Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Artist of the Week

Katherine Mann

There are certain connections in the universe that are undeniable, like mind and body, and then there are connections that are consistently in conflict, like man and nature. It is in the mind of the artist that all connections are possible, all barriers are removed, and the true nature of the universe is exposed. However, there are limits the capabilities of our minds, and our imaginations must at some point take over and fill in the gaps. Katherine Mann uses her playful nature and active imagination to attempt to explore these connections. Katherine's mind works as drill searching through layers of reality, through religion, through forests and oceans, through the very veins of the human body to create incredible works of art.

Baltimore's Katherine Mann has participated in several group and solo shows on the east coast and also a few in Taiwan, and she is currently completely her MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Recently, Katherine was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): How would you describe your work?
Katherine Mann (KM): I would describe my pieces as environments, or fantasy worlds. Of course, every painting creates a world, but in my work I try to really allow the artwork to have its own unique, internal rules and systems. And then I try to allow the piece to grow into something autonomous, and take me (and you, the viewer, too, hopefully) along with it.

OA: The culmination of Buddhism, blood clots, rainforests, and coral reef, on the surface don't really seem to connect, but if you look closer they can represent mind, body, and nature. Do you feel there is a connection between Human Development (body) and Art (mind) (your two majors in college)?
KM: Definitely, and you summarized it in your question better than I could have myself! The spiritual and the mundane, the micro and macro, the chaotic and the controlled... In my pieces none of these aspects of life are separate; they all constantly intertwine. And I really believe that is the way life is, and it certainly is the way I think about life.

The question of how human development and art can inform one another leads me to think of an anecdote: Children, in their development, often (usually) progress from one stage or style of play to another as they grow up. Babies begin with simple play in order to explore the materials around them, putting things into their mouths, etc. Young children begin to indulge in fantasy play, where they make up imaginary worlds and live in them--enacting adventures as princesses, astronauts, mythological animals. And older children begin to play games with set rules--baseball, checkers. As a child, I got stuck in the fantasy play stage much longer than the average kid. My brother and I were still making epic story lines out of porcelain animals when I was twelve, and I certainly never got into baseball. And I think I'm still stuck in it. Making my paintings is a way to create something fun, to revisit the ideals and experiments of childhood, to revel in the complexity of reality and create a new reality on the paper at the same time.

OA: Travelling between Baltimore and Fiji must be a shock to your system, does the environment that you are inform your work in anyway? Do you paint while in Fiji, and if so, is the nature of these pieces or sketches different then your work in Baltimore?
KM: Yes, I could barely think of two more different places than Baltimore and Suva (the city where my family lives in Fiji.) Interestingly, when I do paint in Fiji the paintings are much more realistic. And in Baltimore my work veers further toward these abstract, bombastic imaginings. You could say that I'm more satisfied with painting reality while in Fiji and more escapist in gritty Baltimore... But I think that would be too simplistic and a disservice to both Fiji and Baltimore, as Baltimore can be sensitive and beautiful and Fiji is certainly much more complex than a tourist's postcard paradise. Really, I think both have impacted my work, as have the other countries in which I have lived. I grew up as the daughter of an American diplomat and have lived in China, Taiwan, Korea, Israel, and the States... and every one of those places, including Fiji and Baltimore, have impacted my personality and my work.

OA: Do you have a set color pallet that you work with? Do you ever use color to evoke a particular emotion in the viewer of you work?
KM: I do not have a set color palette... I see the paintings as environments that grow, almost like viruses, so the color has to evolve along with the painting. My process is usually to put the paper on the floor, slosh it with watercolor, wait for that too dry, work into the chaos with more concrete forms, slosh it again, and go back and forth and back and forth. That way I'm continually allowing the piece to grow by itself but also exercising a certain amount of control--but it also means that I'm always doing battle with the piece in terms of color and not allowing it to get muddy. I generally lean towards bright colors--colors that reference youth, childhood, and the games, imaginings and fantasies of those times. Oh, and colors from the body.

OA: Your work has many layers, dimensions, and details, how long does it typically take to complete a piece? When do you know you have completed a piece?
KM: I doubt I ever completely am sure when the piece is complete! Perhaps when its already so full of stuff that people are having epileptic attacks upon seeing it. Because the paintings do not have a blueprint and I want them to grow, its difficult to know when they stop. But usually I have a sense that the painting is able to present its rules and interactions and characters to the viewer and I can stop and move on to the next idea. It really depends on the piece and how much trouble I am having, but I would say for the larger paintings, I spend about 2 to 3 weeks of non-stop obsession.

OA: What's next for Katherine Mann?
KM: I still have one more year of graduate school (at the Maryland Inst. College of Art) to go, and after that... I hope my life can include some combination of gallery showings, teaching art as a professor, and graphic design (which is currently my awesome day job).

Bonus Questions:
OA: Coffee? If yes, what type of coffee is your favorite and where is your favorite coffee spot? What is the coffee like in Fiji?
KM: Sorry, I'm a tea person. And the best tea in the world is from Alishan mtn, Taiwan.

OA: Do you listen to music while you paint? Who are some of your favorite musicians, and does their music ever inform your work?
KM: I always listen to something while I work. I listen to a lot of NPR, and recently I've started listening to poetry podcasts from the Poetry Foundation. For music, dance music , hip hop, and anything upbeat.

For more information on Katherine Mann please visit her website.

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