Last year I introduced the work of Kathy Halper to my blog when she had her show with Aron Packer in Chicago. Kathy is back today with the next artist interview.
Can you recall an early experience that may have set you off towards becoming a professional working artist?
Absolutely. In the mid-90’s my husband and I were introduced to an artist, George Colin, by some dear friends. There was a gallery in the Old Town section of Chicago called Georgeart that only showed his work. He was an untrained retired worker from southern Illinois who had picked up pastels late in life and began creating gloriously colorful primitive landscapes on found paper. They were amazing. The gallery was very “hot” at the moment and our friends had been collecting his work. I was in love with the work and desperately wanted one but it was beyond our budget. But something about the art gnawed at me for some time and I felt like if I couldn’t own one and live with it maybe I could at least try to experience what it felt like to create art like that.
I had always been artistic. I grew up with a mother who had attended SAIC but never did anything with her art after she had kids, but she certainly encouraged my brother and me to be creative. While I knew I had some talent I never believed I was talented enough to be an artist. I didn’t believe I had any particular voice as an artist.
But after discovering Georgeart, I bought some pastels and began copying photos from garden books. Soon I had half a dozen pastels and it was so fun. But I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t want to frame them all and hang them in my house and I knew they had to be protected. An acquaintance gave me the name of a wholesale framer in the far north suburbs. I took the pastels to him and he said, “I think you’re very talented and I would love to see you do more. I will frame your pieces for $25 each using whatever leftover moldings I have and when you get enough done I’d like to see you do some outdoor shows and I will help you.”
His name was Joe and he became my first mentor. For the next few years, Joe spent his summer weekends picking me up at 6 am in his van, loaning me a tent and display, setting up my booth and sitting with me while I did the summer art fair circuit. He would drag people into my booth when I was too shy to talk to them. It was a ball and I sold a lot of art and it became my career while my children were young. Joe has since died and I can’t believe what a gift he gave me.
In retrospect. being that I have no formal training, this was the first step in my education as an artist.
2. Who are the contemporary artists that you feel some camaraderie with?
Well, the group of contemporary artists working in embroidery or textiles is pretty small but very supportive. I have connected with a bunch of talented people in the field. I love the work of fellow embroidery artist Jouetta Maue and then there’s Erin Riley, a provocative tapestry artist who mines the same online photo territory that I do. Ellen Schinderman, Kate Kretz, and I just met a wonderful cross-stitch artist, Stacia Yeapanis. There’s a movement of craft artists doing this “not your grandma’s stitching” shock art, but the artists mentioned above are really gifted with strong points of view.
Of course, when I was painting, it was a totally different group.
What has your experience been like working with commercial galleries both good and bad?
After 15 years of doing my own thing I very much wanted to try the gallery route. I was so thrilled to get Packer Schopf’s attention after admiring Aron Packer’s taste for years. You hear so many horror stories about the way artists are treated and I had always heard Aron was a great guy. That’s very important to me. I’m not someone who can work with a--holes even if it’s good for my career. I’m very transparent and not very tough. So my experience has been that Aron has turned into a good friend who I can talk to about my concerns and other opportunities. Of course, you have to give up a percentage of your sales, which no one enjoys, but the gallery has given me an audience I couldn’t get on my own. This year Packer Schopf is taking my work to Art Miami. I think that’s a pretty good trade-off!
On the negative side, sales can be slow but I also entered the gallery system in the middle of the economic meltdown. At this point, I made more money selling on my own, but I believe in this as an investment in the future. Plus my work has become much more challenging. It’s a lot easier to sell the pretty pictures I used to do than the stuff I’m doing now!
What do you do or where do you go when you feel empty and tuckered out as an artist?
I connect with artist friends and talk things out. In general, I’m a homebody who lives in the suburbs and works in my house, so I have to go into Chicago and seek out my work peers, which I love to do. It always helps me re-engage in why I do what I do. And Chicago is so wonderful it tends to energize me.
Of course, sometimes a day off binging on cable tv is all I need.
What is happening in your work right now that you are excited about?
People don’t always appreciate how personal this series was for me. It began because my 3 teenaged kids were on Facebook and I was drawn to how much information they were sharing about their personal lives on this public space. While the images were rarely of my kids, every kid became my kid because this was their world.
The work initially got attention because the Facebook inspired embroidered drawings were often provocative but as my kids have matured I feel less connected to those sometimes “shocking” images. The kids themselves have moved on to Instagram and Snapchat and I don’t see as many images.
So now I feel challenged to create work as worthy of attention that explores the whole digital revolution on a larger scale. I think because of my early career as an advertising writer I have always been interested in pop culture, the mash up of text and visual as an art form, and the quest to communicate as quickly as possible.
So I’m really enjoying playing with symbols of social media communication and seeing what kinds of statements I can make through the folk art mediums. The contrast of instant, virtual communication expressed through slow, hand crafted embroideries is fascinating to me. And I have a love/hate relationship with the fact that I’m trying to capture an incredibly fast moving evolution through a painfully slow moving art form!
What little piece of advice might you have for the artists out there who are wanting to take their work up a notch?
Keep your eyes open. Look at other artists. Don’t just look at other artists working in your medium. Magic can come from taking something unexpected from some other world and introducing it into your world. Try a new medium if you’re feeling stale in your current one. Take a class in something new. And of course there’s the old cliché of not being afraid to fail. While I did take the occasional class at my local art center when I began painting, I didn’t go to a formal art school so I never had a structured education. My whole career has been one big experiment.
works details in order;
Boomm (bored out of my mind) 11x14inches, hand embroidery on fabric
Danceaholics 19x19 inches, hand embroidery on linen
Pennsylvania Digital 30x30 inches, hand embroidery on linen