Friday, January 28, 2011

Art @ Arcadia: Interview With Katherine Fraser

Just in case you missed our last art reception in December, we wanted everyone to have the chance to get to know our current featured local artist- Katherine Fraser. 

The Modern Woman
Oil on Canvas

What are a few things about yourself that would give viewers a solid sense of who you are as an artist?
I think a big thing that distinguishes the way I work from many other artists is the fact that my process is almost entirely intuitive. I'm not the kind of artist who plans a painting out, does a study, transfers a finished design to the canvas, and then executes the plan. I start each day in the studio sketching whatever comes to mind, flipping through books and magazines and sketching faces and poses and gestures that I like, and then eventually I get bits and pieces that I want to work with, and I start putting those bits and pieces together on the canvas. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want the entire image to look like, and sometimes I just start with a figure, because there's an emotion that I want to express, and after I look at it for a while I get ideas for what I want in the background of the painting. I cobble my images together from a variety of different sources, and from my imagination, and I use myself as a model if I run into a question about lighting or anatomy. I work on un-stretched canvas, tacked to the wall, so that I can decide later where to crop the image. I always work on a number of paintings at once, and by going back and forth like this, themes start to emerge, and the work grows up as a body. What makes this way of working fun is that I feel like I am in dialogue with the work; it's a combination of actively making decisions, and of being quiet and letting the paintings tell me what they need.

In your artist statement, you state to paint “people experiencing these moments of profound self-awareness and growth; when the rest of the world drops away and we are left bare.” What is it about a particular memory or moment that causes you to want to document it through painting?
Right now, for example, I am working on a group of paintings that is turning out to use a lot of bird, feather, and boat imagery, particularly boats on land. I didn't set out to do this because boats symbolize something particular to me, but now I can stand back and look at them and see that my subconscious is trying to tell a story. Looking at the paintings I make is a little like interpreting dreams. My hope is that the universality of these symbols will allow each viewer the freedom to create their own narrative for what is occurring in the painting.
For this reason, my paintings are not depictions of specific memories that I have, but they are recreations of feelings that I have had at certain times in my life. I try very hard to make the images open-ended so that there can be many interpretations. I'm always reluctant to answer the question "what is this painting about?" because while I have a story for every single one of my paintings, I'm afraid that if I tell it, the viewer will be inhibited from coming up with their own story, and therefore their own personal connection to the painting. One of the things I find most rewarding about this process, is when someone buys a painting, and then tells me why it spoke to them. The stories are always so personal, and so different from what I was thinking when I made the work. This opportunity to connect with people, to communicate, is a huge part of why I make art. It's not enough for me to just make the paintings and express myself, I need the paintings to get out and have a life of their own. The process is only complete when people see and relate to the work, and when someone ultimately decides that they want to take the painting home and relate to it every day. A big part of how I define art in general is that it must be engaging, it has to have the ability to continue speaking to you after many viewings. Hopefully this defines the line between the stories that I tell, and illustration.

Her Own Devices
Oil on Canvas

Have you always painted portraiture?
My focus has always been portraiture and figure painting because I am so interested in depicting emotion. One of the first artists that I really drew inspiration from as a young student was Edward Hopper, and one of the things I still love about his work is the fact that the paintings with and without people all have the same emotional resonance. I hope that this is true of the few paintings I have done without figures, but it’s challenging! I would actually like to do more, but it doesn't come easily. Plus, painting people is just so much fun!

Space-Time Continuum
Oil on Canvas

Set Dressing
Oil on Canvas

Does inspiration come easily to you?
Inspiration comes in waves. I usually work intensely for a few months in creating a new body of work, and then take a break for month or two. When I am starting out, and getting settled back into the studio after a long break, it usually takes a little while to get cranked up. I will spend a full week just drawing and looking at books to get back in the groove and get the ideas flowing, and then suddenly they just start pouring out of me. Once they start flowing I end up with more than I can even use.

Oil on Canvas

How does living in Philadelphia affect you as an artist? Do you feel grounded here, or are you still ultimately rooted in Maine, where you’re from originally?
I like this question about what Philadelphia means to me as an artist, because it's something I've been thinking about lately. I've been here for thirteen years, and I love it, but I've started considering the possibility of moving back to Maine, or trying to divide my year between both places. It's raised the question in my mind of how my work would change if I lived somewhere quiet and rural, after creating myself as an artist in an environment that is gritty and tough. The idea of Maine has always figured into the backstory of my work, in the sense of an archetypal homeland, as well as with reference to its distinctive landscape, but I think that the sense of cynicism and alienation in my work is undoubtedly urban.

Act Of Love
Oil on Canvas

What are your favorite galleries in Philadelphia?
My favorite galleries in Philly for painting are Rosenfeld, Wexler and Lapelle. I actually look at more photography than anything else for inspiration, so I also like to keep an eye on Gallery 339, and the photo gallery at the PMA.
Of the selection of work currently at Arcadia, which painting is the most important to you, and why?
Of the paintings hanging at Arcadia, I have to choose "The Cynic," the picture of the girl in front of the Christmas tree, as my favorite. I love to work large, and I think this painting is really unusual and striking. In a sense, all of my paintings are self-portraits, and this is very much a reference to me as an only child. My idea for this painting was to show a girl on the brink of adolescence, waiting up in the dark to see is Santa is going to show. She's old enough that she doesn't believe that he will, but since there's a tiny part of her that hopes he might, she has her camera at the ready just in case. It's a painting about being on the cusp of innocence and experience, the fragility of innocence, and the incongruity of such a smug and cynical look on such a youthful face. I think the painting has sadness, a sense of something lost, but also a little element of humor, and if I can capture two such opposing things in one painting, then I feel like I nailed it!

The Cynic
Oil on Canvas

Katherine's work will be on display until the first of March, make sure stop by either location to see her stunning work in person.
In the meantime, check out her website:
-Cory & Mallory

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