Katherine Mann, ARTIST
[dropcap letter=”I”]n the quest for contemporary art, I came across a female artist, Katherine Mann, whose work is, simply put: poetry. Upon first impression of seeing her work, what came to mind were travels to Japan and journeys through Europe and, like watching a pianist prance their fingers across the ivory keys, her paintings took hold. With so many mixed mediums and the intricate use of paper, her work is like nothing I’ve seen. Over the course of a conversation while she was on the train back to Baltimore, we talked about everything from traveling to motherhood to the purity of being creative.
Katherine Mann is a graceful and free-thinking artist. From letting her son dabble in painting at her studio to the way she tackles huge projects with total abandon, she is an artist impacting our creative landscape. Her art invites a certain vulnerability which elevates the breathlessness and beauty in every intended layer of paint and paper. She does not take the process for granted and allows every imperfection, every intense stroke, every thoughtful melody to emit through her brush.
She not only is an artist but an educator as well. Katherine was the 2015-2016 recipient of the Individual Artist Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Having started her own journey as a painter at the bewildering age of 3, she also spends her time encouraging the internal palate of others asking them to find their own voice and creative intention in a sea of bellowing indifference.
Katherine sees the world as it wraps its odd branches around us, and through extensive world travel has tapped into the culture that reluctantly gives way to the heartbeat within us all.
Below is a look at our interview:
Where were you born?
How many countries have you lived in and what cities did you live?
Taipei and Yilan, Taiwan; Beijing and Guangzhou, China; Seoul, Korea; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Washington, DC, Syracuse, NYC, Providence, Baltimore, USA.
Looking back, what cultures really left the most prominent impression?
China and Taiwan, as well as the United States.
When we spoke you mentioned painting with your son in the studio. What has been one of your favorite moments w him there so far?
I love how my studio space has become a baby play space—which actually makes the room a more interesting and fantastical space for me too. There are drawings on the floor for him to explore, blocks everywhere, hanging, bobbing objects from the ceiling. I also love how my studio practice is now interrupted by playground dates and impromptu singalongs.
How many different mediums do you use and what are they?
Almost every piece I make uses sumi ink, acrylic, and paper. I also often collage and incorporate silkscreen, woodcut and etching.
What has been one of the more challenging aspects of being an artist?
Not becoming complacent and finding ways to introduce uncertainty into my work, not falling into a formula. Dealing with rejection. Learning how to be an artist and a mother at the same time. Learning how to talk about my work and build pieces conceptually as well as intuitively.
If you had to describe your work to someone who isn’t familiar with art, what would you say?
I make giant ink and paper pseudo abstract landscapes that deal with issues of fragmentation, immersion, maximalism, repetition and growth, and that draw on the history of Chinese landscape painting and abstract expressionism.
What would be your dream project?
Make a football field sized floor drawing.
Is there an artist you’d love to collaborate with?
I’ve collaborated with many artists and non artists, students, children, seniors and passers-by, and every time it opens a new avenue up in my practice. I’d love to collaborate with absolutely anyone, from my dentist to Jeff Koons.
What is your guilty pleasure?
If you could craft the perfect meal, what would it be?
Chou tofu, or stinky tofu from Taiwan, and water.
How old were you when you started to paint?
Best advice you’ve been given?
I was told that as a painter, you create a language and a world for yourself. Make sure you introduce a contaminant into that language and world. Nothing should be pure.
What 3 places would you go to if you were handed plane tickets to anywhere?
India, Iceland, Taiwan.
I love your use of color and the poetry to your work. Is there a piece that really struck a cord within?
I can say there are certain pieces that opened up new avenues of exploration for me. I recently began looking at, and drawing images, inspiration and composition from, ancient Chinese cave paintings. The first painting where I did that was like opening a door. Likewise the first painting where I incorporated printmaking, the first installation I made, my first collaborative piece, and the first painting where I poured ink and used that chance mark as a scaffold for the rest of the painting process.
If a young artist approached you hoping for some direction, what would you tell them?
Making a good painting is largely persistence, making a body of work is largely persistence, getting opportunities is persistence, making a career is too.
What does art mean to you?
Tickles your eyes and your mind.
What has been one of the more rewarding – and challenging – aspects so far of being a mom?
The most challenging part is wrestling with time: wanting to freeze time, wanting to remember everything, but instead having this growing person serving as a living reminder of how fast life goes by and how many memories slip through my fingers. The most rewarding part: giving.
When your son is older and looks back on all you have accomplished, what do you hope he’ll feel?
I hope he’ll feel like I balanced it all well.
Is there any particular family tradition you’ve felt was really important to share with your son?
Cooking and gardening and painting: making things happen with your hands.
My paintings show how patterned, highly-wrought, decorative elements coalesce from the chaos and contingency of an organic environment–and how they dissolve into that environment again. I begin each piece with a stain of color, the product of chance evaporation of ink and water from the paper as it lies on the floor of the studio. From this shape, I nourish the landscape of each painting, coaxing from this organic foundation the development of diverse, decorative forms: braids of hair, details from Beijing opera costuming, lattice-work, sequined patterns. Although founded in adornment, these elements are repeated until they too appear organic, even cancerous… and they at once highlight and suffocate the underlying ink stained foundation. Each piece is tense with the threat of disunity and incoherence as nature and artifice spring from and merge into one another, and as different elements multiply and expand like poisonous growths.
My paintings are utter hybrids; man-sized fields punctuated by moments of absurdity, poetry, mutation, growth and decay that I find both suffocating and fabulous. They glory in the sensuous and the rambling, but intersperse the chaos with moments of neurotic control. They explore the potentialities of growth, but also of overabundance. I think of my work as baroque abstract: a celebration of the abundance of connections and clashes that can be found in the disparate mess of matter in the world.