Art In Motion
By Donna Letterese
Artist Kathleen Werner is a woman of many hats. She is an artist, visionary and entrepreneur. In her early twenties, Kathleen owned a metaphysical shop and a fine art gallery. She is the creator of the combination architecture piece/lounge chair titled the Etazin which is featured at Arizona's Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. And, as a fine artist, she is the creator of a series of nature inspired paintings.
As a painter who is more inspired by the natural light and textures of the earth than by the work of fellow artists, Werner is a passionate lover of the environment. Her dedication to, and appreciation for, the planet comes through in everything she makes and does. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kathleen to learn more about her and her work.
Can you talk about how long you have been painting and how you would describe your style?
Regarding fine art painting, I have been focusing on that part of my practice for a year. I would describe the style somewhat like landsat aerial photography, the difference being that I am not a photographer, and I am creating my pieces using different types of paint. Sometimes, the colors and patterns I create resemble what you see when you crack open a geode. Other times, my work looks like a view into outer space. It's abstract, yet very evocative of nature.
What mediums do you use specifically, and what scale do you prefer to work in?
My pieces are traditional paint on canvas, held together by wooden frames that I make myself. I make canvases that are two to three inches in depth, so that the paint can go around the bend, for viewers to follow the imagery coming around the corners. I use a mix of different types of paint. My only paint requirement is that it must be very liquid-y, and movable. I manhandle my pieces to get the medium to move in such a way. Again, this is to help the paint end up looking like landsat photography.
As to scale, I'm a large scale painter. Generally, the smallest pieces I paint are four feet by four feet. Six feet by six feet is a medium sized painting. Ideally, I love to paint works that are seven or eight feet wide, and nine feet tall. I've done pieces that have swallowed walls.
Interestingly, you have a background in architecture, in addition to your work as a painter. Do you feel that your dual training has influenced the fine art work that you create?
Yes, I do. I did a program in Arizona, at the Taliesin West School of Architecture. It was a great school, and I describe it as "Hogwarts for architects." There, they really pound it into you how important composition is. I was taught that what you create has to not only be beautiful, it also must be balanced and functional. Learning how to work this way during my architecture training has completely affected my approach to fine art. I'm as meticulous with my paintings as I've been with architecture work. I'll scrap multiple paintings until I get it just right, since I need to make sure it's perfect, or it doesn't exist for me.
It's worth noting that when you were in school, you designed the Etazin Chair. Can you elaborate on the details of what exactly that was, and how you came to make such a piece?
The Etazin is essentially a lounge chair that is also an art installation. It is artistic, functional, and fun. It's made completely out of hollow square steel that we bent into three large rings. We used a fabricator which bent it into the rings, and then used another fabricator to hold it together. There are self-oiling bushings that allow the chair to turn. The rotation is what makes it functional; anyone who sits in the chair can choose to lounge facing toward the sun, or away from the sun. The idea was really born out of studying in the lush desert landscape that we were surrounded by in Arizona.
That must have been gorgeous to look at, especially given all the cacti in such a landscape, and the sunrise and sunsets.
Yes, and not only that, but everything there glows after it rains. The Etazin serves a dual purpose. It's beautiful to look at, as part of the silhouette of the landscape. Yet, people can also sit in it, to enjoy actually seeing different angles of said landscape. It's a piece of art that's interactive, since it's possible to move it, touch it, and be inside of it. Actually, when you tour Taliesin West to see the outdoor student shelters (the spaces where the students do their work), kids and parents alike love to play and jump on it. I believe interaction is what art is really about. That's what I wanted to accomplish with the Etazin.
Since the Etazin Chair is a permanent installation, have you made any duplicate installations of it elsewhere?
The Etazin Chair at Taliesin West is the only circular shaped one that can be seen in public, although I have created and sold duplicates of the chair to private buyers. A square version of it can be seen on the back lawn of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona. That version is different, as it is square and stationary. For safety and liability reasons, we could not make the hotel's Etazin a rotating one.
Are you at the moment focused on architecture work, or entirely on your fine art?
I'm completely focused on fine art, and on creating my paintings. I'm building up a really large collection, in preparation for doing a gallery show.
What artists would you cite as having inspired and influenced you?
Regarding artists themselves, I would say James Turrell, specifically. His work with light is awe inspiring. That being said, it's not really artists that inspire me as much as nature itself. I'm definitely more moved by the natural environments present in the world, and by the landsat photography that captures those environments. When I paint, I want to create works that echo the feeling I get when I experience nature. This planet creates the most beautiful art that exists. I'm very interested in environmental science, preserving the planet, and with my own work, working on projects where the art I create will be able to help be a part of that cause.
In addition to your past architecture work, and your present work as a painter, you once ran your own boutique and gallery space called "Zen." Can you talk about that, and how running that differed from life as an artist?
Well, I opened the store when I was twenty. It was a store that had to do with all things Metaphysical. Things sold there were connected with Eastern medicine, holistic healing, and we even had some psychics who worked there and did readings. We also had a tea garden in the back. I ran "Zen" for five years. Retail is wonderful, but a very different thing to focus on than on your own craft. After a while you can feel a bit tethered to a brick and mortar space. After five years, I decided to shut down the shop, and re-open it as a gallery space. I wanted to try something new. While running a gallery was somewhat similar, I learned that shops tend to get more foot traffic, since people are more shy about coming inside galleries. However, running both spaces was very educational, and a great experience.
What are you currently working on, and/or, do you have any upcoming shows scheduled?
Currently, I am adding to my ever growing painting collection. I will be doing a show in March, likely in the SoHo or Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. The details of the exact date and location are being finalized, but it will be a pop-up solo show to introduce the art. The art being introduced will be my "Geotic" series of large-scale paintings, which I will probably continue with for quite some time. It's tentatively titled "Geotic," since that describes the natural, abstract feel of the work. I'm excited, as it's my own thing, and I haven't seen any other work quite like it. I also have some new series in mind for the future. Those pieces will be created directly on wood. There's a technique where you can use electricity to burn tree patterns into wood. I'm interested in that, as well as using wood burning techniques to create geometric patterns. There's also a way to work with natural lighting so it has the effect of looking as if it's striking through the wood.
In addition to making work inspired by nature, I'm also interested in working with any charities that are involved with saving the planet. I want what I do to be geared towards giving people awareness of the earth, and its beauty.
For more information on the artist and to find out information on her upcoming exhibition, please go to: www.KathleenWerner.com
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