Recently, Sue Katz had an opportunity to interview fellow New England Wax member Kay Hartung.
Sue: This has been a busy year for Kay, exhibiting work in several small group shows. She is currently working towards an upcoming 2 person show at Fountain Street Fine Art. Eighty-seven pieces, some repeats, most created in the past 3 years, small to medium in size – that’s a lot of work. Let’s find out how she does it.
(July 2016, Mysterious & Unexpected, Spencertown Academy Arts Center, Spencertown, NY, 15 pieces; September 2016, As Above, So Below, Three Stones Gallery, Concord, MA, 13 pieces; October 2016, Biomorphic Alchemy, Dana Hall School, Wellesley, MA, 18 pieces; January 2017, Revealing the Internal, Exploring the External, Cambridge Art Association, Cambridge, MA, 21 pieces plus a wall Installation; April 2017, Conceal and Reveal, Fountain Street Fine Art, Framingham, MA, 20 pieces)
Q: Please share a little about yourself.
A: I am a mixed media artist currently working primarily in encaustic. I live in Acton, MA, and I have a studio at ArtSpace Maynard where I have been for 15 years. I have a BFA in Fibers from Philadelphia College of Art and an MFA in Interlocking Structures from Syracuse University. It was in the 1970’s and we wanted to get away from the “Fibers” label. I am married and have two grown children and a new puppy.
Q: Where did you grow up and what were any early influences on your work?
A: I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. I took art lessons at an early age and was very much encouraged by my parents to pursue my interest in art. Early on my favorite painter was Matisse. My father, who was a neurosurgeon, began doing sculpture when I was a teenager and became very friendly with his teacher Toshio Odate. I would say that Toshio had an influence on me, not in the kind of work I did, but in becoming interested in contemporary art. In college, majoring in Fibers, I was inspired by artists such as Frank Stella, Agam, Lenore Tawney, Eva Hesse, Sheila Hicks and Anni Albers.
Q: Describe your process of creating art. Do you sketch or pre-plan for a piece or does your art evolve during the process?
A: I spend time looking at source material in books and on the internet but most of my imagery just comes out of my head. I experiment with various materials and enjoy finding new media to incorporate with encaustic. I work very intuitively and the paintings evolve as I go along. I often will conceal what I have painted and then reveal it again by scraping or torching. I work with microscopic imagery, creating colonies of cellular shapes that migrate, flow, and multiply. My process builds layer upon layer of biomorphic forms, suggesting growth, development, and movement. I reveal the beauty of this mysterious world, inviting the viewer to contemplate the impact these minute forms have on our lives.
Q: What are your inspirations?
A: With my interest in fibers and textiles, I love color and pattern. I am inspired by the microscopic world and interested in the connections between science and art. In 2004, I saw an electron microscope photo of colon cancer. It was a beautiful image of this deadly disease. My mother died of colon cancer when I was 19. I felt compelled to draw it and worked in pastel. I started looking at more photos on the internet and in books and began the series I call BioVisions.
Q: Has your practice changed over time? How and why?
A: In graduate school, where the definition of fiber was anything that is longer than it is wide, I worked with non-traditional materials such as neoprene sponge, resin and tar paper. I moved to the Boston area after graduate school and continued to work with tarpaper creating “woven paintings.” I painted on large sheets, cut them into strips and wove them back together, collaging added elements into the woven surface. I did commissioned work for both corporate and residential spaces. I had a studio at Vernon Street Studios in Somerville for about 10 years until my first child was born. When my second child arrived, I began working in collage, which was easier to fit in to my life as a mother, with a small workspace at home. When my son entered school, I got a studio at ArtSpace Maynard, where there is a wonderful community of over 70 artists. I worked in collage and assemblage for about 10 years. I switched to pastel when I began my work related to microscopic imagery and stuck with that for about 5 years before I began using encaustic.
Q: How did you start working with wax?
A: I saw an exhibit of paintings done in encaustic by Nancy Natale and Lynette Haggard and was fascinated by the intense color and luminosity of the medium. I was ready to move on from pastel. I was getting tired of having to frame all my work and even storing pastels was not easy. After taking workshops, experimenting, and attending the International Encaustic Conference, I began using encaustic and have been at it for 8 years now.
Q: Do you use other mediums or exclusively work in wax?
A: I combine other media such as fabric, pastel, and powdered graphite with the encaustic. I have recently been doing encaustic monotypes and sometimes start an encaustic painting with this as a base layer. I have also done some large wall installations, using fabric, paper, mesh tubing, and encaustic-covered plant material.
Q: What might someone be surprised to learn about you?
A: I went to Woodstock! I taught Weaving and Surface Design for 20 years in the Creative Arts Department of Bradford College.
Q: Do you have other jobs other than making art?
A: Over the years I have been very active in the arts community, serving on the Somerville Arts Council and as chairman of the Acton Cultural Council. In 1995 and 1997, I organized an outdoor environmental sculpture exhibition at the Acton Arboretum. I am currently on the Art Committee at the Acton Memorial Library coordinating art exhibits. I am co-chair of the Gallery Committee at ArtSpace Maynard. I also enjoy being a guide at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum where I get to be in contact with the curators and other museum professionals as we are trained for each exhibition. We use a discussion-based approach for our tours and have to be creative working with different age groups from pre-schoolers to adults. The guides that I started with in 2010 are a very stimulating group of people and we frequently take art trips together. In my spare time, I make a line of jewelry that is sold in several retail stores in the Boston area.