Catya Plate is a visionary artist who resides in New York City. I met her through art curator and promoter Robert Curcio who told me he thought she would make a great interview subject which she did. Catya is doing something very intriguing with clothespins http://catyaplate.com/. Her work is a fantastic commentary on contemporary society. What on earth are “Clothespin Freaks”? Read on and find out …
MICHAEL: Hi Catya, First, let me say that you do not strike me as the kind of artist who wants to paint lovely pictures of flowers all day. Am I wrong?
CATYA: Hi Michael! You are correct! I am a trouble maker. LOL. Painting pictures of lovely flowers is not what I am about. Not that there is anything wrong with painting flowers; it's just not my cup of tea. For me, making art is a way of making sense of our crazy world. I like to stir things up and peel back the surface of things. It calms me down and makes feel alive.
MICHAEL: Lots of people think that artists who like to stir things up are really just anarchists. Is there a difference?
CATYA: Artists who do their art just to stir things up could be called anarchists. I see myself more like an optimistic, imaginary anarchist, if that is possible. Peeling back the surface of things and unveiling taboos is the first step. It is automatic for me, sort of like a freeing mechanism. In a way, I am an escapist too, but I like to go as far as I can go with my imagination to come up with alternate solutions and worlds that make sense of our existence, NOW. My creations, the “Clothespin Freaks,” have been my subversive and faithful assistants in that undertaking.
MICHAEL: The Clothespin Freaks look like beings that you've created out of clothespins, but they're also metaphors, No?
CATYA: At first sight, the Clothespin Freaks may be just silly and simple freaky-looking beings made from humble materials: clear clothespins and sewn-together pieces. But it is so much more! The narrative goes something like this …
“It's the distant future and human scientists are working on elaborate cloning experiments in a last attempt to save humanity from falling apart. The lab experiments go awry and the unimaginable happens as the “two-headed” (two heads because two heads are better than one) Clothespin Freaks come into existence.”
So, yes, through the adventures of the four-eyed Clothespin Freaks, I have created an alternate universe whose varied symbols and subtexts are metaphors for our increasingly multicultural, multilingual shape-shifting and surreal world of today. The idea behind its invention was to create, in a serio-comic way, a new mythology that would serve as a coping mechanism in our angst-ridden times. I invented it in 2003 in a series of drawings. Since then, the Clothespin Freaks have evolved and appeared in my sculptures, paintings, installations and films.
MICHAEL: An increasingly multicultural, multilingual world doesn't sound like a bad thing to me. My guess is that the Clothespin Freaks are the nightmares of those who want to hold onto their power and the status quo, but things are quickly changing. No?
CATYA: Yes, but it is all of us. The Clothespin Freaks are trying to make us all aware that we need to change.
MICHAEL: Interesting. You've really used the Clothespin Freaks for various genres, even film. Why did you do that?
CATYA: After making all of the sculptures, drawings, paintings etc., with the Clothespin Freaks, I felt that I had to push my work even further! The Clothespin Freaks really needed to be brought to life. I have always been more inspired by filmmakers than visual artists. This was the perfect opportunity to bring the characters to life through animation, specifically through stop-motion animation. In 2009, I created, “Clothespin Freak Productions.” I have created two, multi-award winning films so far: “The Reading” (2010) and “Hanging By A Thread” (2013) and I am in pre-production on “Meeting MacGuffin,” the sequel of “Hanging By A Thread.” Making these films is the hardest thing I have ever done, but I absolutely LOVE it.
MICHAEL: Where did the clothespins idea come from? Why clothespins?
CATYA: I was waiting for you to ask me that. I have always felt the urge to produce work that reclaims the use of once-feminized materials, like thread, fabric and clothespins. Before I invented the Clothespin Freaks, I was working on projects in which clothespins transcend their original function by relating to the human body. Some of these projects were circular figurative drawings of bare male and female models with actual wooden clothespins attached to their bodies. These projects dealt with the phenomenon of human body modifications and raised questions of sexuality and identity. The pivotal moment causing me to create the actual Clothespin Freaks was when I started to look at the small clothespin as an analogue for the human body itself.
MICHAEL: What's the deal in America over nude, human bodies? Will we ever get over it? We get so foolishly squeamish about nudity and human anatomy.
CATYA: I don't know what it is. It may be the Puritan background. The problem we seem to have with facing our human anatomy I think is connected with our fear of accepting that our bodies are going to disintegrate. It has to do with our obsession with immortality.
MICHAEL: Hmm. I never thought of that. Do you come from an artistic family? What's your first memory of art?
CATYA: No, there are no artists in my family. I was born in Spain, my mother Spanish and father German, and I grew up in Germany. My mother and both my Spanish and German grandmothers were constantly sewing, knitting and embroidering. That definitely influenced my art making. My first memory of art is quite a mash-up; there are the Wilhelm Busch drawings of “Max & Moritz,” the creepy German, “Dr. Mabuse” films and American 1970's horror B-films on TV and the altar paintings in Spanish churches.
MICHAEL: And so, when did you first become aware of yourself as an artist?
CATYA: I must have been about nine years old. I was painting and drawing stuff on simple LEGO pieces and constructing something “elaborate” with them, gluing them together, etc. My parents scolded me for “graffiti-ing” (is that a word?) the LEGOS because they were expensive and we were pretty poor then. I think that's when I became first aware of being an artist. I just couldn't help myself making things up with whatever was available to me.
MICHAEL: You know Catya, there are so many gifted artists like you who are working, but most people don't know them. They only know - what they may have heard - about Rembrandt or Picasso. What do you think about this? So many living artists are struggling!
CATYA: Yes, that's true. But I don't think about it; it's not productive. I am lucky that I can afford to do my work 24/7. Therefore, all my energies go into creating my challenging and time-consuming art. But I also spend a good amount of time in getting the word out about myself, my work, my shows, screenings, etc. You are on my mailing list, right? A good mailing list is very important for an artist to have so that you can inform your friends and colleagues about your upcoming events and accomplishments, etc. Nowadays, you have to be your own manager and publicist as well and you have to be able to talk about your work. Unfortunately, it's just not enough anymore to be just a great artist. On the other hand, being a flash in the pan was never my goal. My goal has always been to widen my audience and for my career to develop slowly and steadily and keep growing. I feel very blessed because my wish is coming true. As an artist, you must have a thick skin, be extremely patient, be resourceful and persistent. But that is true for any human being no matter what his passion may be.
MICHAEL: Ain't that the truth! Finally Catya, what's the point of all of this? I mean, we're not curing cancer or ending homelessness. What can art do?
CATYA: It's not that simple. I strongly believe that there is a connectedness to everything. Art may not be curing cancer or ending homelessness directly, but it can bring things to the surface, like our own misguided ways that have been detrimental to us and our environment, so that they can be recognized and even changed. As for myself, I may be an idealist, a foolish dreamer or a hopeless romantic, but besides having tremendous fun and feeling superbly alive when I do my work, that's certainly what I believe and hope my art can do.
MICHAEL: Thanks Catya. What a fun chat.
CATYA: Indeed that was a really fun chat. Thanks for the interview Michael!
Check out Catya Plate at http://catyaplate.com/.