Email interview with Katy Stone conducted by Sarah Matheson, ’13, studio art major and art history minor, University of Richmond, December 2012
In the closing line of your online statement, you state, “Within each piece is the notion of the timeless, of tapping into an ongoing flow; the idea that a mark, line or shape can become a sign, symbol, or metaphor for the infinite.” Regarding that idea, what sort of control do you have while creating your pieces? Do the colors and shapes flow into their own being or are they more accurately directed by your influence? Do you have an exact vision from the beginning of what a piece will look like?
That’s an interesting question because it seems like I am always both trying to release control of the work and also at the same time, because it’s my work, I can’t help but direct its influence. It very much involves both parts of that continuum, at certain points in the process. Sometimes I start out with an exact vision, but at other times, a piece will just emerge. In both cases, it doesn’t really come together until something unexpected happens that completes the work. This is what I’m always after. (Phillip Guston talked about that moment when you are working on a piece, when things fall together and become “inevitable.”) With Lunar Drift, it was the placement—at the last minute—of an element that I hadn’t initially envisioned being in the work at all, that bright yellow oval in the center.
I try to build chance into my process and I have strategies for employing chance along the way. In the beginning, the process of automatic, stream of consciousness mark making allows me to release control. More direct influence is at play when I then identify the specific form or forms that came out of the stream of conscious that I want to replicate. Then during that process of replication, painting the same one over and over again, the gesture takes over and I get to that place of painting and not thinking.
When the elements are cut out and assembled, it’s back to my direct influence again. They are very intentionally and meticulously composed in order to achieve, in the end, something that looks like it is very organic and spontaneous. A friend said it’s like ballet.
I’m also interested in the idea of control or lack of it as being built into a material. I always try to have something in the work happening that is out of my control, usually with the paint. Because I mix lots of water into it and it’s very fluid, the way that it dries is out of my control, not a direct result of my hand. I completely rely on that. With the metal works, because of the way they are fabricated, there is a great degree of control. So with them, it’s in the assembling and combining that allows for the unexpected to enter. If something slips or shifts when I’m composing, that unexpected occurrence is almost always the thing that brings the piece together. I also crop the metal parts sometimes, in order to get that unexpected shape that completes the piece. As for color, I use it in a very intuitive and it in a cyclical way.
Your work depicts ephemeral, naturally occurring events yet your materials are durable and long-lasting. Is this an intentional juxtaposition?
Yes, it’s something that I’ve definitely thought about. In the mid to late 90s, just after graduate school, my works were all temporal and none of my materials were archival. But over the years, as I began to show and exhibit more, I moved toward more archival materials. Now, the materials I use still have a quality of ephemerality or delicacy even if they are durable. I think that’s a compelling contrast. It took me a number of years to be able to articulate that characteristic that was always there in my work.
The titles of your work often include verbs (drift, fall, snag…), does this mean that they are meant to be seen as constantly growing and flowing outside of their physical boundaries?
Sometimes my works suggest what I like to call “nameable” things but equally they are about verbs—motions and actions. Despite the fact that they are frozen moments, they are very much implying ongoing motion, beyond the boundaries of what is seen. This tension between those two qualities of stillness and motion is interesting to me. There’s a wonderful essay by Helen Keller about how she experienced the world as both a blind and deaf person. She talks about “the straight and curved lines which are over all things.” I was so impacted by the truth of that description, and I think about that all the time. We’re surrounded by these seemingly static and separate objects, but under the surface there’s a flow, which you could experience if you “saw” and touched things with your hands: the boundaries disappearing, the lines flowing together and through everything.
I read that, following an exhibition in Vienna, you became interested in the idea of lichtung. As far as my research can discern, this alludes to a mysterious sort of clearing of light surrounded by nature. In your experience and work, is it more of an abstract state of being rather than certain concrete imagery? How has your work developed from the investigation of this concept?
Well, it has ended up being both! I’d been working on a body of work for a show that would be seen in wintertime in Vienna, and before any of the work had come together, I had to come up with the title for the show. I was in the color mode of yellow, white and black. For some reason, it came to me that I should title the show Yellow, Light, Black. I didn’t know why “Light” instead of “White,” besides that it sounded more poetic. Then, several weeks later, researching titles and translations, I came across the word “lichtung.” In German, it literally means “a clearing in a forest where light comes in through the clouds.” Martin Heidegger used the word as a verb instead of a noun, to describe a function of art, positing that art embodies a state of being that is about clearing; it creates a space for “clearing, a space for “lightness.” I loved that. The idea completely articulated this thread that has run through my work for years. I’d been wondering about why there has always been both a literal and metaphorical lightness in my work. I’d been wondering why I was always compelled to make things that felt both fleeting and expansive. So that discovery was both an abstract notion that completely made sense to me and also it was a world of concrete imagery. I had already made a piece that was a black accumulation of parts that looked like both a landscape and a tree. I had a white piece that was cloud-like. I wanted to make a yellow piece but it wasn’t working in the shape I had envisioned for it. After I stumbled across that word, I knew immediately to make it into a more triangle shape, an elemental shape that I’ve used many times before, but after this discovery, I also understood that shape to represent a ray of light. Coming across this concept helped me understand an arc of meaning in my work that has been there since the beginning.
Your work has a certain reflective/mirroring quality to it. Is there a flow you are trying to achieve between the work and its environment? Other than size, how does the artwork’s environment affect it? Is the setting where the piece will be shown highly influential during its creation?
I do think about space and site a lot when I’m making something. Because my background is really as a painter, I think of the wall or the floor as a ground, a space for dissolving the boundary of the picture plane.
As far as setting, often I make a body of work for a specific show and specific place. I make works that will converse with one another and with the space. The piece Lunar Drift was originally created for a two person show called Bramblur, a play on the words bramble and blur. The richness of imagery and fleeing of motion from those two words led me to make the wheel-like, bloom-like shapes in the piece; I arranged it so that it seems to be spinning and dissipating, spreading, drifting. The other works I made for that show alluded to the different aspects of landscape, especially the landscape of Northern California. Each work also had a way that it seemed to be changing from one thing into another thing. Lunar Drift is earthy but aerial, it’s like something that’s both actively growing and also dissolving at the same time.
The Silver Fall piece that I’m making specifically for this show is going to be plain instead of painted because it’s going to be in a space with video work, and the projected light and color from that will really affect the surface of the work. I’m excited that it will have a flickering, undulating quality, due to the reflected light of the other works. It will be something that keeps changing.
Katy Stone (American, born 1969) received her B.F.A from Iowa State University (1992) and her M.F.A. from University of Washington (1994). Recent solo exhibitions have been held at Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle (2002, 2005, 2008); Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica (2006); Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati (2008); Johansson Projects, Oakland, California (2008); Atrium Gallery, St. Louis (2010); and Robischon Gallery, Denver (2010). Her work has also been featured in select group exhibitions appearing at Arena One Gallery, Santa Monica (2007); Neuhoff Gallery, New York (2008); Wright Exhibition Space, Seattle (2008); Tarryn Teresa Gallery (2009); Project4 Gallery, Washington DC (2010); and NAID, San Francisco (2011). She has received public art commissions in Houston (2007); Taiwan (2008); Seattle (2009); Las Vegas (2010); and many other locations. Stone has received Best of Show Award, Pacific Northwest Annual (1994, 1996); Missoula Trust for Artist Grant (1997); Seattle Collects Purchase Award (2003); Oxbow School Visiting Artist Fellowship (2008); and the GAP Grant, Artist Trust (2009). Stone is currently based Seattle.
Read more about Stone and her work