I am so excited to launch our newest series on Among the Colors with Artist Interviews! This is something that I have wanted since the launch of the blog, and with now being in the inaugural year of our contemporary art gallery, ATC DEN, it seemed like the perfect time to launch with our first solo artist in the gallery, Kaitlyn Tucek. Her exhibition, It’s All Coming Apart has gained national recognition with a write up in Hyperallergic. Kaitlyn and I connected on a love for abstract painting, mark making, and finding new ways to use weird and bright colors.
Last week I hosted Kaitlyn in the gallery for our first artist talk in the gallery. It was my first time leading an artist talk as the gallery owner and not as the artist, (eekk!) and I am so happy with the dialogue that took place… It was more like an artist on artist talk which led us to some cool places. Check out our photo gallery of these stunning photos of Kaitlyn and her daughter in her studio, and be sure to scroll to the bottom for her interview.
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Artist Interview: Kaitlyn Tucek
What inspired your path to becoming a studio artist?
I have always wanted to make art. I used to pause Disney movies and draw the still images when I was very young. I can’t say what initially made me create, only that it felt good and made sense. I think I said during our talk, there was nothing else I was going to do. I started figure drawing weekly by the age of fourteen and have pursued art as a career ever since. At this point, I don’t feel as though my goals are directed solely on my technical abilities but rather on telling stories and sharing ideas.
How did your schooling influence how you make work today?
I started studying with Jeffrey K. Fisher at the Long Island Drawing School back when I was 14. He was a professional illustrator who had studied under Dave Passalaqua who had studied under Rico Lebrun.
I think you can see the influences here in these images. We were taught that how deeply we looked at things, that was where to find the information we needed in order to create. I was taught figure drawing, locational and journalistic drawing on site. I remember being very young, walking around places like Chinatown in NYC, sitting down anywhere I wanted to and just drawing. It created quite the ego in all of us. I continued the tradition at Pratt Institute where I studied mostly under Veronica Lawlor, also a student of Passalaqua’s and a well known illustrator herself. I learned to use simple imagery and symbolism along with strong drawing to convey a narrative. I think that all continues today, even in my most abstracted works. There is always structure.
Who are the artists who have shaped your way?
During our talk, I know I mentioned artists and works that I always come back to. Those were Holbein, Abstract Expressionists like Rothko and Still, and the slaves by Michelangelo. When I first started figure drawing, I dove into the Post-Impressionists, I
couldn’t get enough of Lautrec and Degas. I then spent a good amount of time studying Picasso, Rubens, Kathe Kollowitz, Rembrandt, Van Eyck, the list could go on. In my senior year at Pratt and the following years, I started to discover more contemporaries. I became very interested in Lee Bontecou and Julie Mehretu. I remember seeing a show by Sarah Sze at the Ruben Museum that moved me quite a bit. I also kept coming back to Sheila Hicks. I don’t think I could bridge the gap between the figurative artists I had loved and studied and the more abstract and installation artists that I was diving into for a long time, even now I am still looking to combine my influences.
What drew you to working with the figure? How have your themes around the figure changed since becoming a mother?
I don’t think I had a choice in making the figure my “base camp”. It wasn’t that we learned that the figure was everything, but that it was the way to learn everything. If you needed to progress in your abilities and understanding, go back to the figure. It is always there, it is always capable of constructing and deconstructing into whatever you need. When I began to lean into my studio practice during the early months with Rowan, I went back to the figure because I didn’t know what else to do. It’s the thing I understand the most, it is always there for me to play with and to learn from. I don’t know if becoming a mother has changed my themes surrounding the figure in such a conscious way. I think it took me some time to realize the paintings were self-portraits. I look forward to seeing where my relationship with the figure goes from here.
How does your studio practice serve as a tool for dealing with what’s going on in the world, both the current political space and personally?
My studio practice means everything to me. It was a place I could put all of my pain, frustration and my exhaustion. I ran into the studio every chance I could because I felt so lost. I worked every emotion into the show, and I can’t express how incredibly healing it has been to release all of that into my work. I think most of my work is a response to something that is happening around me, whether large or small. I believe art creates conversation and it gives us a reason to be together. I hope to continue to create works that make us think and feel in positive and progressive ways.
Your current exhibition at ATC DEN, “It’s All Coming Apart,” takes us through a journey of your experience as a mother dealing with a child in and out of the hospital. How did your studio practice serve you during this challenging time?
I think I touched on that in the last question a little bit. I can add that I felt like once the show was up, I had put my pain somewhere. I had let it go, which feels incredibly therapeutic. I believe art has the power to heal, to create a space for things we can’t always understand but we know exists and are felt. I feel so strongly about all of this that my husband and I, along with a few other close friends are in the beginning stages of starting a non-profit, Create with Heart.
Our mission statement: Create with Heart seeks to enhance the lives of patients and families, through meaningful creative activities, by providing an outlet to help explore emotions, increase a sense of well-being and offer a space to connect with other families during the critical phase of a medical crisis.
At this time, I am piloting programs in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit once a month and working towards getting our activities in a few other hospital units around Denver. We hope to be spreading the word about the program by the late summer 2018.
Has your work ever focused on a vulnerable moment in your life before? How do you think being able to tap into this part of yourself will affect your work moving forward?
I lost my father after a long battle with lung cancer and kidney disease about eight years ago. One of the worst things I did was to do some drawings in my sketchbook during his last stay in the hospital. I threw out that sketchbook and couldn’t bring myself to get a new one for a very long time. I wasn’t ready to use my practice for healing at that time. As time went on, I started to work again but I truly think that having children empowered me in new ways. I had my son and thought that I couldn’t ask things of him that I wasn’t willing to do myself. I have forced myself to take the next steps, and I believe that has led me to open up about my vulnerability in new ways. I am struggling now with new work, because this body of work was so personal. I think the only way to keep moving forward is to simply take the next step even if it is a shaky one.
What is the significance of the magenta pink within your work? How does technique serve your work?
Pink is a color that seems to stir up controversy. I like that. I want to see the idea of pink change in the public’s minds. I want pink to live in new ways and conjure up feelings of power instead of gentle femininity. I don’t know if I ever really think about technique until I need it. If a new project comes to mind and there will be a part of it that I don’t already understand, I learn about it. But I don’t let it inform my work too much. When I do, I start to strip my work of the life it breathes and that never seems to suit me.
What helps you out the most when you are stuck creatively in the studio?
I try new things and use new and different materials. I get stuck often enough, and I still have to remind myself to shake things up a bit to get out of a rut. At the end of 2016 I was feeling very lost and purchased some pastels- both oil and chalk. This was way out of the box for me. I think pastels and I immediately think Renoir, who I just hate the work of. But I had seen the work of Heather Day and thought, why not? They gave my work new life, and allowed me to take my marks in new directions. Travel helps me quite a bit. I love going to new places and learning about peoples lives. It’s humbling to remember how large the world is, and how much can be gained from new experiences and understandings.
Name one ambitious project you hope to accomplish someday.
I have always thought about creating a very large scale, fully immersive work. I think of it like an environment now, but I used to conceptualize it like a sort of amusement park. I don’t think I have quite figured out what it looks like, and what purpose it serves, but I really hope to make it one day.