Katie Green

Artist: Katie Green
Photographer: Electrify

A Conversation with Katie Green

How did you start making art?

My parents are both pretty artistic. My mom is an English teacher and my dad is a historian and an archivist. If you walk around his house, he has every single thing I ever made as a kid. One that makes me laugh is this little plate he keeps on top of the microwave. On it is one of my infamous plasticine dog families. I was always using colouring books, building puzzles, and colour by number. I loved to draw and was pretty creative. I think all children are creative. I guess I started seriously considering it as a career when I decided to go to university.

Where did you go to school?

I studied Art at the University of Calgary. It was good. It was my first introduction to focused studio time with a supervisor, with peers, and with other students critiquing your work. It helped me contextualize art-making as a career choice.

How did you start painting murals?

I’ve always loved travelling. When I was seventeen onwards every year I would save all my money and go on a trip. In 2013 I did a trip to India and Nepal and I wanted to do a project while I was away. So I honestly just typed into Google “art Nepal” and that was it. This project came up by Sattya Media Art’s Collective. They were doing a year-long project in Kathmandu hiring local and international artists to paint 75 murals. Each mural represented a different district of Nepal. I just found this online and I applied for it. That’s what I ended up doing when I stayed in Kathmandu and that was the first time I painted a mural. I just jumped in. I was curious about it. I tend to do that in my life, just push myself out of my comfort zone. I think that doing that is really important. I worked with a number of different artists collaborating and I learned a lot throughout that process. I think the timing was just right in terms of being able to also make an income from doing murals. Even this mural for the Nelson International Mural Festival feels like I am full-on jumping in. It’s the biggest mural I have ever taken on by myself, by maybe two or three times the size.

What other projects or residencies have you done?

I started dabbling in mask-making about a year ago while doing a residency in Taiwan. It was called Dream Community in Taipei. It was actually an artist I had met in Nepal who introduced me to it. They invite artists from all over the world to this residency right downtown. This man has two 14-storey high apartment buildings which he’s converted into artists studios and artist residencies. On the main floors there’s glass blowing, a wood shop, ceramics and then each floor of the apartment building has two suites and artists can contribute by creating site-specific artwork in these suites. They want you to do your dream project and help you to push yourself outside of your normal working habits.

I started playing with masks there and did a series of collaborations with another artist who had some experience in puppetry. There was another artist who was a videographer and photographer and she documented everything. Meeting other people who are creative and getting the chance to work together feels really important.

Who influences your work or inspires you as an artist?

I don’t think it’s someone in particular but I feel like I gravitate towards individuals who are just continually working at their craft. Artists that aren’t afraid of just truly expressing themselves and really putting themselves out there. I find that energy really infectious and I am really drawn to that. I think all artists – all humans – have levels of insecurity and doubt. To be around that energy is a really good reminder that it’s possible.

What are you painting for the mural festival?

The Nelson International Mural Festival was a unique experience for me. Right from the beginning, the individuals organizing the festival were super excited about my previous portfolio and they were very enthusiastic about my work. They were like “Do whatever you want, we just love your work!” That doesn’t always happen when you’re doing public art. There are a lot of different factors that go into determining what your concept is, so that was really exciting for me and I was able to go for it.

I wanted my design to be super playful and kind of strange. I think that a lot of people walking by it have had many different interpretations. People are just telling me stories, filling in the spaces with their own imagination and I think that that’s what I want my work to do. I don’t really want it to be something super distinct and defined. People keep asking what it means and I am more interested to hear what they think it means. These types of conversations influence how I create my next design.

What was your experience like painting in the public eye?

The other night I was at Pitchfork Eatery and was talking with the waitress about why I was in Nelson and my experience painting. She told me that one of the characters at the beginning of the mural – the head coming out of the clouds – is a character she has actually seen over and over in different visions that she has had. It’s stuff like that where I am like “Wow, that’s really special.”

It’s pretty vulnerable and exposing to be painting in public rather than in the privacy of your studio. I have been really interested in thinking about public art in more of a performative way where I can enrich my relationship with the public. Instead of being more of a spectacle, how can the actual artwork become an invitation for conversation? That is something that I am continually trying to work on. It’s really interesting but it can also be really challenging.

Did you enjoy your stay in Nelson?

I love Nelson. The people are super kind and it’s just completely beautiful. I also had such a warm welcome from everyone. The festival organizers did such a good job of making all the artists feel really comfortable. There was a lot of support and I think that that’s really important when you’re arriving in a new place and about to embark on a project that requires a big output of energy.

I have taken a little bit of time to just go walk and go to the beach and that kind of stuff but I have mostly been at the wall every day, which is kind of neat. It’s interesting to be in a public space and see the different rhythms and the different people that come through. It’s a great way to be introduced to a new place.

What are some of your favourite places to eat in Nelson?

Everywhere is so good. I really like Loka. I pretty much spent all my time at Oso Negro and the wall. Thank goodness for festival interns who deliver breakfast sandwiches!

What work are you most proud of?

It’s really interesting because the career that I have chosen is self-directed. I feel very lucky to be able to choose the projects that I am doing. It’s really interesting when you think about that because there is still a divide between the work that I do that’s just for my own studio practice versus the work that I am doing to make an income. Trying to balance those two worlds is always something on my mind. That’s why I like to go to residencies to have a focused amount of time where I am creating a new body of work. This work isn’t for money, or a commission, but rather something that’s just for me. It’s exploratory and raw. It’s personal.

I just went to Vermont for the month of January to do a residency at the Vermont Studio Centre. I created a series of little portraits. I just called them my little monster portraits. They started as an exercise where I would show up and make five of them every day. I wouldn’t look at any reference images and would just clear my mind and just see what came out. I ended up making 85 of these little paintings. They were so expressive in terms of the emotions that I was feeling at the time and they were so personal and powerful to me. It was a weird feeling. I remember thinking: “Wow, these came from me. These are precious; these are mine.”

From there, I took some of the ones that really spoke to me and I made them into masks. I ended up doing a photography session with a friend where I was able to take these characters that I created from this really emotional deep place, put them on and incorporate them with my body. It feels like I am just scratching the surface of what it is to maybe embody a painting. What it is to actually bring one of these characters to life. I feel like I am really interested in pushing that further.

How do different forms of artwork translate to each other? How does a sculpture relate to a drawing or how does a painting relate to performance? The bridging of different mediums can really enhance what it is that I’m doing. It gives a different perspective into why I’m doing something and how the result can affect myself and the people around me.

What are your plans for this upcoming year? Any more murals?

I am waiting on another big mural project that will be in Canmore, just outside of Calgary. I am just waiting for the approval on the design. I am part of another mural festival in Calgary called BUMP: Beltline Urban Mural Project. That is happening at the end of August. After this, I am doing a two-month residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute in October and November. Then I’m going to work with the Old Trout Puppet Workshop and help them build their next show called Ghost Opera.

What is it like to make something in a different city, pour your heart into it, and have to leave it behind?

It’s surreal. It’s actually really strange because you’re so focused on painting and completing. I had to put myself in that mindset because it’s such a big energy output. And then, all of a sudden, it’s done and you’re back home and thinking “Wow, did that actually happen? How did I do that?” I have felt that so many times. Maybe I’ll never see the mural again. It’s like as soon as it’s done, it’s not mine anymore. Although, I’m not sure it ever was, considering it’s now a piece of public art. It belongs to the people who get to walk by it every day or the business across the street. The ownership is very different and I think I am trying to be really present for that. Even if it is just to sit down in front of it and take a quiet moment to actually look at it once it’s completed. Just to really take it in. It’s a nice exercise in letting go.

Interviewer: Nicola Rough – 2018


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