Kate Cox: Two Heads Are Better than One
When I first met Kate, the impression I had was quirky in that fun way. When I saw some of her work from her latest series Two Heads Are Better than One I had the same initial reaction. But upon further inspection I also found her work to be insightful in its own way, much as I found her to be when we sat down at Café Pyrus to chat.
VR: How do you describe your art work?
Kate: I go to thrift stores and garage sales and I find old original art work that people have painted and then discarded. And often they have these ornate frames around them and the paintings themselves are so amazing. They are kind of naive-ish. You can tell that people have really poured every ounce of their creativity into these paintings. It’s taken them hours or even days and then they just get discarded. There’s something about that which really just pulls at my heart strings. Then in these thrift stores they just get glanced over. When I was looking at them I could just see the potential of like what if you put a little pterodactyl in there, or like a unicorn, or a giant robot coming over that hillside. So I take a scene and paint new characters and creatures into them that give them this new narrative effect. So it recalls the story of what’s going on in the painting. So I do specifically look for paintings that have more of a landscape feature rather than like a vase of flowers or something abstract or figurative; it has to be something that’s more of a landscape. It’s kind of like a re-imagining and reworking of something that’s just so awesome already. It asks the audience to really look again at the things that they are passing over I suppose.
VR: How did you develop your style?
Kate: I guess, well, thrift-ing is one of my passions; I love thrift-ing. I really enjoy reworking things. So often I would rework garments I found into new garments. This series, specifically the very first ones I had started doing were about four years ago where I started picking up bits and pieces at thrift stores and thinking “what can I do to it?” Initially there is this huge kind of feeling that you’re doing something taboo by painting on somebody else’s painting and that was a really big thing for me to get over. I had to really coach myself as to look at the painting and go “you paid for it; you own it; you can do what you like to it”. I had to really work myself out of the mind-set that I was sabotaging something and more that I was embellishing or adding something. And in that way sort of breathing a new life into it because I’m going to be re-presenting it to people and showing them again what’s really there. So I started on that about four years ago. It was kind of a sideline to the other work that I do, because I’m always painting and drawing, and that was just something that I would do every now and again to kind of keep my creative energy going and give me a break from whatever I was focusing on at the time. Then one of my friends said “You can apply for this grant and they will fund it for you. They will pay for all the paintings that you need to buy and they will pay for the paint.” So I gave it a go and I got the grant and I was like brilliant! And that’s when I’d say, about a year and a half ago when I got the grant, that’s when it came into a full out series and I was able to really give it some time and energy.
VR: How did you get into creating art in the first place and who or what inspired you?
Kate: I think my mom inspired me because my mom is really an amazing drawer. She’s really good at sketching people, sketching their likeness. When I was really young, I remember that we would kind of have art projects together where she would draw part of it and I would draw the other part of it. I remember one really big drawing that we worked on where she drew a picture of a really well dressed lady and I stuck sequins onto it and finished off the outfit she was wearing. But I’ve always just been creative. It’s definitely a time that I feel most comfortable in. When I can’t think of the words to express myself then I try to express that feeling by just drawing something. I feel like I can be more fluent in it. It’s hard to define you know, when you’re good at something and it just comes naturally it’s hard to describe why that is. That’s just the way it is. There are things I can’t do that other people are really good at and I’m like “I can’t understand how you do that; tell me how.” Then they’re just like “I don’t know; I can just do it.” Ever since I can remember I’ve been creative. I got a degree in England. I graduated in 2004 and ever since then I’ve been having shows pretty consistently.
VR: How did you get the courage to put your work on display for all to see?
Kate: Lots of support from friends. Learning to turn off the critical voice in my head and just listening to my friends and trusting what they are saying and using that kind of confidence to do it. Then once you put a show on you get such amazing positive feedback and then you’re like “Well, obviously that critical voice is completely irrational.” I have to pay attention to these many positive voices around me. For me I’m always working and producing things and if I don’t show them they’ll just sit around and I think what’s the point in doing all this if nobody gets to see it.
VR: If you could have your work displayed anywhere in the world where would you put it on display?
Kate: There’s this gallery in Bristol, my home city, called the Arnolfini and I would love to have my work up there. It’s so cool. I went there to see one the first shows that really resonated with me by an artist called Dorothy Cross… It was amazing. I was about 14 and I was walking around just thinking, “This is so cool.”
VR: How do you get into your creative head-space, atmosphere-wise?
Kate: If I’m in a creative block I find it really useful to go to a gallery and see some work of some of my favourite artists. Also lots of things that aren’t (visual) art related and understand that everything you’re taking in visually all the time counts as something that’s inspiring. So I just surround myself with inspiring things and that might be watching movies by my favourite directors, looking at other artists. For me I really enjoy a lot of installation artists from the 90′s so I will look at their work. Listening to music and just letting my mind do some free association which really helps get into a creative head-space.
VR: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Kate: Trust what you’re doing, do something that feels authentic, and do something that excites you, because if you’re doing something that excites you and it feels authentic a truth is going to come through in your work and that’s got such integrity and people will be fascinated by it and they will love it.
Two Heads Are Better than One is on display at The Tannery School of Music throughout March.
You can check out Kate’s blog at makeitevenbetter.blogspot.com