The following interview with artist and MFA student (2016), Katie Kirk, was conducted by Denise Joseph (MA Art History 2016) on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. The objective of the interview was to understand Kirk’s trajectory as an artist, and the influences that have shaped her practice along the way.
Denise: I thought we could start by going back in terms of what age did you begin as an artist?
Katie: Ever since I was little, when I was growing up I would do arts and crafts with my parents. The first kind of arts class, the more fine arts experience I remember was through the San Jose Art Museum. It was a ceramics class, not a wheel throwing class, but a basic clay class where you could fire the objects and glaze them, that kind of stuff.
Denise: Do you remember how old you were?
Katie: Really young, under ten. I don’t remember exactly how old though. Probably, elementary school. That was the first art class I can remember.
Denise: When you were in grade school, were art classes offered or was that more something you picked up in high school?
Katie: There were different arts projects incorporated into the curriculum but there weren’t separate arts classes. When I got to 8th grade, we could choose between home economics, like cooking, or woodshop. So, I took wood shop. That was the first kind of art class in school that I took, and I was the only girl, and we made cutting boards and door stops and all these random things, but I liked being able to make these objects that I imagined.
Denise: And then, when you went into high school?
Katie: During my sophomore year of high school, I switched from playing competitive volleyball and signed up for an oil painting class through University Arts Store, like a Blicks. They have workshops and classes by independent teachers that work at the store. So, I signed up for the oil painting class with a woman named Lee Hartman and fell in love with painting. She was a great artist, wasn’t very well known but taught me everything I knew about painting.
Denise: So, did you put a portfolio together with her in preparation for Undergrad?
Katie: Not exactly, I went into Undergrad as a film major at Loyola Marymount in LA. I was really into film, in and outside of school. I did a lot of art for films, like scenic art. If they needed a certain piece for a film, murals on the wall and set design, I would paint it. I realized after a while, it wasn’t really film that I wanted to do – it was art that I wanted to do. Before going to Undergrad, I just wasn’t as familiar with the portfolio process, so that was all new to me. If I had known someone that had done it before, or had more exposure to it, I think I would’ve gone that route initially. But, I just didn’t know about it. So, I started taking all the painting classes at the college.
Denise: Ok, so from there, after you graduated, what happened?
Katie: I worked with one of my teachers there to develop a portfolio my senior year. Then, right out of school, I got a job teaching high school art while working on my portfolio and beginning a Masters in Education. But, after six months of that program, I realized that I didn’t want to be a teacher. I really just wanted to get my MFA. All I really wanted to do, was get my MFA. But, it helped to do all of these other things to realize this was what I really wanted.
Denise: So, then, how long between Undergrad and MFA?
Katie: I graduated in 2010. I started the program here in Fall 2014.
Denise: SAIC is really big on theory and methodology, have you taken a lot of classes on these topics?
Katie: Not yet. My schooling in art has been mostly studio based. And, then the other stuff, I’ve learned through reading on my own. The class I’ve learned the most in, as far as theory goes, is Hamza Walker. He basically laid out an outline of the history of abstraction, and where we are now in terms of art and abstraction and representation. That gave me a lot of clarity on our battles in the art world, now.
Denise: Speaking of – in Shane’s class, we’ve been reading in the Dave Hickey book how artists today aren’t necessarily reaching into the past. They’re paving their own way.
Katie: Yes. One thing we were talking about recently, is who art is for and whether this is more important than who the art is by. These kinds of challenges. And the other things we’ve talked about are the constant shifting over the course of art history of what’s more important, the idea or the concept and how does abstraction – the emptying out of the idea or of self or identity – how these things come into play. So, just thinking about these ideas. My work before was very formal, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come to art school. To switch gears and figure out my ideas. My work was much more process-based, formal elements. The things that interest me now are the battles around ideas and how identity and ideas, and representing something, come into play.
Denise: How do you see yourself in your art works?
Katie: This semester I started fresh, thinking about the memories I have, things about my past. I’m interested in looking back to these memories as my starting point. Before I was using a lot of found objects from my grandmother’s house – themes around gender, but it was all based on personal memory. So, a lot of these are still based on these objects. I’ve always been fascinated by objects. The history of an object, the forms they take.
Denise: So, now you’re still working in objects but in a more abstract way?
Katie: Well, I’m still figuring that out – whether this is abstraction or representation. One of my advisors speaks about ‘all art is abstract’ and we were talking about my old work before, and though I called it abstract and a lot of it was about shape and color, I was literally taking the objects and putting them in the paintings. The actual object was still there, so it wasn’t necessarily abstract. I just want to keep making things, and not overthink it. So, yes, still working with objects, still working with memories. These are based off of memories from my home, and these lamps that were in my home or in other peoples’ homes. So this idea of curtains or a wall going across the backdrop, with the lamps incorporated. But I don’t want to be super representational painter, so that’s part of my struggle. How do I still convey meaning through abstraction, or these ideas about objects through abstraction? I’ve actually had a lot of clarity in the last two weeks about what the ideas I’m interested are. Even though they may not be in these paintings now, but these paintings have helped me get there. Thinking about these lamps as stand in for wealth or style. And ivy as symbolic of wealth – an ivy wall or ivy league. This type of symbolism, I’m not that into, however, these ideas have been a starting point for me to create meaning.
Denise: Do they at all represent warmth? Gathering? Family?
Katie: Not really. It’s more the formal objects that I’m interested in. The aesthetic decision of using these shapes and what they represent.
Denise: Who are some of your favorite artists?
Katie: Vuillard. One of his paintings called Window Overlooking the Woods. It has this border around it that is like a tapestry. A lot of his work deals with tapestries. It’s a landscape, so it’s easily accessible and it has all of these ideas about painting as both a window onto the world and as a decorative object. So many beautiful layers and colors, I love it from a formal aspect. There are things about this painting I find important, lots of layering and accumulation of paint. Really formal things. That’s why my work was probably so formal before. That’s important to me, though. I liked the structure to the painting, with the frame of the painting and the lines in the landscape. I’ve been thinking a lot to about the structure of things. I also like Francis Stark a lot, more for her ideas.
Denise: What do you think about the artist community in Chicago, do you feel yourself getting established with the community here – having come out from California?
Katie: Definitely. I feel like a part of the community. SAIC instantly plugs you into that community. It’s hard, though, I think about moving back to L.A., and having to re-establish myself. It’s going to be a big start-over to try and do that. For now though, taking advantage of the Chicago scene and out seeing other peoples’ work, a lot of students are showing. So, we’re able to see each other’s work.
Denise: It is important to socialize within the studio space, or is commentary best reserved for the critique space?
Katie: We walk around the halls, but right now with two weeks to go, just haven’t had as much time. For me personally, I’m not ready to show because it’s not yet done. I like to get my work more developed so I figure out if the feedback is beneficial to my process. If I’m not far enough along, it will just confuse my process.
Denise: Sure, you want to have a stance before you have others critiquing your work.
Katie: Yea, I want to have a stance, first.
Denise: How often are the critiques happening?
Katie: We have advisor meetings every two weeks. They’re not really critiques, more like help sessions. Brainstorming. What’s working, what’s not? The critiques you have are mainly in the seminar classes, which you aren’t required to take. Some people don’t even take seminars, or might not have a critique till the end of the semester. I’m taking one this semester with Hamza. So I’ll have mine in the next week. Usually you get two a semester.
Denise: To what extent do the peer critiques play into adjustments to your work?
Katie: I’m all for the feedback. Be as critical as you want. It helps when I know my stance of the work, though, before that situation. I just had a studio visit Matthew Higgs was here, and I was talking to him about some of my struggles and he asked me, did the work I was making before [in L.A.] feel like my work. And, I was telling him yes, absolutely, it came natural. I wasn’t overthinking the ideas. I like the product. Compared to last semester, what I was making didn’t feel like it was mine. And, even now, I’m still getting to a place I’m comfortable with.
Denise: In reading the Joselit text, he talked a lot about the digital age and the artist’s struggle with image reproduction online? Do you feel it’s important for the physical product to be seen, or how would you feel about being seen online?
Katie: Of course, I’d love my work to be experienced in a gallery, but if there was some kind of online opportunity of some sort, I would do that too. I’m not planning to stop going to galleries anytime soon, and I think there are plenty of people that feel the same way, that want to experience work in person.
Denise: From a mentor perspective, is there anyone specific that you call or rely on during this process? Or, is it more or less your advisors at this point?
Katie: Yea, mainly just our advisors. We get to see them so often, if there are questions that I have, I can always ask them. I hope that I’ll have some mentors at the end of this, but I think it’s too soon to tell. I think by the end of next year, I hope to have one or two people to keep in touch with.
Denise: Are you going to take the summer to paint and work out some of your ideas?
Katie: Yes. Now that I’ve figured out some ideas that I’m interested in, I have so many directions that I could go, so I want to take the time to figure them out. I’m hoping to get back to something that’s a little more abstract, and a little more processed based. I think that’s what I need to feel like it’s more mine. But, that requires more experimentation and time.