Thursday, March 12, 2009

Art Space Talk: Kate Bauman

Kate Bauman is a contemporary artist and designer in Portland, Maine. Growing up in Wisconsin, she began painstakingly crafting all kinds of projects with her mother and grandmother at a young age. The habit stuck with her. She completed her BFA from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2005, with a senior research project focused on enameling.

A year later, she packed up and headed east to the foothills of the Catskill mountains, where she began her graduate studies in metal at SUNY-New Paltz. She graduated in 2008 and this time headed northeast to the coast of Maine. Her work is rooted in contemporary American culture, and pursues subversion in pattern, decoration, and enamel.

Brian Sherwin: Kate, tell us about your academic background. Did you study art formally? What about influential instructors that you have had?

Kate Bauman: Yes, I studied graphic design and metal at the University of Wisconsin -- Madison for my BFA. There, I was greatly influenced by Lisa Gralnick, an excellent metalsmith and challenging instructor. Lisa introduced me to enamel (glass fused to metal), and encouraged me to explore possibilities of this traditional medium with contemporary imagery and ideas.

I recently completed an MFA in Metal at the State University of New York at New Paltz, where I studied with enamellist Jamie Bennett, metalsmith Myra Mimlitsch-Gray, and Sarah Turner. The MFA Metal program at SUNY-New Paltz is extremely rigorous, and I have been fortunate to study with such renowned and influential figures in my field.
BS: Tell us about the thoughts behind your art. Can you give our readers some insight into any specific themes that you explore?

KB: My work is greatly influenced by pattern and ornamentation, both traditional and contemporary. I am intrigued by the psychological effects of pattern in domestic spaces and at play in American culture. Family dynamics, relationships, and heredity are also themes that motivate much of my work, though they may not always be readily apparent.

These influences derive from a time of particular difficulty in my own home life. a time when everything seemed to be falling apart and I found myself disturbed by the audacity of the happy flowers crawling over the walls in my family’s home. I focused on wallpaper patterns as a metaphor for the tendency of families to cover up their realities to put up a front, a veneer, as wallpaper covers cracked walls and pattern camouflages or transforms an object or space. I also began to consider the spaces we live in as witnesses to realities that often go unacknowledged.

While my artistic interests span a variety of media, I am most inclined to use, and muse upon, enamel. Not enamel paint, but vitreous enamel, which is glass fused to metal. It is a process that is no longer widely practiced, but is incredibly appealing for its rich colors, visual depth, traditions, and permanence. Enamel is generally considered simply a decorative medium. I am attracted to the potential of enameling as a primary means of expressing ideas, rather than secondary to the fabrication of a metal form or the crafting of a jewel. I seek to use enamel in a manner that blurs the distinction between art and craft.

In my work, I have explored the visual and psychological effects of applying a series of enameled patterns to a repeated shape (copper guns) in the Silhouette series as a manifestation of something pattern could transform. Or, in the case of the Wallpaper series, something pattern could hide.

In a body of 100 drawings, I investigated the ability of repetition in pattern to hide an image, in this case, again, a gun. The structures of the patterns suggest various other styles, eras, and ideas, but the silhouette of the gun is not often readily recognizable.

Moving away from guns as imagery, I began to consider floral patterns, and the ability of their stylized tendrils to creep into ones subconscious. Natural flora have been an ever-present subject in pattern and decoration, but stylized and controlled in rigid patterns. Growths began to question what could happen if such constraints were lifted.

The series, Decorum: The Devil Is In The Details, arose from an interest in decoration as a projection of identity and an effort to design new pattern motifs reflecting contemporary culture. Patterns from patterns, they are at once visual motifs created from daily human habits, personalized crests, Rorschach inkblots, and pop design. Their familiar imagery and seductive colors betray a conflict of the American consumerist psyche. The vibrant colors and detailed images draw the viewer in and force them to look more closely at portraits that, through glossiness and subtly textured imagery, may also serve as mirrors on their own life.

While my work is sometimes inspired by personal events, it has been important to me not to create work that is personal to the point that it is about me, or my story alone. Instead, I hope to make work that relates universally personal ideas.

BS: Is there a specific message you strive to convey to viewers concerning your art?

KB: I don’t have a single, specific message to convey to the masses. Rather, I am interested in creating a visual experience that will resonate with viewers on various levels. The root of my work is a desire to express aspects of the human experience, and I hope that others will recognize and respond to that.

BS: What can you tell us about your process in general? Give us some insight into how you work? as in turning an idea into reality, so to speak? Can you discuss some of the methods that you utilize?

KB: I suppose my process varies from piece to piece. I usually start by writing down ideas, followed by general sketches. When I get down to the actual creation of a piece, I do lots of specific drawings, trying out shapes and compositions to see what works. I often use my computer to do some of these drawings, creating vector shapes in Illustrator that I can quickly move around, scale, and experiment with. But for all my preparations, I often end up making lots of intuitive decisions in the actual completion of a piece.

I have found, between my experience in graphic design and as a maker, that I really enjoy moving back and forth between using my computer as a creative tool and using my hands. One seems to balance the other out and provide opportunities to inspire and work through ideas in a variety of ways.
BS: What about influences? For example, are you influenced by any specific artists, world events, or art movements?

KB: I am inspired by enamelists Veleta Vancza, Gretchen Goss, and Jamie Bennett, contemporary pattern designers like Timorous Beasties, artists Rudolph Stingel and Peter Garfield, and photographer Sarah Malakoff. More truthfully though, my work is a response to the influence of my life and surroundings.

BS: Where can your art be viewed at this time? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

KB: I have a few exciting projects and exhibitions coming up in 2009. I have recently been invited to create a site-specific enamel installation for the upcoming American Enamels exhibition at The Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston, opening May 1st. A number of my Silhouettes will also be on display.

I am also working on an interesting and challenging experiment in collective making with a number of my colleagues. We are making 15 pieces between nine jewelers and object makers, a sort of exquisite corpse via mail. The finished pieces will be shown in an exhibition titled Unbalanced Forces: An Exploration Of Collective Making at Bambi Gallery in Philadelphia during the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) conference, also in May.

Finally, two of my enameled portraits from the Decorum: The Devil Is In The Details series have been selected for the Surfacing, the 8th International Juried Student Exhibition, sponsored by the Enamelist Society at The Oakland Art Gallery in Oakland, CA from July through August.
BS: Do you have any concerns about the art world at this time? For example, there has been a lot of debate recently about copyright and the rights of artists. Do you have an opinion on issues such as that?

KB: Sure, I think every artist is concerned about the art world during this particular economic struggle. I think the art world will survive, but will definitely be changed. I think the down-turned economy will shift the faces of the art world, force some galleries out of the game, and allow room for new ones. In the big picture, its natural selection and survival of the fittest, as always. But, I think people will continue to buy art and support the hand-made.
I am, however, particularly concerned about attitudes towards art and creative expression by American culture in general. I think its sad and problematic that many people untrained in the arts feel intimidated by a visit to an art museum or gallery, or feel that they don’t know the proper response to a work of art.

The recent focus on Shepard Fairey and the AP over copyright issues has been very interesting. I think the Internet has inspired a pervasive attitude toward images and words, that things should be shared. It’s become increasingly difficult to control images and words. It seems that anything is fair game for an artist to cull for their work. I think that if an image or idea is transformed by the artist’s vision, it has become a new thing and intellectual property of the artist.
BS: What about the internet in general? One could say that the art world is starting to catch up-- more galleries are turning to the World Wide Web in order to further exposure for their artists. How do you think the internet will impact the art world in say? a decade? Can you see a meshing between the traditional market and alternative (online) markets taking shape?
KB: I think the Internet is already having a huge impact on the art world, and I’ll be interested to see how both evolve over time. The Internet is a great promotional tool for artists. A personal website is a gallery that anyone can view at any time. That changes the whole ball game. There are more opportunities for artists to share their work online, and as we’ve seen through globalization of everything else, we have access to more creative images and ideas than ever before.
Artists can share their work with different social communities, and there are an increasing number of online exhibitions. Although an actual physical and visual experience with an object or painting or photograph will always trump a virtual one, the Internet spreads our awareness of how and where and when we can do so.

The Internet has also opened up opportunities for artists to sell their work themselves, by setting up a shopping cart on their own site or using sites like Etsy or myartspace’s NYAXE. Many artists I know have been upset by some attitudes on sites like Etsy to sell handcrafted products at prices that don’t reflect the time, price of materials, skill, and ideas required to make them. They’re worried that such under-pricing will lead to a public perception that handcrafted objects and artwork are worth less than they should be.
However, I have seen artists selling work for appropriate prices and making sales. I’m not sure that such practices will turn out to have such overreaching effects. Buyers can still spot skill and will value reputation and craftsmanship. It will be interesting to see if and how this affects traditional galleries. I can definitely see a meshing of traditional and online markets, and I think the two can serve different purposes and reach different audiences.
BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?

KB: I’d just like to thank you for your interest in my work, and for giving me the opportunity to reach a broader audience. Your questions raised some interesting thoughts about my practice and current issues in the art community.
You can learn more about Kate Bauman by visiting her website-- Kate Bauman is currently a member of the community. Her work on myartspace can be viewed, HERE
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange
Myartspace Blog on Twitter

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