Katherine Colborn studied both English literature and fine art at Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH, where she graduated with her B.A. Magna Cum Laude and with the Senior Art Award. She has since completed a residency in Ireland at the Burren College of Art. Her work has been featured in exhibitions all around the country, including New York City, and her work also resides in private collections around the United States. We’re honored to have one of her pieces on display at Miri Gallery during the “Welcome to My World: Mental Health Awareness Through Art” exhibit. Katherine has been kind enough to answer a few questions about her work:
•• What is your current medium and why have you chosen to work with it?
I work primarily in pastel and oil paint. Both I love for the sensory experience they offer. Oil paint offers me a fantastic amount of detail in technique and execution, as well as flexibility in my process. In other words, I feel more freedom to make mistakes and change my mind as I paint. I love pastel for the range of utility--it can be used for light and intuitive sketching, as well as tenaciously layered and developed paintings. It also provides me with what I have found to be an unparalleled intimacy with my work. Very little separates me from the piece and the material. The purest pastels use only limited binder and pure pigment, and applying that pigment—layering it on top, scratching it in, delicately laying it down, gently blending it—to ground is a very satisfying feeling.
•• Please tell us a bit about your piece that is being exhibited at Miri Gallery. How does it fall into the theme of mental health awareness?
I struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder in college, especially in times of high-stress. There was a specific moment that inspired this piece. I remember finding myself feeling stuck in the bathroom, arranging the soap dish back and forth repeatedly. My struggle was easy enough to hide from others, but it became more difficult when I was sharing bedrooms and bathrooms with 5 other girls. I had trouble explaining to my roommates why I would take up so much time in the bathroom, or why it was so important to me that things remained in the proper place, and the compulsions I had when I felt they weren't. I couldn't express the way I felt about the compulsion, and after more incidents, I recognized that I needed to make a change.
I soon began cognitive behavior therapy and exposure therapy. While it was extremely unpleasant at the time, it worked. I eventually learned ways to overcome the obsessions. In addition to the therapy, this piece was a way I tried to express the place my mind went during moments of compulsion. I wouldn't go so far as to call my art-making practice a therapy, but I certainly would refer to it as a form of release and communication. It was a way I went backwards to map out the route my mind travelled, and to share with viewers the way I felt about my compulsions at that time in my life.
•• What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
I spend a lot of time in my studio, but not as much time as I'd prefer. Until recently, I worked a full time job as a producer. I recently went down to part time and am also teaching an undergraduate drawing class at my alma mater. Since my time is limited, I often have to come home and "work after work," I usually have to settle into the right mindset. I usually make dinner around 5:30, and have coffee around 6. I usually light a candle, say a small prayer for clarity of mind and purpose, and put on some music that either calms me (if I am anxious) or pumps my blood and excites me to work (which is often, if I am exhausted). If I am feeling especially unfocused, I lean towards books on tape, which helps me to zone in on work for many hours at a time.
•• What do you believe is a key element in creating a good composition?
This is a tricky question, but I believe it's always worth exploring. I believe a strong composition includes an understanding of the natural tendency of eye movement and in directing it. A good composition directs the viewers eye strategically. It also uses technical and aesthetic elements to strengthen the principles of design of the piece. It supports the rhythm, the balance, the movement, etc. I'd say one of the key elements of a good composition is enhancing, not distracting, from the piece's message and aesthetic strengths.
•• What’s the best advice you ever had about how to be more creative?
My great teacher and mentor, Bruce Erikson, always encouraged me to paint the work I wanted to see. It was simple advice, but it has encouraged me to make the work I was truly interested in and was committed to making, rather than letting myself get caught up in trying make the type of work I thought others wanted to see. Not only does it keep me true to my self and my passion, but I am more committed to my work because it comes from a place within me, not from a desire to please those outside of me.
•• Who are your current art inspirations? Do you look to other artist’s work during your artistic process?
I have many inspirations. I have always looked to other artists' work, and have found making master copies and sketching in museums to be one of the most influential and lasting ways of learning. Currently, I am inspired by the religious paintings of Da Vinci, as well as many of the French naturalists and romanticists.
Some favorite historical artists in particular are Jules Breton, Jean François Millet, Charles Courtney Curran, Peter Paul Rubens, William Adolphe Bouguereau, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, and many of the Hudson River school artists. Some of my more current inspirations are Julio Reyes, Robert Ferri, Adam Cross, F. Scott Hess, Harvey Dinnerstein, Ellen Eagle, Zaria Forman, Nick Alm, Brad Kunkle, and Dina Brodsky. Like most artists, I'm also inspired by many things other than painters.
These days, certain writers and musicians that have been especially inspiring include Thomas Merton, James Martin, Lin Manuel Miranda, Nicole Krauss ('History of Love' has become one of my favorite books to date), Gabe Dixon, Eugene Frieson, Martin Hayes and the Gloaming, Annie Dillard, and of course, many of my artist-friends, who both encourage and challenge me frequently.
You can view more of Katherine’s work at Miri Gallery on September 16, and on her website at www.katherinecolborn.com