Kati Gegenheimer is a left-handed Sagittarius, born on December 4, 1984 in Pineville, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. She received her BFA in Printmaking with a Minor in Art History from Tyler School of Art in Elkins Park, PA in 2007. In 2013 she received an MFA in Painting & Printmaking from Yale School of Art in New Haven, CT. While at Yale, Kati was the recipient of the Elizabeth Canfield Hicks Award in 2013. Since moving to New York in 2013, Kati founded StaringAtTheWall.com, an art blog for artists by artists, curated her first show, SUPERFOG, in Soho, and has participated in numerous group shows. Kati currently lives in Bushwick and crosses the Gowanus Canal to get to work in her studio.
Firsts and Lasts
Firsts and lasts allow for meaning and symbolism that carry with them a decipherable feeling of excitement for the unknown. The anticipation of the unknown is this palpable feeling that I am interested in simulating while making my paintings. While I am making, I do not have a set plan for a painting, hence I am constantly walking on the exhilarating line of the unknown, hoping that I will get “there,” and recognize the feeling as “there” as the final outcome of a painting. I also hope that this familiar feeling of the search and desire for the unknown also becomes experiential for the viewer. I make paintings to stir emotions—to point to a space, time, or place where, with the viewer, we can fantasize about the moment—that happens to be in the present—looking at a painting. A painting itself functions as the space in-between. It is artificial, but serves as a vessel of the real, and it is in fact made real by the artist.
The challenge lies in the fact that these paintings are made in the present—wedged right into the middle of the mundane everyday. Why so often is a dedication to the romance of the mundane ignored? How do we stir these feelings and instigate the desires for the unknown in between doing laundry and checking our inbox at work? Since, so often, this middle space is void of Exclamatory! Hair-raising! Excitement! I make my paintings in order to stir these emotions to live everyday like it is the first! …Or the last! To live everyday like it is everyday! The in-between! To make a first and a last all the more sweet, the in between and the distance between should be just as meaningful. Why wait for the end when you have the everyday to love so emphatically, to fantasize about so unabashedly?
Additional Statement Points of Note:
1. Landscape as Painting Structure
2. Color, Pattern & Decoration
3. Artifice and Fantasy
4. Vulnerability and Connections
5. Paintings as Hieroglyphs
In your statement you talk about the excitement and the anticipation of the unknown—and your search for it through the process of painting. Can you talk about how you prepare to enter a mental space where that is possible when you work? Is it a space of distraction (subconscious) or total concentration? Is that mental challenge part of your process?
When I am painting, it takes me a while to get into the ‘zone.’ In order to get started, there a few things that I have realized are keystones in my preparation: My studio needs to be (relatively) clean, I need to be in a good mood, I need to be calm and not have too many “real life” things hanging over my head, and in an ideal world, I need to have long blocks of time to work. If I can already anticipate my time in the studio being over, then I have to accept that it’s probably not going to be a productive studio session. So, in terms of anticipation—it actually does play into my actual physical process in that I really need to trust that I have time and space to work. In order to prepare for studio days and to make sure that I have optimally productive studio time, I try to prepare myself through drawing, looking, reading, and making a loose plan prior to going into the studio. I think about it like I’m a race car—I rev my engine a few times before I go for it.
What materials do you find that you enjoy the most and allow you to reach that “there” moment/finished painting most fluidly or organically?
I love enamel paint, specifically black enamel. I love the specific fluidity and density of it as well as the sheen that it has, although I don’t love the high toxicity and the smell. I have been playing with enamel for a few years, and have figured out a few special tricks along the way about how enamel reacts to other paint, which has been really exciting.
I typically apply enamel with all different squeeze bottles, from ketchup bottles to hair dye bottles to any other bottle that has a good tip and a solid squeezability for an even flow. Enamel is typically the last step in a painting because I love its finish so much, and when applying it from a bottle I pour it over a canvas or panel on the floor. This technique allows me to actually draw freely over a painting, and the disconnect forces me to have a degree of looseness and playfulness with application. I’m also a huge fan of consequence, so to finish a painting by pouring shiny black enamel that is not forgiving at all is a true test of mental and physical agility!
How does your artist statement function for you? Do you think it is an important element in the practice of being an artist? Does it help the viewer engage with the work or detract from the power of the work on it’s own?
I am actually a huge fan of writing artists’ statements, although I think as a whole the general “artist statement” structure seems as if it is as stiff as a business letter to a lawyer. When I was in grad school I was lucky enough to take an amazing writing class with Rick Moody called Parallel Practice, which aimed to bring together our art practice with a writing practice. What I found to be most rewarding about this experience was the encouragement Rick gave us all to throw the artist statement and thoughts about conventions out the window and reimagine what a statement, (or any other piece of writing, for that matter), could be as it related to our own practice.
For me, this lends to a much more exciting and malleable form of writing, which tends to be ever-changing and in turn allows me to express myself in a natural way. I like to always think of my writing as an extension of myself as a painter, as an artist, or a creative person in general. I think that writing is so important because it allows you to realize your ideas, put them on paper, and consider them outside of yourself. There is no better way for me to reach a point of clarity in my work than to finish an artist statement and put into words what I’m feeling and thinking while painting. I hope that my writing can stand up as a piece on its own, or with the work, or the work without can be seen and considered without it.
I love the brief points of note in your statement—can you elaborate a bit on the idea of painting as hieroglyph?
Sure! I have been thinking a lot lately about my paintings as an ever-growing encyclopedia of images that make up a larger vision. Each piece plays a part in making up a larger whole. I think that many of my paintings and drawings lend themselves to each other, providing context that, if viewing a single piece, might not be obvious. I like the idea of having interchangeable relationships, putting one painting next to another and seeing what it indicates, and what they lose and gain through this shuffle. I have always had this concept in the back of my mind —a mix 'n match of paintings, because when I am working in my studio I am constantly moving paintings around and hanging them together in various clusters while working through them, reorganizing by color, pattern, texture, or aura.
You run an art blog called Staring at the Wall—it’s awesome! Can you tell us why you created it what it offers to your audience? What do you hope it will become in the future?
Thank you for checking out the blog! Once I left grad school, I went from seeing my painting comrades and their studios everyday to not nearly as often because of location and time. I wanted to create a forum that was essentially replicating what we would talk about at the couches we had at school where we would lounge between classes and studio time. I felt it was necessary to open up a forum for artists to talk about shows they had seen, materials that were exciting them in the studio, talks, language around painting, really truly anything in terms of ‘shop talk’! It was my hope that Staring at the Wall would function as a conversation and exchange of ideas that we wouldn’t otherwise all have common access to unless we were calling each other every night before bed. That would be so many phone calls! I also wanted the information to be accessible—kind of like what Refinery29 is for fashion and culture, but have it actually pertain to things that are important to my life.
In the future, I hope the blog gains more momentum and serves its’ purpose as an ongoing conversation. Since we are all being pulled in so many different directions, it has been slow going. However, the content on the site up to this point is really insightful, and I am so impressed by and appreciative of our contributors! We are always looking for new writers, and we are also open to suggestions. The main object is that we just want to keep a really great conversation rolling that everyone can take something away from.
How do you think the Internet affects those of us who identify as artists and makers? Can you describe how you feel about the role of social media in the life and work of an artist?
I think that social media is a double-edged sword. It’s nice to be able to share things on the Internet—but that is just it—the Internet! For the most part, we are looking at miniscule phone-screen sized versions of paintings, so the integrity of painting vs. the ‘image’ of painting is something we become used to seeing. I love being able to know, in real time, what my friends are up to in their studios. Beyond that, it’s interesting to be having an openly voyeuristic relationship to what other painters that I admire but I don’t personally know are up to as well. However, I think that what comes with this immediacy is lazy viewing—which I am totally guilty of myself. I just wish there was more time to see things in person rather than an endless streaming scroll available anytime. This probably proves I should just get off Instagram, but I’m just too curious by nature to let it go.
Is community and conversation among artists and artists and viewers important to you—both in art school and beyond? Has the Internet changed these interactions?
I don’t know if anything could be more important to me personally than the community of artists that I am lucky enough to be close with. In terms of my very close friends, we will often text each other pictures or videos of our studios or send articles back and forth and then talk on the phone, which helps maintain a dialogue, even at a far distance. My tight-knit community—especially my friends that I went to grad and undergrad with—are the people that I trust the most to dish out criticism and hard questions, but also to celebrate painting victories. Without them, I feel I would truly be on my own. My good friend Dustin Metz pointed out to me once, ‘we’re all in our studios alone together.’ I think about it all the time.
In terms of the conversation between artists and viewers, I think it is critically important because of perspective. Sometimes I see a painting as one thing, and someone else walks into the room and has a totally different idea about it. That is so exciting! It is always enlightening and helpful to get out of your own head, (and eyes), and see work from another angle. That’s when you can really get a full grasp of the realm of possibility in a work that is greater than your initial vision.
You recently (2013) earned your MFA in painting from Yale. What have been some of the most important challenges as you begin your career?
Graduating from Yale already feels like it was so long ago—like a strange mirage fantasy that maybe did or maybe didn’t happen. School was really good for me; it pushed me far beyond my comfort zone. I was lucky enough to come away with a very strong built in support group—since we had all bared witness to each other’s growth I think that is an inevitable and dare I say unbreakable bond?! Having a community has really helped in dealing with navigating post-grad school life, and even just moving to New York, which was a big change for me, coming from Philadelphia. I think my post-Yale challenges are pretty run of the mill challenges that painters without bottomless trust funds have. I never feel like I have enough time to paint, logistically my apartment and studio are on opposite ends of the earth, (otherwise known as Brooklyn), I still have to hold down a real job, and everything is expensive, so I can’t splurge on all of the gowns I would like to buy on a daily basis. (Ha).
Recently I was lucky enough to be included in a two-person show with Charlotte Hallberg at Trestle Projects in Gowanus called Oracle, curated by Will Hutnick and Polly Shindler. That was the most rewarding experience to date in NYC for me. Will and Polly are hardworking and hard-looking curators, and Charlotte is a painter who I really respect, so it was an absolute dream. They recently hosted an artist talk with Charlotte and I at Trestle Projects, (moderated by Josh T. Franco), and I came out of the talk feeling truly validated believing that I’m doing all of this for the right reasons. After such a great experience, I am hoping I can continue to show my work and exchange ideas with other artists and curators in a similarly productive and fulfilling manner.
What have been some of your biggest influences? Books, writing, artwork, history, film, etc?
Where do you find them?
I am really interested in objects, particularly collectibles to antiques, and why people have such strong relationships to them. I have worked at two different auction houses and perused and scavenged flea markets my entire life, so I have a really vast visual Rolodex of “stuff” in my brain. I am also influenced by where I grew up in semi-rural Pennsylvania off the Delaware River near New Hope, PA – I think that is where my affinity for water comes into my work. I just read White Girls by Hilton Als, and before that My 1980’s and Other Stories by Wayne Koestenbaum. Wayne was one of my amazing core critics at Yale, (I chose to work with him because I believed that his vast knowledge of the subject of his book, Humiliation, would be integral to my survival of grad school). Now I’m working on reading How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti. My all time favorite short story is Cathedral by Raymond Carver—I think it’s a really important story in relation to my painting practice, and it has been my favorite since I was about 16, when I started getting “serious” about art.
Are there a few artists that you are looking at currently?
I am always looking at all different artists! The artists that are on my mind at this very moment are Charles Burchfield, Alan Prazniak, Frank Bramblett, Giorgio DeChirico, Joan Brown, Elizabeth Murray, Agnes Pelton, and always Florine Stettheimer. Tomorrow I’m taking my first ever journey to Storm King and I can hardly wait to see the Lynda Benglis sculptures that are there now!!!
What do you listen to while you work? Any music or podcasts we should check out?
When I am in the studio, I will typically listen to mixes I make, including my most recent mix called EUPHORIA, (including a lot of Hall and Oates, Running on Empty by Jackson Browne, Billy Idol, ELO, and The Cars jams, among other euphoric songs). Music is really important to me, and the wrong choice can legitimately cost me a day in the studio! However, the right music can help me win a painting.
When I am having trouble getting into the studio mood, pre-music, I do like to listen to podcasts. The Modern Art Notes Podcast is pretty spectacular, and I’ve also listened to a few Art Institute of Chicago lectures that I’ve really enjoyed. On the other side of the coin, Death, Sex and Money is a really great podcast.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your work and talk with us!
Thank you for your interest in the work and for taking the time to ask so many insightful questions!
To find out more about Kati and her work, visit her website.