This photo portrait was originally published as a longer interview feature on Freunde von Freunden.
In a vast warehouse in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, Katie Stout crafts couches out of various textiles and her signature Girl Lamps out of clay, celebrating womanhood with colors and textures in the form of functional pieces.
Stout’s creative process is bold, experimental, and constantly evolving—during our studio visit she was feverishly finding a way to support a desk she was assembling out of papier-mâché and wire for an upcoming show. Katie’s work can be intimidating because of its sheer boldness, but when you strip it down, it’s a reflection of the woman behind the work: engaging, approachable, confident, and fun.
Freunde von Freunden met the artist in Brooklyn to chat about her genre-defying artwork and furniture.
“I think you can spill milk on something and still treat it like a piece of art.”
What type of work do you create?
I make art that functions as furniture but sometimes it doesn’t. I'm not totally committed to any material; I use scraps around my studio, a lot of clay, and I love papier-mâché. I tend to take any opportunity to work with a new material. I like using everything and learning about different processes and then doing things the wrong way. Love easy low-brow materials like crayons, trash, things like clay that can be mushed.
How did your childhood influence your creativity?
I grew up in a household where creativity was celebrated. I had a whole zone to myself where I could make a mess and there was never a shortage of art supplies. My mom also went to RISD and her mother had been a photographer. When I wanted to be a cheerleader in fourth grade, my dad said, “No, you're going to be cheered for.” Might be the coolest thing he’s ever said.
Your furniture is designed to not only be art, but also to be used as actual furniture in a household. Do you find people treat it as both after purchasing a piece, or do they covet it more like a piece of art not to be touched?
I think people are sometimes confused about how they’re supposed to use it. It’s a space that people feel uncomfortable in, which I love. But I think you can spill milk on something and still treat it like a piece of art. I guess art is defined by the viewer. In general I think people revere prescribed art too much and lesser known art too little. Someone spending $450 million on a painting is gross. Especially if it’s da Vinci. I couldn’t get out of the da Vinci show at the Met fast enough because the hype eclipsed the merits of the work.
I want to take a more humanistic approach to art and art making, one where it can be touched and used and provides a different and more welcoming approach to how it’s viewed and how it functions.
(left) Shady Lady lamps in progress
You explore themes around sexuality in your work. Is this a particular statement?
I was interested in exploring the objectification of women by of extreme objectification. There’s a frenzy of conversation about sexual abuse in the media with #MeToo, Hollywood, U.S. gymnastics, Donald Trump. Women have inarguably been treated as objects to be used. By parodying the art objects of women, the ladies I create own their bodies. I imagine them holding the lampshade up as a choice they’ve made. They defy traditional categories of what women are supposed to be by being domestic and choosing to be sexually open. Don’t call it naughty.
What is your favorite piece you’ve ever created?
My favorite piece has been Wench Bench due partially to the unexpected and automatic nature of its actualization. I had a chainsaw artist in Duluth carve nude female forms out of pine stumps. (You know chainsaw art—like those carved bears in upstate New York?) The nude ladies were various apathetic positions lying on the floor—in fetal position after having given up—and I had them carved out of stumps into little stools. But the carvings came back much smaller than I expected and were too low to sit on. So I puzzle pieced them all together into a bench, which I called Wench Bench, which made for a far more dynamic piece than my original idea.
What is the best thing you’ve done for your career?
The best thing I’ve done is pursue it full-time and not really listen to people who thought I was insane.
Read the full interview and find more images of Katie Stout and her BK studio on Freunde von Freunden.
Adapted from text and photography by Erin Little