Continuing our ongoing series of Brooklyn-based artist profiles, we next visit painter Katie Bell in her Sunset Park studio.
The daughter of a home builder and interior designer, the influences of her parents are apparent in Katie’s work. Working in a studio within a carpenter’s shop, she gathers the wood and construction scraps to be utilized within her work. Her abstract pieces are an explosion of home construction and interior design materials.
Katie describes herself as both a home-maker and home-wrecker, interested in the ways in which home surfaces such as carpet, wallpaper, linoleum and vinyl, relate to each other. Katie builds with historically rough construction materials but in a beautiful and softening compositions, that work to both hide and reveal. Layering in pastel hues of pink and green, she cultivates a feeling of home that is edgy and different, yet all together familiar.
Receiving her MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011, Katie’s work has been featured in numerous group shows as well as her most recent 2014 solo show titled “LIGHT WEIGHT” at Mixed Greens in New York.
ON GROWING UP IN ROCKFORD, ILLINOIS:
It is the “screw capital” of the world, a very industrial, working-class town; located on the Illinois/Wisconsin borderline. Inspiration for my work comes from that suburban lifestyle. The materials I am using are generic building materials, stuff that is common and in surplus. Growing up where I did up, I never really thought about becoming an artist, but I was always around people that worked with their hands in a variety of ways.
PARENTS INFLUENCE ON ARTWORK:
My dad is a construction worker, building and restoring homes, and my mom is an interior designer. They often work together on projects. They are makers and always had friends around the house with similar interests. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much my work is exactly a product of their world.
HER EVOLUTION AS A PAINTER:
I come from a background entirely in painting. Everything prior to this work was acrylic on canvas and paper. The work tackled similar subject matter but in an entirely different way. I was making still-lives in my studio to draw from and eventually they became more interesting than the drawings themselves.
ON CATEGORIZING HER WORK:
I would call myself a sculptural painter; my art history lineage is in painting. My work expands painting, instead of using paint and canvas I am building paintings with other material. I am trying to use building materials like paint. Instead of building structures, I am building an abstract image.
ROLE OF MATERIALS IN HER WORK:
I’m interested in building materials and what they are trying to describe. A material could be totally man-made but is designed to look like something natural. We make concrete and pour it into forms but what we really want is for it to be just like stone. Vinyl shelf paper is printed to look like marble. If they made it in white it would serve the same purpose but they make it look like granite, marble, maple, and oak. It is the same with wallpaper and flooring, referencing this longing for the real thing, even though it is far from it. These types of faux facades have a layered meaning that is inherent in most of the materials I work with.
ON USE OF PASTEL HUES:
It is the general palette of home stuff and building materials. There are a lot of pastels – drywall is light purple, installation foam is pink and sea foam green. Everything has a muted quality to it. I think about color a lot in my work and often try to channel my interior designer Mom.
ON KNOWING WHEN TO STOP A PAINTING:
When the object asks a question back at you, it is a good kind of uncertainty. That is when you put it out into the world.
In terms of home interiors, the 1950’s era, specifically, bathrooms of the 50’s. They were usually all tiled – matching with bright colors, a pink toilet, pink sink and weird patterned wallpaper. That would be a great home for me, if every room were like a weird 1950s bathroom.
ON HER LOVE OF ROCKS:
My whole life I have had a rock collection. I recently went to Arizona and combed through the desert for hours and came home with a suitcase full of rocks. Rocks are an abstract form, a piece of earth eroded, all sculptures, shaped in different ways. They are everywhere. You don’t really see how interesting they are until you go to a new place. I like to think of my rocks as the start of my art collection.
LIFE AS AN ARTIST:
To be an artist is a very lucky position, yet one that comes with responsibility. I think it is an artist’s job to continually question and create your own logic. It should be challenging, difficult, inspiring, invigorating, and an impulse if you are asking the right questions.
BEING AN ARTIST IN BROOKLYN:
Living in Brooklyn, I am surrounded by so many amazing artists and have access to so much culture and resources. Since moving here, my work has changed dramatically being influenced by my new surroundings. Brooklyn is becoming a hard place for artists to afford and I am curious how things will progress and change in the next few years. I don’t ever want my work to be confined because of the expense of a space to work. These are challenges that I think most artists in the NYC area are facing and we will all have to come up with solutions.