Carolyn Mount: Can you tell our readers a bit of your backstory? What factors do you feel most directly contributed to shaping you into the artist you are today?
Kathryn Clark: I grew up in North Florida/Alabama before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area when I was twenty-three. I’ve witnessed firsthand the cultural and economic differences between these two regions. I was surprised at first at how ill-informed cultures can be about something not their own. I was also raised by parents who were deeply divided politically. My mother was liberal, my father very conservative. We had some interesting debates in our house! My mom died when I was seventeen, so I felt compelled to take up her voice. For years after that, my dad and I would have the heated debates. It drove me crazy that he could think the way he thought and yet, I could still love him. So, I think digging deep into politics through art was my sly and clever way of trying to show to him the facts, the data, that make my point.
CM: Ruminate featured your Foreclosure Quilts in our Issue 55: Under Pressure. Why do you choose to address political issues in your work? And how does your understanding of, or relationship to, the issue change through your work and research?
KC: With this deep wedge dividing us more and more over the past few years, I feel this urgent need to step in and make work more than ever. I’m determined to ‘correct the record’ when I hear people making assumptions about others. Where did they get their data? Why do they believe this? What’s the true answer? It’s often messy. I gather this research and then try to make it ‘approachable’ to people. Being an artist and not a politician allows me to play an outsider’s role. People are more willing to look at art objectively than listen [objectively] to what a politician has to say. I will admit I’ve had to take a ‘side’ since our US democracy is now being tested. But this is also becoming a psychological divide. There is a certain segment of our population who are fearful and need someone to follow. I’m not sure how to even break through to those people. I’m working on that.
CM: Material scraps play a recurring role in your work. Have there been scraps of your own story (either physical or emotionally) you have either been hesitant to work with or have saved for a particular body of work?
KC: As I mentioned before, I was seventeen when my mom died. She was a textile artist too but I had spent most of my childhood hyperaware of her health, not paying attention to the creative life she had. It took me several years to make the connection between my mom and my choice of medium. She even had a giant loom in our house; how could I have not made the connection? She often took me to the fabric store as well. So, once it dawned on me why this medium felt so comfortable to me, I never looked back.
CM: Your current work has been addressing the particular political climate in the United States. Do you ever get so discouraged you don’t know what to do? How do you maintain hope?
KC: I will admit that, for the first time ever, these past few months have been pretty hard for me to stomach. What makes me feel the worst is when the intellectually engaged people around me don’t see just how bad things are going to get in this country and remain complacent and inactive. I maintain hope by making work for them. Hopefully I will spark something in them and encourage them to act. I also want to document what’s happening right now so that future generations will look back and learn from it. That’s what gives me hope.
CM: What scares you most? Either in the creative process or otherwise? And what excites you most?
KC: Hmmm, I’ve seen some things in my time so not much really scares me at this point but never say never. If I do come across something that scares me, I conduct research to better understand it. I discovered this coping process when I was twelve and learned what kind of cancer my mom had been diagnosed with, leukemia. I process my fears through knowledge, understanding, and acceptance.
What excites me? Eureka moments in my art process, they often happen in the shower or on a walk when I least expect them. The future excites me too. To try to make the best of whatever happens. I’m always the optimist.
CM: Kathryn, you live in California, and as we have been corresponding, you have been directly impacted by the wildfires. How does this reality affect your day-to-day, and how do you see this experience impacting your work, either now or in the future?
KC: The past four fall seasons have been nerve-racking in Sonoma County for sure. Every year since 2017, we’ve had an event. We've learned that these fires start so fast and move so randomly, you can only be as best prepared as you can with your go-bags packed and your gas tank full. We now know officials won't hesitate to evacuate an entire town if it’s under threat, so it’s very real, even if we’re not under direct threat. The fires and wind events also bring planned and unplanned power outages and horrid smoke. I have a separate studio outbuilding on my property, and this year we were able to house our friends who were evacuated suddenly because of the Glass fire. We just learned their house is fine as is their town, thankfully. With the pandemic added on, it's just a crazy, crazy time here.
How does this experience affect my work now? Right now I’m not at my most productive, that’s for sure! I’ve created a portable sewing studio so have been taking my work with me wherever I am. In the future, who knows? I tend to let ideas sit and simmer for a while in my head until patterns start to emerge and I can bring a story to the table to tell. I’m not there yet and not sure if I will be. Time will tell.
Carolyn Mount is Ruminate's visual art editor.
Find out more about Kathryn Clark and her work at http://www.kathrynclark.com/.
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