Kathryn Shriver talks about what painting can be, whether in relation to design or craft, or as a form unto itself, and how researching theory, history, and literature continue to influence her work. Make sure to check out the links following the Q&A!
Tell me a little bit about you!
I'm from Alden, a small town in New York State outside of Buffalo, but I'm currently living in Montreal, Quebec. I just finished my MFA in Drawing & Painting at Concordia University in Montreal. Previously, I'd lived and gone to school in very small, insular upstate towns (I did my undergrad degree at Wells College, which had a student body of about 550!) with my only city experiences being short stays for study in New York and Paris. So the move to diverse, French-speaking Montreal on my own was a big change! it's posed a lot of challenges, but the art scene here has definitely shifted the way I make art on a whole, and I'm excited about that!
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I've been interested in art since I was a kid. I had always enjoyed drawing and making crafts, but when I was around 10 years old, I discovered glass beads & seed bead weaving for the first time, and I don't think I've ever really stopped beading since then.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Like many artists working in craft or fiber media, I'm interested in the heirarchies present in the way we look at and think about art and its materials. Since my educational background is in painting though I work with beads and textiles, I'm specifically interested in the various overlaps and double-standards that exist between the categories of Painting and Fiber work.
Recently, driven mostly by my MFA research and a reflection on my decision halfway through undergrad to integrate my beading/crafting work into my painting/ "fine art" practice, I shifted specifically to thinking about what it would be like to make paintings not as a painter, but in the guise of a craftsperson. To do this, I extracted three things that an object of a painting needed to have, in my opinion --besides paint!-- to still be, in some way, a painting. Those turned out to be (1) a support/ stretcher of some kind (2) a textile surface, like canvas or linen, and (3) it's relationship to the wall is important. Having established these three components, I started to make pieces that played with the idea of crafting / playing with these elements and turning them into the actual playground of the work. I constructed "stretchers" out of crafty materials, like dowel rods, and painted/beaded them, leaving them exposed. I wove textiles ("surfaces") out of beads, and made this construction the heart of the work, rather than anything going on top of it.
From there, a lot of new ground really opened up for me. I thought more and more about the specificity of my materials and the different signalling between using artist materials and hardware, hand-woven beads and pre-made textiles; I paired mass-manufactured factory objects like towel bars and coat hooks with hand-woven beaded textiles and used paint like an interior decorator applying faux-finishes. this all allowed me to really use the particular qualities of my different materials and the kind of cultural baggage that came with them to build the content of my pieces.
What is your process like?
During my time at Concordia, my research was a little more specific and rigid, but mostly my research consists in casually constructing a reading list for myself based on the interests of my current projects. I read theory, but also history and literature, which often give me more energizing, abstract influence. I also spend a lot of time recently looking at different materials online or in shops, like hardware and craft stores, fabric shops, jewelry supply companies, and dollar stores.
The timeframe for my pieces is hard to put my finger on sometimes, because I often work on at least three pieces at once, or abandon pieces for months and come back to it later. The long, meditative process of weaving or covering a surface with beads is important to my work, as it allows me to just ruminate passively on the materials I'm working with and the weird associations they evoke. Sometimes, I'll bead for a month with no specific goal other than to make a lot of whatever I'm working on. That work though, will be there to use as material, to be composed or combined into a piece relatively quickly at a later date. This back-and-forth between long, meditative, and quick, active ways of working is a really productive balance for me, and keeps me from feeling stuck.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I had a friend once talk to me about the relationship with my pieces, as craft-y objects, to function. Thinking about craft and fibers (and painting) in relationship to utility has been an unresolved, but continual driving force for me now!
One of the most memorable, (and useless?) pieces of feedback I ever received, was during a thesis studio visit last year, when a (generally very thoughtful) male professor uncomfortably proclaimed (twice) when looking at a wall of my new work that "No man would want to wear this!"
Art makes people say strange things sometimes.
Describe your studio.
I have a small, shared studio space in a building full of artists and small businesses, but I generally keep it as a storage space, or a place to have studio visits. Most of my work is done in my apartment, in a workspace I share with my boyfriend-roommate.
But to be honest, Montreal gets cold, and the warmest place for me to be while I bead for six hours straight is in my bed. So a lot of my pieces have a very domestic and cozy start to life!
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
The most frustrating thing for me has always been the gatekeepers to access in the arts.
Currently, it's the frustration with feeling like I have to ask permission to do anything! I don't have any way really to show work on my own resources outside of the internet, and constantly putting in submissions, trying to make contacts, and appealing to people just to put my work in a room is emotionally exhausting! I love making the work and I love showing it to people, but a long, unrelieved stream of rejected proposals takes its toll on my drive and enthusiasm. I need to get my hands on some space of my own!
If you could sit down for dinner or a drink with anyone, who would it be and what would you chat about?
I'd actually love to sit down with an experienced jewelry maker, someone who works with stones and metals from a craftsperson's point of view, specifically. I'm finding myself pulled more and more to the world of jewelry right now, and I'd love to talk to an expert!
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Glittery, semi-withholding, frank
What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut?
When I feel dried out creatively, I usually sink myself into reading, whether it's relevant to my practice or not. Or I focus on writing proposals, maybe write some angsty poetry. Anything that's still productive but gives me some time away from my work.
When I'm in a real art depression though, and nothing feels good or interesting anymore, I find that giving myself real space is the best thing. The stagnancy usually comes from a built up pressure to be productive all the time, and now that I'm not in school, I have the freedom to relax when I need to. I take more naps, spend more time cooking and doing chores, take baths, watch movies without working through them. Doing things that are just not seen as contributing to the creative process at all usually help me recover and re-induce the creative itch.
What do you love most about your medium? What challenges or surprises you most about it?
I love the transformative nature of beads. As small units, they can accumulate into surprising, exciting forms with repeated labor. I love the way they never change as base units, but they can turn into so many different kinds of material, and look like so many different things, en masse.
What do you need or value most as an artist?
Thoughtful, frank feedback, space (emotional, architectural, temporal, financial) to work, other artists, people who are supportive and interested in the work.
What keeps you creating?
Knowing that I have no idea what I'll be making next year, or the year after. Following the trajectory of your creative drive is exciting!
What are you working on right now?
I'm just dipping my toes into this research right now, (I still need to get myself a Quebec library card, now that I'm out of school!) but I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between glamor and mimicry. I've been making pieces with faux fur, pleather, cheap but alluring fabrics, and combining "low" and "high" materials and processes has always interested me. This is super fresh, but the crafts of fashion and jelwelery have been calling me for a while, and exploring mimetic glamour and how it relates to our millennial world of precarious paid work and the need to fake it to get ahead is something I'm dying to tie together and dig my hands into!
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for all your work! Young Space is a great platform!
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