How would you describe the work that you do?
What I’m showing [in the exhibition Stepping Back, Looking Forward] is a piece called Dirty Laundry, which is an interactive piece that asks the viewer to participate. There are three main elements to it. . . . Ideally the participant will come in and grab a piece of cotton fabric out of the hamper, put it on the ironing board table top and write out a secret. . . . Once they’ve written that out, they take a little clothes-pin and they pin it up. . . . Essentially they’re airing out their dirty laundry, getting their secrets out. The lingerie sets are themed secrets; the bra will have a secret that relates to the underwear and they are hand stitched. I think secrets are kind of sewn into us as people, and your intimates are the closest clothing to your body, just like your secrets are the closest part to you.
That’s what I’ve included in this show, but [other work that] I do is completely different. [I use] birch panel with acrylic paint, and then I pour resin over the top, which gives it that thick, shine. It also soaks into the wood and gives definition to the wood grain. . . . I would define my work as edgy with a veneer of cute. So, it’s really fun and playful when you first look at my work. Very colorful. Usually you can recognize it because there’s some kind of pop culture reference or character that you know from childhood. Then it gets pretty twisted once you get in a really look at it as references to politics, society, feminism and our culture are elements within the piece that bring this edgy quality.
What drew you to the cute/edgy idea with your paintings?
The relationship to being a creative child comes into play with coloring books. You can see how the thick lines (of my paintings) read as coloring book lines. As a kid I would color in my coloring books and refuse to eat breakfast before I was done making art . . . so, I think the coloring book part of my life has shown up in what I’m making now. It wasn’t always the twisted paintings. That slowly started to develop about three years ago. I had a mentorship with WARM [Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota], . . . and my mentor was Jill Waterhouse. We worked on . . . developing my technique and my message . . . and my voice. This is my next series that I’m making without my mentor and WARM, . . . so it’s really kind of shot off and grown from there.
Is there something that you’re currently working on that you are particularly excited about?
I’m making 3D paintings! I’m putting the acrylic paint inside multiple layers of resin, so there’s depth in between each later. This [series] is based on the seven sins, and [the first piece just finished] is Whinnie the Pooh and Gluttony. . . . I’m also doing The Queen of Hearts, from Alice in Wonderland, as Wrath and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Lust. So, I have the first few planned out and I will be exhibiting this new series next year.
Are there ways in which you intend your work to challenge the viewer?
With my paintings . . . they challenge you because it makes you think about your relationship with childhood. So, Whinnie the Pooh is this cute, rolly-polly bear, but when I’m pairing him with the sin of gluttony, it totally sheds a new light on who he is as a character and how we see that in childhood media. So, what are our kids watch teaches us these behaviors. . . . The amount of honey he’s stuffing in his face during the book or cartoon makes him a total glutton, but we don’t really notice that about him until you see my painting.
The piece for the MCAD show challenges the audience because you have to participate, or it invites you to participate. It’s a challenge to want to air out some dirty laundry or what kind of secret you want to air out. It asks you to be honest . . . find truth . . . and put yourself out there. But it’s still a safe space because you get to hang it up and it’s anonymous. It’s a cool way to share and feel safe in the same way and be part of an art piece.
What have been the greatest challenges to your art career and how do you navigate them?
I haven’t been an artist for very long. . . . I’m still kind of a young artist in my career, but I’ve done a lot of things that have made me more established. I call myself a professional artist, . . . and in this growth period of becoming a professional artist I’ve set up a non-profit program, . . . [finished] college, and [completed] a MN State Arts Board Grant project. [They] were three big milestones. As much as they were challenges, I think the real challenge is deciding you’re going to be an artist and then telling everyone else you’re an artist and getting them to understand that it’s your decision. . . . I think as artists, we all know we’re artists inside a lot more than people understand. When you’re growing and emerging, it’s hard to put yourself out there . . . and [have] everyone on board with you.
What advice has influenced you or your art making?
I’m on the third time of reading the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s kind of a twelve step program for “how to be an artist.”. . . I always learn something new each time [I read it], so there isn’t a specific piece of advice I share . . . except to read the book!
How do you know when you have been successful?
I’m an avid goal-planner. . . . I have entire binders of goals and lists and things I’m gonna do. It’s an elaborate map of what I wanna do in my own life and my art life. . . . I think being successful is a feeling, . . . a sense of accomplishment and happiness beyond checking something off. I need to have that feeling and when I get that, I am successful.
Why did you choose to pursue the life of a professional artist?
I don’t think I ever chose it. . . . I feel being an artist chose me. . . . I’ve been an artist my whole life.
In your opinion, how is being a woman artist in 2015 different from what it might have been like one, two, three, or even four decades ago?
From what I understand, in the 1960s, women did not have proper representation in the art world. Compared to now. . . . I don’t know exactly what it was like since I wasn’t creating in that time. . . . I think it’s a lot easier now, but there are still challenges. . . . And I think the topics we are addressing that are different from what it was like back then. . . . Being a woman artist now is a lot different, but there’s still a ways to go.
Are there certain ways in which you identify yourself as a feminist artist?
Three ways that I identify as a feminist: personal definition, my role in the community, and the artwork I create. . . . There’s a trend that a lot of women my age don’t identify as feminist. . . . I’m not sure why people do or don’t. . . . But I know that I’m okay identifying as a feminist, even if I also don’t define myself exclusively as a feminist. This self-definition also doesn’t make me special. In addition to being a feminist, I’m also a lot of other things: a daughter, a friend, a lover, an artist, a citizen, a voter, a community member, an employee, but I’m also a feminist artist, too. These are just things that make me Kate Renee.
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