I’ve had a rare and exciting opportunity recently to “meet” a few, very talented artists in Milwaukee of whom our paths may have not crossed otherwise. I met these artists through Internet searches and would like to profile them in this space this week. Our conversations and email correspondence have been so open, friendly and forthcoming that I feel like we may know each other already; however, I do hope I get a chance to meet them someday in person. I don’t know when I’ll be in Milwaukee next, having never been there, but I hope it’s sooner rather than later. They are giving me a reason to want to go.
The minute I saw Kathryn E. Martin (Katie’s) work, I was immediately struck by it’s ability to capture something monumental in scope with everyday, often overlooked materials. I was captivated and compelled to learn more. Her work is so pure in form and uses mundane materials to make something so exquisite and exceptional. How does she do it? Here are just a few of her many examples.
Did you take notice what these pieces are made of? Abstractly you may not notice that they are styrofoam coffee cups. Nothing has gone to waste. The cups are used in Lunchtime Conversations, J-Steps, and Martin Puryear May 2007. (I even love the title, as the image reminds me of an Octopus who I can just see eating one for lunchtime and I did an earlier post with Puryear mentioned.) The 40,000 coffee cup bottoms are used in Knot (For Frank) May 2007. Here’s how Katie describes these pieces:
This work was a question into Styrofoam’s whiteness (convenience), artificiality (efficiency), and structure (strength).
My parameters were to use CFC free Styrofoam cups with cross-linked polyethylene foam, taken from their respective forms – cups and sheets.
In taking apart and re-arranging these elements, places of discussion and observation were revealed. Intent to evolve into a dialogue between viewer-and-object and viewer-and-space, the work stands as its state of being and evidence of doing.
She blew me away with Flotant below. I’m thinking of the upcoming Cherry Blossom Festival that takes place soon here in April in DC.
You’ll have to investigate her website to see many other examples of humoristic (game on for example) and poignant constructed artwork, a few below. She defines herself as a visual artist for good reason.
Her artwork takes patience and discipline but so thought provoking is the result.
This video describes some of her creative process. It is filmed by her friend, Blythe Meier, an artistic accomplishment in film making as well.
I had a chance to ask Katie about her work and this is what she wrote. I hope she doesn’t mind that I paste it here in its entirety as I thought it had so much depth that I didn’t want to leave anything out:
My thoughts are that I love what I do. And I believe I have to, as my
work, process, and installations evolve I constantly find the need to
supply them with huge amounts of passion, dilligence, faith, frustration, and knowledge – as all art(ists) + design(ers) does.
As a teacher, I try to get my students to understand this as well. That it
is not just the getting/finding/uncovering of ideas, but the pushing and manipulating and making of those ideas to be. And once the ideas have made them themselves present, its presenting them.
There seems to be a past, present, and future tense in my work, as I
move (always attempting a seamless move) from idea into production
into final presentation. I work to remain aware of where the idea came
in my final execution announcing where it will be. Does this make
sense? Maybe it will make more sense if I simply say I want my work to
I have been reading a lot of writings by Russian artist Ilya Kobakov
lately, and he wrote, in “Public Projects, or The Spirit of a Place”,
“The attitude toward the public project is not the same as toward a
temporary exhibit, but rather it is an attitude toward something
permanent that in principle should exist forever in a given location.
It should be as though the public project has existed for a long time
already among these other objects surrounding it. That is, it should
not represent juxtaposition, but rather a natural and absolutely
normal part of that space where it is located…The artist has the
position of a medium who not so much dominates and terrorizes the
place in which he finds himself, but rather listens to it attentively,
or better said, is attuned to the full perception of that voice, that
sound, that music, which is supposed to resound in this place.”
This connects me, of course to my more recent works in the Public
Sphere but is not at all unlike how I work in gallery or museum or
private collections. As an artist I work to be aware of my material,
the space it is in, and how it will come to be understood – visually,
conceptually, and spatially. I work to understand how big it will and
need to be. I work to understand how it will work to fill the space or
work to point to its emptiness. I work to understand how I can reveal
the material by coming to understand it as something totally other.
When given a space, a project, a material I work to uncover that “full
perception of that voice, that sound, that music, which is supposed to
resound in this place” as I place myself into the role of conductor,
and then player, and then observer.
I like to think of my working process as that of something partaking
in serious play and I am equally inspired by nature as I am mass
produced, banal objects. I respond to human emotion and machined
industry. Rather than separating this from that, I work to allow
myself to see the connections between the disparate. With that said, I
guess you could say I am inspired by the connections.
I wrote back to say:
I am truly inspired by your work and connections as well — that’s what I write about in my blog — from everyday (often overlooked) to more esoteric — there’s a connection and yet it’s not “all relative,” if you know what I mean. These connections should be appreciated because just like some coincidences are more than mere coincidences, these connections, I think, are bigger than the human realm. We’re just trying to grasp their relevance and I think artists try to do this through observation and then expression of this through art.
Beyond making art, Katie teaches at the University of West Milwaukee and she mentors many projects. She has also been selected recently for several major, public art installations, including Ellipsoid in front of Barnard Hall at UWM. A multi-talented woman. I am always inspired by those, artists or not, who love what they do, live with passion, as life is a gift not to be taken for granted, and help others in the process.
All my best to you Katie and I’ll be looking forward to what you envision and create next.