Kathryn Dunlevie is a great artist who creates striking and elegant collages and photomontages http://www.kathryndunlevie.com/. Her work is very layered and pulls from various influences. This kind of work always appeals to me because it really reveals – as it clearly does in Kathryn’s case – the thought and process that goes into the work. Here’s my cool chat with Kathryn …
“… There’s no longer a monopoly on what (or where) is cool. Instead of moving to New York, London or Berlin, young artists, writers, chefs, musicians and actors are heading to cities like Pittsburgh, Montreal and New Orleans. It's easier than ever to find ways to participate. I do feel like I’m a part of it. It’s an exciting time ...”
MICHAEL: Hello Kathryn, Your work is incredible. I look at it and I see multi-layered, photographic images. First of all, how do you describe your work? Is it collage? Are you assembling images and recreating new compositions? How does it all work and what do you call it?
KATHRYN: Thanks so much, Michael. All my work is photography-based and it all has an element of collage. I’m always collecting images and trying new ways of combining them. As for how exactly that happens, it changes from series to series. My early works are actually mixed media; collages of my photographs with paint that I've added by hand. More recent works range from handmade photo-collages, to photomontages made up of hundreds of layers.
MICHAEL: Photomontages. I love that. And so, there seems to be a lot going on here; the artistry of taking photos and the creativity of splicing, dicing and creating collages. This seems to invite people to enjoy both the details and the overall composition ... in addition to seeing your process. Do you want people to see your process? Is that a good thing or is it like seeing the seams that you don't want people to see?
KATHRYN: How perceptible my process is depends on the series. In my mixed media works, the “seams” where two photos meet are pretty hard to detect because the hand-painting masks them. On the other hand, in the photo-collages of “Syncopated Spaces,” the collage element is part of the conceptual component of the work, so I intentionally highlighted it.
MICHAEL: Interesting. What are you doing now?
KATHRYN: In my newest series, “Mistick Krewes,” I’m creating photomontages digitally, adding layer after layer to the primary image. The resulting compositions are atmospheric, even romantic. You’re definitely looking at many, many layers, but it’s subtle. They’re soft as opposed to hard-edged. The pieces read more like watercolors than collages. All the layers seem to waver and melt into each other. The process isn’t hidden, but it’s easy to get lost trying to track it down.
MICHAEL: When you're creating your multi-layered work with all of its influences, you're clearly in your own space of inspiration. How do you want people to see the work? Do you create explicit messages for them or would you rather they bring their own interpretation?
KATHRYN: I want to coax people into my work so they can experience it for themselves. In “More Than Meets the Eye,” I’ve overlapped multiple perspectives of single real-life scenes, hoping to entice people to wander through the spatial incongruities and investigate on their own.
The works of “Women of Mystery” and “Mistick Krewes” also tend to have a strong, if strange, sense of place. Landscapes inspired by detective fiction and the Louisiana Gulf Coast, respectively. But they’re also inhabited by odd, unsettling entities. Here I’m offering scenarios that I hope will be jumping-off points for write-your-own narratives.
MICHAEL: You know Kathryn, when the average person looks at your work without knowing who created it, they won't likely know whether a male or female artist did it. So what's the deal with the gender imbalance in the art world?
KATHRYN: Today's art world is vast and varied. There are more artists than ever and more gender identity options. Different ways to connect with people through your work are popping up all the time. We're in a moment of flux and expansion, full of new opportunities for everyone.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the contemporary art world and art market? Do they make sense to you? Do you feel that you're part of them?
KATHRYN: They've changed so much in recent years as to be virtually unrecognizable. By connecting everyone, the internet has democratized and decentralized the art world to an enormous degree. Everyone now has access to galleries, museums and artists from all over the world, as well as online artist registries, blogs, websites and all of social media.
It's possible to contact colleagues, curators, critics and institutions everywhere. And you can live anywhere. Cities not previously considered major art centers are now attracting large numbers of creative people, with their reasonable costs of living, 21st century sophistication and burgeoning cultural scenes.
There’s no longer a monopoly on what (or where) is cool. Instead of moving to New York, London or Berlin, young artists, writers, chefs, musicians and actors are heading to cities like Pittsburgh, Montreal and New Orleans. It's easier than ever to find ways to participate. I do feel like I’m a part of it. It’s an exciting time.
MICHAEL: When you're enveloped in the actual creative process, what's going through your mind? Is the process emotional, intellectual or spiritual? How do you know when a piece is done?
KATHRYN: When I’m ready for a new project, my assignment to myself is to experiment with new approaches and see what ideas take shape. I suppose having an assignment is intellectual, but waiting on the muses would definitely be considered spiritual. Once I get rolling there’s a lot of excitement, so it’s emotional too.
As for knowing when a piece is finished, I tend to work on several pieces at once, so I can move from one to another with a fresh eye. It’s easier to see what’s unresolved in a piece after some time away from it.
MICHAEL: Yes, I feel the same way about the writing process.
KATHRYN: Eventually, there’s nothing left that bothers me, nothing left to correct – and that’s when I know it's done.
MICHAEL: Exactly! Finally Kathryn, What purpose does art play in contemporary society? I mean, most people on earth won't ever visit an art gallery let alone buy art. So what's the point? Should we even care that art may or may not have a point?
KATHRYN: I think most artists feel compelled to make art, so we’ve got one purpose right there. Also, thanks to the explosion of all kinds of visual media, more people than ever have developed an appreciation – or at least sophistication – where visual imagery is concerned, which greatly increases potential audiences.
But the question of the purpose of art is always a slippery one. A work of art may bring about political or social change, give comfort, excite, challenge ideas, uncover mysteries or just resonate. It may speak to millions or to just a few. There’s not just one point to art. It’s an open-ended gesture by definition and you never know where or how far it might reach.
MICHAEL: Thanks Kathryn. This has been a lovely and enlightening chat.
KATHRYN: Michael, I can't express how much I've appreciated this opportunity to reflect on my work, my process and the world of art in general. It has been a pleasure and very helpful. The work you do, stimulating thought and communication, is such a gift to the whole community.
Check out Kathryn Dunlevie at http://www.kathryndunlevie.com/.