Kate Klingbeil

I use my hands to understand this strange dystopian reality. My ceramics invite us to reckon with demons by creating an alternate world. I want to make the insides known, the internal eternal. In making work, I often feel like the conductor of a play about an awkward exhibitionist inhabiting a universe where everything that hasn’t gone right can begin again. I create alternatives to the darkness. Pleasure and pain coexist. Humor is a means to cope with hard truths.

The work leaves room for fantasy, and invites the viewer to experience a psychological space that’s often private. As a woman I have learned, and am currently unlearning, how men’s experiences of my body have affected the way I see myself. What is mine? What is an illusion? I’m reframing the ways in which I experience my own body by re-forming the body myself. In this self-made ceramic world, the women are protagonists, I am free, and emotions are truth.

Sleep With You , 2018. Glazed Porcelain, 8.5 x 6.5 x 3.5 inches

Sleep With You, 2018. Glazed Porcelain, 8.5 x 6.5 x 3.5 inches

Hi Kate! Can you tell us a bit about how you became interested in pursuing a career as a visual artist? Do you have any early memories of creative moments or early influences that stand out?
I started drawing around the same time I started talking. My family always encouraged me to express myself through my work...we moved around a lot when I was growing up. It was hard leaving friends and uprooting my life every few years, but one relationship that’s been consistent is the one I have with my work. I spent a lot of time watching animal planet and drawing in front of the TV. My first exhibition was a group show freshman year of high school and I painted a portrait of Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes. I would kill to find that again.

You studied Printmaking at CCA—do you still incorporate printmaking methods into your work?
I was dedicated to printmaking for years, specifically stone lithography, monotype and etching. I think about layering color and the progression of a piece in a similar way to when I was making prints, using transparent pigments to build up the image. I sometimes start my paintings in the same way I used to make lithographs- by pouring paint or ink onto the canvas, letting it dry, and pulling imagery from the natural pattern of dried paint.  

I used to make these collaged pin paintings of monotypes and lithographs pinned into a printed background glued onto foam. They were super impractical but it paved the way for how I’m making my paintings now. I’m still pinning elements into my paintings, but now that’s just as a method of figuring out where the little pieces go... I’m glueing them directly onto the canvas instead of floating them on pins.

You work across a range of media, including painting, ceramics, and animation. When did you first start working with clay? What drew you to the medium?
I started with clay in 2016, just before moving to New York...it hasn’t been that long. I was living in Oakland and my studio mates and I split the cost on a 100$ Craigslist kiln…we went in knowing nothing. The kiln was a dangerous mess of electrical wires and luckily a rat or some critter eventually put it out of commission a few months later. It looked like a green alien spaceship.

Later that summer I attended ACRE residency in Wisconsin and spent most of my time learning the basics of clay. I kept going with it once I moved to New York that fall. I think what drew me to ceramics was a mix between the immediacy, the therapeutic touch of the wet clay, and the magic of the process, being able to make something that felt like it lived in a strangely familiar world adjacent to ours. A painting is this imagined space, a flat world masquerading as real, but clay takes up actual space so it almost feels more human. 

Printmaking and ceramics have a similar magic… there’s this period of time with both processes where you aren’t sure if the piece will turn out. You put it in the kiln and have to surrender control. I think I’m attracted to that rush, I’m a little superstitious in that way… if a piece fails it was meant to, and I move on. It’s sometimes an exercise in letting go.

When did you first start working with the subject matter you are working with currently? What inspired this direction?
For the past 3 or so months I’ve been making figurative landscapes. I call them internal landscapes…they are amalgamations of lived experiences, emotion and fantasy. I’ve been working with the idea of the body as a landscape, women as grassy knolls, rolling hills and granite cliffs. They sustain these internal worlds come to life externally, sometimes fruitful, lush, green and thriving, and other times barren and tired, dry and cracking. Our bodies and our lands contain a history, shedding skin, gaining folds and wrinkles over time.

I’m interested in the filters and memories we acquire throughout our lives that shape us, and the way these things manifest physically. The figures in my work have become enveloped landscapes that oscillate between a spectrum of feelings. Some places reverberate with strange and unknown dangers while others are shielded with comfort—both simultaneously deteriorating and regenerating before our eyes.

This direction grew from doing a lot of thinking about the inner workings of the body. There are so many processes inside us, these internal worlds can scale up to mirror the external world. I’m interested in both the micro at the macro, and viewing both at the same time. The recent works feature a large body as a landscape, with small figures, flora and objects living off the land, sometimes draining the landscape, other times working in symbiosis. The tiny figures can resemble the many little bits that make up our emotional spectrums. We are complicated beings and I want my paintings to mirror that.

You used to work in a community ceramics studio called GASWORKS. What was the experience of working in a shared space?
Working in a room with other people was good for me, I have hermetic tendencies. Painting can be incredibly lonely and isolating. I highly recommend Gasworks to anyone looking for a ceramics studio in Brooklyn, they have beautiful homemade glazes and everyone is really sweet and knowledgeable.

In the past you have received outright misogynist comments about your work—has that reaction dwindled, and if so, what do you attribute to the lessening of that type of response?
Maybe my work has become less in-your-face sexual and more nuanced. It used to be pretty triggering to some who can’t handle seeing a woman making work about sexual autonomy.  I’ve grown a lot over the last five years and the work has shifted its focus. Last year I started making work about illness and the sick body (which does not preclude a body from being sexual) but it’s layered with more complexity than just strictly talking about my experiences with sex.

Your exhibitions often feel really immersive, with large paintings on the walls, and 3-dimensional sculptures filling the space. Can you talk a bit about how you plan your solo shows and the effect you are going for?
I’m building a world for the viewer to enter. Paintings are windows to another dimension, and the sculptures solidify the world as space that we can relate to physically. I’m trying to make exhibitions that speak to multiple senses, where people feel a part of

 this other world adjacent to reality. Maybe for a moment they are able to get out of their heads, or see something familiar from another perspective. I’m always trying to immortalize joy, pull the positive from dark places.

In planning shows, I typically sketch the paintings, then make foam core models of the gallery with miniature versions of the paintings and sculptures. This takes a lot of anxiety out of the process of planning. Once that’s done I know exactly what I have to make, how many pieces will fill the space, and I’m able to focus more on the work than the anxiety of filling a room. The work always evolves slightly from the model, sometimes the paintings get replaced, but generally the layout of the show is planned before I show up to the gallery for install. 

Can you tell us about your studio space? What are your necessities for each of your different media, and do you have separate workspaces for each direction (painting, ceramics, animation).
I just moved into a new space about a month ago, I’m still getting settled in. My studio is at the same height as the train platform… its maybe 10 feet away from my windows on the second story. Sometimes the train stops and someone is stuck there and we lock eyes. I thrive off of that embarrassed exhibitionist stuff. A pigeon family lives under my floor...I sit on the ground working on paintings and they flap around and coo under me.

I wish I had separate spaces for my different mediums...that seems almost impossible in New York.  I usually focus on one process until it’s finished, so I can put the supplies away and switch to another medium. Everything basically happens on one table against the windows of the studio. My most used tools for painting are palette knives, brushes, gallon buckets of acrylic mediums, an airbrush, watercolor palettes, flashe & acrylic paint, oil sticks and sewing pins. I stretch my own canvas. For ceramics I have been working out of my studio and transporting my pieces to fire them. I use mason stains, underglaze, an X-acto blade and sponges. For my animations I’m using a copy stand I got off Craigslist, a canon Rebel 2ti with a shutter remote, and clamp lights.

Your paintings are exceptionally sculptural, with impasto paint that is rich and sumptuous. Are you using other materials in addition to paint to build up the layers?
I use a few different acrylic mediums and thickeners mixed with paint or pigment. My favorite additive right now is a bag of black sand I found in the hallway outside a previous studio. Last summer I found a similar bag of material in my parents garage but right before I mixed it into the paint I read the label...it was fertilizer sourced from local human excrement in Wisconsin. I didn’t end up using it but I was close. Check your labels, folks.

You moved to Brooklyn from Oakland, CA a few years ago, where you were living for a while. What prompted the move, and what has the transition been like and how has it impacted your work or practice?
It’s almost been three years in NY this fall. I was in Oakland for 8 and a half years...it was an amazing place to learn how to be an artist. I had a great community of people there from undergrad and people I met around after graduation, and I ran a gallery out of my storefront live/work space for a few years. I felt like when I was in the bay area there were two scenes- street art and hyper conceptual, minimal sculpture. The scenes have changed since then, but I made a space that felt more in line with what myself and my friends were making. It was amazing for a while, but I began to feel restless. I applied to graduate school, and when I didn’t get in, realized that I was applying to school because I wanted a change of environment and time to focus on my own work… so I just decided to move anyway. New York made the most sense. This place is a pressure cooker. The palette in my work has shifted since moving, I find the work to be less sunny, more bruised. It’s ripened like a piece of fruit.

Can you walk us through what might be a typical day for you?
Wake up around 8am, coffee, emails, eggs, studio around 10 or 11, alternate between painting and pinning and glueing and dripping and sitting and looking, tacos at the spot a couple doors down, more coffee, paint, sit, look, photograph and look again, bike home around 9 or 10pm, hang with my roommates, Netflix and bed by midnight.

Kate in the studio

Kate in the studio

Is there anyone or anything that has had the most significant work impact on your work up to this point, whether it be an artist influence, a teacher, a place, or something else? Who are some of the artists you look at most often?
Growing up surrounded by animals and nature had a massive impact, especially being hardcore into competitive equestrian sports growing up. Horses and humans have been the most continuous imagery in my work since the beginning. My high school art teachers were also very important early on—they taught us that making work was an invaluable way to deal with emotion and to form our identity, I’ve never forgotten that.

During undergrad I spent a semester at the Glasgow School of Art, and met a Finnish artist who taught me about painterly animation. I realized that it wasn’t so out of reach, and when I got back to Oakland I began experimenting with making my prints move.

Some of my biggest artistic influences are Hieronymus Bosch, Breugel, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Manet, Bruce Bickford (RIP), Martha Colburn, Cecily Brown, Allison Schulnik and Elliot Hundley. A few years ago I went to a Katherine Bradford artist talk that changed the way I think about layering acrylic paint to activate more light.

What is the best exhibition your have seen recently?
Sarah Lucas at the New Museum, Lisa Yuskavage at David Zwirner and Yann Gerstberger at Galeria OMR from a March trip to Mexico City.

Are there any apps, tools, resources, etc. that you find helpful as an artist or person?
Instagram (a blessing & a curse), google slides (for easy PDF’s), the book Art/Work: Everything You Need To Know (And Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career, and the Co-Star astrology app.

Is there any advice you have received that you remember often?
Don’t react right away. Sit with it. 

What are you reading? What are you listening to? What are you watching?
Reading: Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay & Awakening Your Ikigai: How The Japanese Wake Up To Joy And Purpose Every Day by Ken Mogi

Listening: Mr. Twin Sister, Cardi B, Billie Eilish, Corbin, East Side Story v. 1–12, Cigarettes After Sex, Rihanna

Watching: Pen15, Killing Eve, Sharp Objects, Mind Hunters, Law and Order: SVU, anything about serial killers or food.

What are some of your interests outside of art?
I’m trying to heal my body so I spend a lot of time cooking, thinking about food, researching alternative health stuff and attempting to relax (nearly impossible in New York). I like to ride my bike, do studio visits with other artists, spend too much time looking at memes, and actively avoiding anywhere with large crowds.

What’s up next for you?
I’m in a few group shows this summer. “Animal Idealism” at Harpy gallery in New Jersey opens May 18th, and Ruffles Repair and Ritual: The Fine Art of Fixing at The Wedding Cake House in Providence, RI also opens the 18th, and a two person show with Rebecca Ness at Monya Rowe opening June 20th in New York. I’ll also be doing a 6 week residency at Art Farm in Nebraska this September through mid October. I can’t wait to be in the middle of nowhere for a little while. It’s a work trade residency so I’m hoping to partake in some manual labor and learn how to use power tools when I’m not painting.

Lastly, and most importantly, have you found any good taco spots in Brooklyn?
Taqueria La Placita Puebla on Broadway and Park ave. It’s basically under my studio and the tacos are cheap and come with guacamole. We’ll go there if you come by.

Thanks so much for talking with us!

To find out more about Kate, visit her website.