Brooklyn artist, Caitlin Keogh has a solo show on view at Leslie Fritz gallery in New York through March 30th titled Modes. I was pleased to have the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her approach to art making and the interplay between design and fine art. Please read below for our interview.
Caitlin Keogh, Blackpool, Acrylic on MDF, 2012, 16 x 12 inches
Mellissa: One thing that I love about your work is how you often seem to incorporate references to fashion history and decorative arts into many of your projects. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about your background, and how you may or may not be influenced by fashion and design.
Caitlin: My interest in drawing and painting developed synonymously with learning to sew and loving fabrics. My dad is a painter and printmaker and my mom is a weaver who worked as a seamstress, so I grew up with a lot of both fine and applied arts skills going on. I went to art school, at Cooper, and that was the first time I was expected to make big distinctions between the skills and their various histories. Fine art was taught as a conceptual education, while it seemed like craft was possibly a supportive element to a studio practice, but not terribly relevant or intellectual.
I was really happy when I got a job after graduating making technical drawings for a shoe designer. The drawings were used in the factory for production. It was really important that the image be legible, like instructions, and I loved this practical imperative. I’ve tried to bring that informational clarity, a kind of explicitness, to my work in my studio.
Caitlin Keogh, left: Chassis, Acrylic on MDF, 2012, 16 x 12 inches; right: Tulips, Acrylic on MDF, 2012, 17 x 13 inches
M: As an artist showing in museums and galleries, and operating within the world of fine-art, your appropriation of ideas from other creative practices that have been hierarchically subjugated raises questions about value systems, and sometimes blurs the distinctions between different areas of cultural production. I’m wondering how these divisions within the arts might influence your ideas about making work?
C: That’s a difficult question. While I’ve been really interested in finding out where and what those divisions are, historically, materially, etc., it’s like I try to analyze the opinions about these distinctions, but then make work as if I don’t see any. For example, the Cecil Beaton photo of the model in front of the Pollock painting has been a big source for me. It’s typically framed as a low-blow to modernist abstraction, to put the singular painting into the role of textile design. To me its a beautiful depiction of an artist in her studio standing before her work, whether it’s a weaver or painter or muralist doesn’t much matter. It’s motivating to rewrite that historical moment in such a way that I don’t have to accept the hierarchical narrative. And also I like how Beaton was antagonizing that hierarchy by overlooking the usual separations.
Cecil Beaton photographs, published in Vogue March 1951, paintings by Jackson Pollock
M: In your press release for Modes, you are completely forthcoming about your inspirations and source material for your work. One particularly strong influence that emerges is textile design. In reference to your time spent looking at objects in a Belgian antique store over an extended period abroad, you write:
The things I was searching through at Modes were visually and technically amazing. It was so intimate and beautiful and quiet, all of these tactile, pliable, and colorful scraps, but maybe, importantly, also seemingly unmediated … the objects themselves seemed unmediated from the hands that produced them. There was no distance in terms of design, production, completion, and use. There was just the technique… the ability to make something, or the residue of practice. Just practice. Building something by repetition. It was all so encouraging. It made me feel so optimistic. (Click here to read the essay in its entirety)
Caitlin Keogh, left: Bargello Magic, Acrylic on MDF, 2013, 17 x 13 inches; right: Executed in Deep Maroon, Acrylic on MDF, 2012
M (continued) : I think it’s really interesting that you mention the significance of the unmediated-nature of the objects that you were looking at. Particularly, because when I look at your paintings, as someone who has studied textile design, I see a clear aesthetic link between the art that you’ve created inspired by woven textile-objects, and the preparatory artwork that weavers used to make (before the days of CAD) that were all hand-painted over grids. I always thought that these objects were a form of fine art in themselves, even though they were created for the ultimate production of decorative arts and were viewed as value-less outside of the immediate design industry. In some ways, by focusing on the practice of creating these repetitive motifs and patterns, you’ve distilled a three-dimensional object and returned it to its earliest state, almost capturing the essence or idea behind the items that you were looking at. Yet, rather than appearing inchoate like a sketch or draft, the paintings themselves become striking objects that can stand alone. I’m wondering how intuitive the process of interpreting your source material was, or if you developed a methodology or process of your own to create these works?
C: The process for coming up with the image that will be painted is pretty intuitive. I look for fabrics and pieces of embroidery that are optically unusual and attractive to me. Initially these were older things but now I look for pictures in books or on the internet, so the history of the designs are pretty blurry. The bargello flame stitch has been key for the last couple years, it’s really dynamic, can be made more or less busy and complicated. Also, It’s a simple structure to represent, it’s all on the surface.
Since I’m working in a studio context, I have the benefit of not being beholden to textile trends, seasons, production resources, as an actual designer would be. It’s fictional, and also possibly quite a romantic vision of textile production. CAD systems use another layer of technical information, the code for making the image, which I can’t visualize, so I’m not there yet. And whether or not to turn into a machine is a decision I’d like to put off a little longer.
Caitlin Keogh graduated from Bard with an MFA in 2011. She received her BFA from Cooper Union in 2006. Additionally, she studied at the Ecole Nationale Superieure Des Beaux-Arts De Paris in 2004. Recent museum exhibitions include a solo presentation at MoMA PS1, New York, and group presentations at Mu.Zee,Ostende, Belgium, as well as Kunsthalle Zurich, Switzerland. She has exhibited widely in group exhibitions including MOT International, Brussels, Belgium; Renwick, New York; White Columns, New York; 179 Canal, New York; and Tiny Creatures, Los Angeles, California.