Katherine Lubar is an American artist who currently lives in London. Her paintings http://katlubar.com/ are studies in light, color, form and mainly shadow. They’re poignant and serene works of art that I find very appealing. However, wait ‘til you hear from Katherine herself. She’s brilliant and insightful about not only contemporary art, but also life. Here we go …
“… Red dots do not necessarily correlate with quality. This can be applied to so many other things in life, too, apart from paintings. For example, high salaries don’t always relate to merit, fame doesn’t mean talent and prestigious jobs don’t necessarily reflect someone’s contribution to society ...”
MICHAEL: Hello Katherine, Your work is very cool. I see brilliant, primary colors and geometric designs with a clean, minimal palette. Very orderly yet engaging. What's inspiring you to create this way?
KATHERINE: Hello Michael, Thank you very much. My work comes out of my obsession with light patterns and shadows. I’ll see one somewhere, either in real life or in a magazine or on TV and then try to find a way to capture it by drawing or photographing it. Then once I get it into the studio, I do some drawings to try to pare it down to its essentials – the minimum needed to get that same feeling of light.
Once I’ve got the composition, I then spend weeks doing numerous colour sketches, to get the colours right. Not all images make it that far, and some I have to discard, but the ones I keep hopefully express the feeling of light that I originally experienced.
I’m based in London now, but grew up in Dallas, Texas where the light is very strong and quite physical, and I think I must have been greatly affected by this, as even the work I make now has the same characteristic of sharply delineated shadows and strong light.
MICHAEL: So, we're talking about shadows, light and colour. You say light is very strong in Dallas. How is it different in London? How do these things affect you differently over there?
KATHERINE: In London, the light is softer and it’s often grey outside, so you don’t always get noticeable shadows. The shadows here are much more delicate and nuanced, as opposed to the harsh light and delineated shadows observable in Dallas.
It’s interesting that when I moved to London, I kept painting light and shadow as if I were still in Dallas. However, this could be because at the time I moved away from painting directly from nature and started working in the studio.
This changed the way I worked and I started using arbitrary colours and simplifying the composition in my sketches. Because I was working away from the subject, I also started focusing on the shapes in an almost abstract way and this made the work more geometric, which is reminiscent of light, well, at least Dallas light.
MICHAEL: Do you consider simplifying the composition the same thing as minimalism?
KATHERINE: In a way, yes. As I have simplified some compositions so much, they are quite minimal and the subject isn’t apparent anymore. I suppose it’s a matter of degree. I’m also very interested in negative space, and by focusing on this, with a particular use of colour, often the subject gets lost. I want people to be aware of the shapes and lines more than the subject matter. I think this – if done well – can make the specific into something universal.
MICHAEL: You seem to like the “design” of things: light, shape, form, etc. I could easily see you taking these paintings into 3D form. What do you think? Sculpture?
KATHERINE: I like how something intangible like light or a shadow can become like a physical object in a painting. That would be really interesting to me if they could become 3-dimensional! Though I’m not sure I’m the right artist to do this. Plus, I really like working with paint, and colour. I also like the contradiction inherent in making something 2-dimensional look 3-dimensional, but also playing with things like perspective and a use of colour that does the opposite, so the image is flattened – so you get a kind of depth and flatness at the same time.
MICHAEL: What have you learned about life as a result of always reducing things to light, shadow, form and color?
KATHERINE: Probably not as much as I should! I’m a bit of a control freak as you may have guessed and a bit obsessive in my perfectionism. Even so, occasionally accidents do happen and very occasionally, this has improved the work in some way.
I’ve spent a lot of time learning about colour - researching old treatises on colour as well as observing from nature. Sometimes I notice things that I might not have done otherwise, such as the turquoise shadows beneath some of the London streetlamps at dusk (because the colour of the light is quite an orangy yellow that has turquoise as its complement).
Another thing I’ve learned is something my old art teacher told me once - that (regarding painting sales) red dots do not necessarily correlate with quality. This can be applied to so many other things in life, too, apart from paintings. For example, high salaries don’t always relate to merit, fame doesn’t mean talent and prestigious jobs don’t necessarily reflect someone’s contribution to society.
MICHAEL: Wow. That's for sure! And so, do you see yourself as a storyteller at all? Do your paintings tell any actual stories or have any messages or do you leave that up to people who see your work?
KATHERINE: My paintings tell the story of an actual light pattern hitting an object or building, but what I’m hoping is that in a way, this can become a story about all light patterns and shadows, and the way they behave in our environments, no matter where we are.
I would also really love it if people, having seen my works, start to really notice shadows and light patterns around them in their daily lives. I’ve gotten to the point where I sometimes jump when I see a shadow in the road, as I’ve come to see them almost as physical objects. I wouldn’t necessarily want others to experience this to such an extreme, but I hope it could enrich their lives if they are able to stop and notice the beauty and curiosity inherent in this physical, but at the same time, not-physical phenomenon.
MICHAEL: When did your life as an artist begin? How old were you? What happened?
KATHERINE: As far as I can remember, I was drawing or painting. Art has always been a part of me, although I never consciously decided to “be an artist.” My mother tells a story of how she put some of my drawings up on the wall when I was about 3, and apparently I wasn’t happy with one of them, so I took a marker and extended the drawing onto the wall!
When I was at university, I started off majoring in art, but didn’t feel like I was learning anything and also had a problem with the idea that art could be taught, so I switched majors and actually got my BA in Music, although I carried on doing art at the same time.
I used to sit and draw the orchestras when they were performing. My instrument was the classical guitar (which I still play) and I’ve always thought there was a musical quality to the way I paint - in the repetition of shapes and in the rhythm of a composition.
MICHAEL: From your perspective, are things getting better for female artists in the art world or is it still dominated by male artists and men in power positions?
KATHERINE: I do feel that male artists are still taken more seriously than female artists and command higher prices in galleries and auctions. It’s interesting, as there are generally more female art students than male art students, but it seems that the white, male artist is still the prevalent archetype. What’s difficult with art is that because it’s so subjective, a gallery or curator can say that these decisions are all based on quality of work, and that can’t be argued with, as there is no standard for comparison, as you have in other industries. I think a lot of prejudice is unconscious, and unintended, but still leaves the same result in the end.
MICHAEL: I think a major reason for this is also because women juggle so much more with families and other life issues while men still enjoy the luxury of primarily focusing on their jobs or careers. I don't think pay/career equality will ever be resolved until we're able to address gender roles in terms of work/home life balance. What do you think?
KATHERINE: Yes, I’d have to agree with you there. There is still the perception in most societies that women are the ones mainly responsible for childcare and the household. This is changing, but very slowly, and while there is often now equality between couples without children, as soon as children come into it, things often change.
I think we need to teach younger generations that both women and men can be equally nurturing, and that it is not shameful for a man to be a primary caregiver and/or a house husband. I think the problem is, that men are generally rewarded for what they do, and women for their relationships.
This starts very young, where boys are praised for being strong and brave and girls for looking pretty. And these values set in that can stay with someone their whole life, as it’s also perpetuated by the culture around them.
Many female artists I know are either single or don’t have children (or both), where many male artists seem to get away with having both partners and children. Many female artists have to make the choice between having a family and having a career, partly because making art doesn’t often pay, so most artists have to divide their time between paid work and their art. If someone wants a family as well, then one of those two things has to give. So part of the problem is financial too.
MICHAEL: Wow. Have you ever met an artist who hasn't sacrificed greatly for their art? I mean, I never hear about hedge fund managers sacrificing anything ... although I'm sure they do. LOL.
KATHERINE: I think most artists do have to make some sort of sacrifice in order to be an artist. Some more than others, obviously. It’s difficult, because you don’t get the kind of rewards you do in other professions, such as a regular salary, paid holidays, raises or even a pension. And you also most likely (just going by probability) won’t get much in the way of recognition. So it takes extreme dedication … or should I say, stubbornness!
MICHAEL: So finally Katherine, with so little monetary payoff or public support, why do you continue to be an artist? Isn't there a better way? What do you want for the future?
KATHERINE: I think most artists either develop a self-belief that is extremely strong or have such a passion for the work, that this drives them, no matter what. For me, I feel that I have to make work. Or perhaps it feels more that the work itself needs to be made. That it demands to be made.
I also think that spending one's time creating meaning is a very valuable pursuit, no matter whether outside accolades come or not.
Ideally, I would like for many people to see my work, and to have it change the way they see light and shadows around them. In a way, making paintings is a way of teaching people how to look, so hopefully they will carry something with them, even when they aren’t looking at my paintings.
MICHAEL: Thanks Katherine. This has been a great chat.
KATHERINE: Yes, it has been interesting! Thank you for the dialogue and for the chance to share my practice with your readers.
Check out Katherine Lubar at http://katlubar.com/.