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New York
Interview with Kathy Kelley
by E-Slant Team


Kathy Kelley, a graduate of University of Houston (MFA - 2006), creates large-scale sculpture via found objects.  Drawing from such sources as Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois, Kelley forges a visual discourse that touches upon feminism, environmentalism and process-oriented concerns.  Based in Houston, TX, Kelley is currently involved with a new project, Box 13 Artspace, a non-profit artist collective, as well as preparing for upcoming shows - Cohesive Discord at Houston Art Alliance and Suckling is Continuous but No Longer Functional at Lawndale Art Center.

The ArtSlant Team corresponded with Kathy regarding her process, her vision and her passion for making...

Kathy Kelley (publicity shot for ArtsHouston); Courtesy of Kara Duval


ArtSlant:  Kathy - what is your earliest memory of artmaking?

Kathy Kelley, images # 5, 4, 1 from "suckling is continuous but no longer functional" series, 2007-08, mixed media; Courtesy of the artist


Kathy Kelley:  My earliest memory of art making is from about third grade were I would furtively draw naked people on little sheets of rectangular cardboard (taken from the packaging containing my dad's new dress shirts). For the most part I set aside these impulses for people watching and drawing until three years ago when, as part of my MFA program in graphic design, I was required to take related arts courses. So I plopped my self down in a figure drawing class-no command z (no infinite undos). A little spark ignited during this period-the beginning of a passion I had not ever experienced.

I continued taking related arts classes in conjunction with contemporary art history courses.  I discovered a certain permission to make bad art, which needless to say, I did. This social and self permission to make bad art generated a pile of work, to the horror of my design professors, but most importantly this making led to a raging fire of passion which scared the shit out of me. Fortunately my bad making began to merge with my design research into language, culture, psychology and my own decay. Within this merging I began producing large scale, raw, works from urban refuse, urban decay. My bad art evolved in to something people began caressing/fondling even when presented in a gallery space. The work grew in its raw visceral appeal both to myself and others.

Kathy Kelley, Image #5; Courtesy of the Artist


AS:  Who do you name among your influences?

KK:  Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Lee Bontecou, Robert Morris, Richard Serra, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean Baudrillard, Mother Teresa.

AS:  Describe your work in 5 words.

KK:  Raw, Feminine, Humanizing, Decay, Refuse.

AS:  What inspires you?

KK:  I hide my own culpability in consumer whoring. Yet my collecting, harvesting, and acquiring has been redirected to objects of decay found along the street side. I am drawn to the symbolic and formal elements of decay, the way in which an object has been altered by its mere existence. The worn, broken, torn nature of the aged object seems to make it more real, more honest. So I collect decayed urban refuse. I hold onto it for awhile. Cogitate. Eventually the formal and symbolic elements of the materials and my current research meld. Then I make.

The making is a visceral reaction against the cult of the instant, the new, the forever young, forever fertile with its pushed up breast and swollen lips, a reaction against perpetual numbness, defense mechanisms of self enclosure. Cognitively, emotionally, I am a full participant in our capital culture. But I find myself making, assembling, revaluing objects of refuse, moving from spectation toward production, not mechanized but sensualized by the hand, by my hand. Mind and body working in rebellion, in synch; the nonsense and sense merge as coherent objects. The sculptural constructs become a stand in for the shadow self, an empty self.

Image #1; courtesy of J.R. Compton of the Dallas Art Revue.


AS:  What are you currently working on?

KK:  My current work  is composed of a series of visual explorations toying with the ideas of continuous consumption, the stunting of growth via unending wanting, the never ending suckling of consumer goods without fulfillment, in conjunction with some of Melanie Klein's object relations theory on personality development, envy and gratitude or lack thereof, her referencing of the experience of breast feeding as being determinant in much about who a person becomes (old theory coming on the heals of Freud but interesting). The work is a visceral response to this dissection of the incessant wanting of consumer culture on the self with each element becoming referential of the shadow self.

I am currently working on a series of 6' by 9' black paintings created by deconstructing used remnants of inner tubes (decayed urban refuse) and sewing them into new abstracted nipple/orifice-like forms via baling wire. These pieces are being developed as part of an Emerging Artists Houston Arts Alliance grant.

A second manifestation of these ideas are expressed in a forest of free standing and/or suspended empty womb/vagina/pod/carcass-like objects that the viewer may walk among, be engulfed by/embedded in. These are made from found industrial foam harvested from the street side.

I am also currently working on a show with Cohesive Discord, a collaborative project blending process, medium and ego of the recently formed nonprofit space known as BOX 13 ArtSpace. The exciting element to this exhibition is its collaborative nature. The project takes a group of artists that are independently producing strong work and blends them together to produce the unexpected, the unsettling.  It allows for an alternate slant, dislodges wrong assumptions, moves us outside of our proverbial BOX.

Courtesy of Kara Duval


AS:  What does a day-in-the-life look like in your studio?

KK:  Writing. Making. Sweating. Lifting. Being horribly dirty.

AS:  Your work seems very materially informed.  Can you expound a bit with regard to your choices in materials.

KK:  I am viscerally attracted to specific objects of decay-specifically urban decay in large quantities, blown out tires, tubes, elements thrown out during renovations, rebar and rabble torn from bridges/highways as they are being removed, etc. I find myself craving these objects embedded with rust, nonfunctionality, naturally generated surface textures, the older the better, and specifically objects bound for the urban waste stream. The decay represents a natural system that most things/organisms go through, yet my culture (USA) makes every attempt to deny this, both in our man made environments as well as in our own bodies. We are obsessed with the new (young). Yet decay bares witness to a life lived. So I use these objects as a reaction against the cult of new and the consumer culture. Furthermore it appeals to me to take something that is discarded, urban detritus, harvest it, reuse it, redeem it, revalue it ...YET fundamentally it is as I originally said -- a visceral reaction, a gnawing need for certain objects.

I harvest these materials from along the side of the freeway, in front of homes on big trash pickup day, demolition sites, dumpsters, construction sites, industrial waste (hopefully nontoxic). For the most part I acquire materials locally but will drive to harvest materials. ie I drove from Houston, my home, to New Orleans after the hurricanes Katrina and Rita to harvest window and door frames and door knobs and hinges bound for the landfill. More recently I drove to Oklahoma to acquire trash combine and tractor tubes.

One of the great things about harvesting materials out of the urban waste stream is that if I really do make bad art, I can just re-inject it into the waste stream guilt free, plus the materials are free.

AS:  We would love to hear about those magic moments - those things that make it worthwhile...

KK:  Magic moments in my art making are when I am on a roll and have been stitching inner tubes with my face slick with sweat and grime for hours on end-nothing is more satisfying. I am definitely process oriented and the actual making keeps me coming back to my studio day after day.

When I am finished with a work the ahaa moments come when I witness people sneaking a feel/grope/fondle of my work whether in a gallery space or my studio. It is especially pleasurable when people who know better do this.

AS:  Thanks so much Kathy!  We can't wait to see what comes next with you.  As a last question, we like to ask:  What do you dig?  What do you don't?

KK: Dig: production.  Make, write, make, write, make, make, make. Don't: spectation.  This can be difficult because attending openings, art events and lectures are an important part, or the business networking side, of being an artist. So I am working on my social skills, my spectation skills.


ArtSlant would like to thank Kathy Kelley for her assistance in making this interview possible.

- ArtSlant Team





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