of often contextualizing her current work, identity, practices, and goals into the larger picture of her life as an artist— she remembered and recounted how she had done things years before, spoke of how her interests and processes had transformed or snowballed, and how particular paths had been forged. I appreciated how in an everyday, ordinary way she seemed able to recognize and approach her work in totality.
Katy’s practice includes a fair amount of work on public art commissions and this has helped her be a full time artist since 2007. Before that she was teaching art in various capacities, as a professor, an adjunct, and for non-profits. I think about Katy a lot when I consider the many ways in which artists manage to sustain their art practice while keeping up with financial responsibilities. It’s tough to balance— keeping everything afloat while simultaneously fending off the outside voices that sometimes seep in, questioning whether or not your work is real, whether you’ve sold out, whether you’re actually nothing more than a hobbyist. I appreciated our visit with Katy for many reasons, but I think ultimately it’s her commitment to her identity as an artist that was most compelling. Much like her art, I think Katy accepts and embraces a sense of movement— she seems able to accommodate different stages, working within them to continue on her trajectory, despite the detours, by keeping longevity and self-validation in mind.
How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
Oh that’s such a hard question to answer without going on and on. Partly, my work is about materiality, visual formal language and perceptual experience, pure and simple. On another level, I’m interested in using the forms and forces of nature as metaphors, to express/embody different states of emotion and being. There’s an ongoing theme in my work that has to do with transformation/transmutation, and at a deepest level there is something about the relationship between the momentary and the permanent.
What mediums do you work with?
I primarily use acrylic paint and inks on Duralar (a polyester drafting film) and paper and tracing paper, acrylic or oil on laser cut aluminum, but over the past twenty years, I’ve used a really wide array of craft based materials like pipecleaners, balloons, yarn, sequins…I love colorful, shiny materials; materials that are fluid, and materials that interact with light or that are physically light, transparent or translucent.
Your work reveals an array of shapes and forms that are amorphous and yet familiar enough to evoke nostalgia— where do these forms come from? Is nostalgia a purposeful aim for your work?
The forms originate from line and gesture, from the activity of stream of conscious mark making and systematic repetition. I’m interested in gesture and in the expressive language of line. For many years, my works were completely abstract, but around 2001 I made this shift where the marks began to coalesce into what I call “nameable” things. I’ve never been interested in actual pictorial representation but when I started to make work that was suggestive of actual things in the world, it opened up a deeper pool of meaning within the work, something that could be accessed in multiple ways by different viewers. The work is still on the border between abstraction and representation, because it’s meant to be suggestive, not literal. I want it to inhabit that space between illusion and allusion. There are collective associations we have with the “nameable things” that pop up in my work: water, waterfalls, trees, roots, fire, wind, clouds, light. I like the idea of tapping into those somewhat universal associations– the idea of flow, mutability, cycles of life…
It’s interesting you use the word “nostalgia” because I hadn’t really thought of my work in terms of that word, but I can see how that could be an entry point, in that nostalgia is a feeling, an experience of both possession and loss that relates to the passage of time and to the idea of ephemerality and the ideal. I also think maybe nostalgia also has to do with the experience of suspension, of a moment trapped in time. I feel as if my work definitely has that sense of the suspended moment.
Besides your art practice, are you involved in any other kind of work?
I’ve been able to be a full time artist since 2007. Before that I was teaching art in various capacities, as a professor, adjunct, for non-profits, the whole range.
What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
I’m really interested in language itself, and I often use words as the starting point for bodies of work. I like reading the dictionary. I’m also interested in ideas about language and nature from other cultures. I just watched this really interesting documentary called “Intangible Asset Number 82” and it’s about a jazz musician who travels to Korea to meet this shaman/master musician. It was fascinating, learning about the relationship between music and the divine in their culture. It also revealed a couple of really beautiful cultural ideas about waterfalls and trees that really resonated with me in that “aha-moment” sort of way; it illuminated why I’m attracted to them as a subject or icon.
This past fall, I started a lot of research about the hidden patterns in nature, in science math and cosmology. I have no idea where it will lead. I still feel like most of my “research” comes directly from making and from materials.
What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Because my work is about the wall and using it as a ground (I started out as a painter who hated canvas and hated the restriction of a rectangle format) and it’s also about responding to space (I did only temporary installation based work for a number of years), a physical studio space has always been super important for me, and I have always made it a big priority.
I work in all scales, but most often I work really large and I have to get creative at times, even though I have a decent-sized space. For a project last fall, I had to pretend that my floor was a wall, because I was making a piece that was 17 feet tall, to be installed on a 23 foot tall wall, and my actual walls are only 10 1/2 feet tall, so I had to move all the tables out of my studio and compose the whole thing on the floor and climb up on a ladder and look down on it. I’ve actually had to do that a few times, come to think of it! I’m always big on maximizing storage, too, which came from years of having smaller studio spaces and working large.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’m feeling sheepish about saying this, but I’m working on updating my website! It’s been three years and this whole year, one thing after another kept me so busy, so that’s a major priority! I just had a show that closed in January with Ryan/Lee, my gallery in NY, so I’m still really excited about that. One of the pieces in the show was fully 3D, and it’s opening up a whole new direction. I also just found out that I’ve been awarded a commission to create a permanent, site-specific work for Seattle City Light’s new Technical Training Center. I’m super excited about the challenge and possibility that the project presents—it’s going to be an exterior piece, and I want to use light and create a 3D piece, possibly using electrical cable.
Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
I don’t know if I have the perspective to put myself into a current movement, but I think there’s more attention being given, over the past decade especially, to work that reflects the intersection of drawing/painting/sculpture and also to craft/design/art. I feel connected to the blurring of those boundaries. The work I’ve been doing over the past couple of years has been influenced by Psychedelia, Chinese Landscape painting, and the Group of Seven, a loose group of Canadian artists from the1920’s to 30’s who made incredible, abstracted landscape paintings. I think there are a lot of artists right now exploring the idea of the metaphysical in art and nature, and doing it without irony. I feel connected to that.
How do you navigate the art world?
By nature, I’m a bit of a studio hermit and really a hard worker, so sometimes it’s a challenge to engage with the part of the art world that is openings, social events, etc. Over the arc of my career, I’ve navigated it in different ways. In the beginning, nearly 20 years ago, I was really propelled by the DIY ethos and did a lot of collaboration with friends around creating opportunities to exhibit and gain exposure. (We started an artist-run gallery in Seattle called SOIL, that’s about to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2015.) Then, I began working with commercial galleries and began winning public art commissions and my focus changed somewhat, and it got harder to be as social /collaborative because of being so busy in the studio. On the other hand, some of my projects have involved being able to hire assistants, and that’s allowed for a social aspect and also for some mentorship. I’ve recently been involved with a group of artist friends who are helping by sharing professional connections and motivating each other to keep reaching out and taking on those things that still seem intimidating. I am very lucky to have met and worked with some really amazing people over the years. I try to remind myself that one thing leads to another, keep making your work, and be authentic.
Words of wisdom?… a motto, favorite quote?
I don’t know who said this but I think about it often: “it takes 10 years of hard work to become an overnight success.” Another one of my favorite mantras/mottos is “I am open to receive…” which helps me to break out of the moments when I’m feeling the “art-struggle” thing.
Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I’m going to be having a show at Johansson Projects in late 2014 or early 2015. Exact date hasn’t been settled on yet.
To see more of Katy’s work: