As part of a new blog feature showcasing artist profiles, we were honored to snag a quick interview with 2013 Fiberart International artist and visiting instructor Kate Kretz. Kate will be offering two workshops in Contemporary Craft’s Studio later this month, as well as hosting a “Meet a Maker” talk on Friday, June 21, all co-sponsored by the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh. Details and registration information can be found in our online catalog.
What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I was trained as a painter, but taught myself to sew about twelve years ago. Now, every time I start a work, I ask myself what medium would convey the message in the most powerful way, and, I often teach myself the techniques as I go along. Currently, I work in silverpoint on found silver objects, and do paintings utilizing traditional renaissance oil glazing techniques, but I also paint in encaustic (wax), gouache, or acrylic. I do embroideries with human hair and embroideries with extensive stumpwork. Lately, it seems as though projects only hold my interest if I am uncertain that I can pull them off. I am very interested in pushing materials and using them in unusual ways to do something that I have not seen before.
In terms of subject matter, I am very interested in telling truths that people don’t want to think about, and in radical sincerity and vulnerability as defiant act. Most of my life, my work has been personal and quiet, but lately, there are so many things that I see in the world around me that affect me in a profound way, I feel the work is gaining a power and level of confrontation that needs to be equal in impact to the original impetus. I am interested in making work that is beautiful, but punches people in the gut.
What inspired you today?
The imagination of my daughter…. her unexpected, but not unrelated, visual associations between objects. It is so common in the world, especially the art world, to be jaded, to be “above” wonder and authentic emotion, and I am thankful every day for what she teaches me.
Can you tell us a little bit about The Final Word (currently featured in the 2013 Fiberart International)?
“The Final Word” is a work on black cotton velvet, chosen for its muffling, silent quality. There is a cut in the fabric in the top half of the work that has been crudely mended, and, at the bottom is an image of a sacrificial lamb, composed of thousands of tiny French Knots. The face alone took me an entire week to get “right”. Although I am no longer practicing, I was raised Catholic, and the sacrificial lamb is a strong symbol in that religion, but I use it here in a broader sense.
My work has been focused for many years on the disempowered individuals in our society. I feel as though the price many people pay for being artists is that we have extra-sensitive antenae that cause us to absorb a lot of pain from the world surrounding us. Through the making of our work, we then exorcize some of that pain from our own bodies, and transfer it into the object we make. The intensive labor involved in creating the work is cathectic: each stitch is a deliberate, meditative process… a prayer, a sutra, an incantation. In my process of making, I never stop until there is not one more thing I could do to make the work stronger. The time invested is part of the gift that is given to the viewer, and it is a deliberate act of defiance in the age that we live in.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received when it comes to your career as an artist?
“The poetry of transgression is also knowledge. He who transgresses not only breaks a rule. He goes somewhere that others are not, and he knows something others don’t know." -Susan Sontag
In order to grow as an artist, you have to be willing to step off of the cliff into unknown, to tell people things that they don’t want to hear. We are supposed to be the brave ones, or, as Kurt Vonnegut put it, the canaries in the coal mines.
Have you been to Pittsburgh before? If so, what is your favorite thing about the city? If not, what are you hoping to discover?
Both of my parents were from Pittsburgh (Shadyside), and, consequently, both sides of my extended family live here. We used to travel back here from upstate NY at least twice a year when we were growing up, and I attended summer school here at the Art Institute in 11th grade. I feel that Pittsburgh has grown into a fun, funky, culturally rich place. I am a foodie, so I will be bringing a cooler with me to fill up along The Strip before I head home.