Pierogi: The work that you have in the flat files here consists of watercolor works on paper, of very intimate and delicate bed scenes, some with figures and some without. But you also make paintings that aren’t figurative, right?
KT: After working for about five years on drawings and paintings of my husband and I sleeping, I decided to empty the imagery out, remove all but traces of the figures, and began making paintings of ‘empty’ beds. I had a show at Studio10, at 56 Bogart St., of empty bed drawings and paintings opposite drawings of tsunami waves. To me, it’s not that there are no people in these works, it’s that the figures are off to the side, or just got up and left.
P: I was curious about how you feel about the work with and without the figures present, since they seem to really be the driving content in the bedscapes.
KT: Well, there was one painting (‘Raft’ 2009) that became a key piece for me when it came to figuration. I was wondering, “What am I doing?” – the painting seemed to be figurative for no reason. But part of emptying the content out, particularly the actual human figure, (which I thought was what I was interested in), was that I found out that it really wasn’t so much the people as the people in relationship with their surroundings that I wanted to explore.
P: And how about the other subjects of your work, such as the tsunami drawings and the windows?
KT: The tsunami drawings came from watching hours of YouTube videos of the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and taking screen shots of the footage. I then draw from those. Recently, I showed these drawings in a grid and they’re getting more abstract, but they retain a lot of content. Someone (Jerry Kearns) told me that I was a romantic minimalist, which was kind of exciting.
I have a show coming up at Richmond Center for the Arts, Western Michigan University. There will be a catalogue. It’s a very big gallery so I’ve been scaling the work up – some paintings up to 7 feet, and one drawing to 8×42 feet. I’m working on ‘minimal’ paintings of Brooklyn windows.
P: Where did your fascination with water come from?
KT: I nearly drowned when I was a child. That popped into my head just now, but when I was about eleven I nearly drowned. It happened at an unhappy period of my life, and part of me was so caught up in the experience (my life appearing before my eyes) that I was sorry when I surfaced. Maybe that has something to do with the water as subject. But I’ve been thinking a lot about global warming, and the first drawings that came out of this were from the tsunami in Japan. I did the sleeping drawings right after getting married: I was so appreciative of my husband and being in love, and we got married the summer before 9/11. From that moment on I was very aware of domestic security as well as the threats to it.
P: I read an interview with John Currin recently and it had a lot to do with the fact that prior to being married, his work often came out of angst, and after he fell in love, he became concerned with making work about genuine love, and how to do that in a sincere and not cliché way. It was really beautiful and compelling.
KT: That’s how I felt. My work had often been motivated by fury. I love Leon Golub and Nancy Spero’s work. I got to know them, and felt a strong affinity with the way their work was motivated by political outrage. After getting married and after 9/11 I had to figure out how to put images of beauty and love into the world without them being clichéd.
P: How do you feel that color has changed throughout your work? Especially between the figurative work which has some color, and then the drawings being void of color?
KT: In the drawings, the lack of color is due to the materials – graphite and white paper. I’ve also been making monochromatic paintings lately. I cover the surface with paint and then erase it. I saw the Robert Ryman black paintings and I realized I’m making blacks the same way that he does, using primary colors and layering. I’ve always painted in primary colors anyway. Color has been more and more restrained in my work over the years, and slowly it’s coming back in. But for this upcoming show I’m interested in darkness and light, and the most successful way to do that is with black and white.
P: I’m wondering about the vantage point of some of your work. The window pieces seem to evoke a voyeuristic point of view, but the tsunami works are much more omnipresent. And the bedscapes are very intimate and private. Can you talk about how you approach the vantage point in the window drawings?
KT: I read an article in the New Yorker about homelessness in New York. One of the interviewees, a young homeless woman, talked about anybody who lives in a home as “the housed,” so people with homes were this separate entity from her. I started subconsciously thinking about the idea of people losing their homes and the potential of that loss. The vantage points of the window pieces are from the position of being shut out.
When I moved to America I was amazed that people don’t have curtains here and that you could just look into their homes. My dad had this ritual where we had to close the curtains as soon as it got dark in order to keep the heat in. I thought it was so interesting that New Yorkers just don’t seem to care about people looking in their windows.
P: Yeah, I agree, especially people in ground-floor apartments.
KT: It’s so strange but it’s great! I love that I can just peer in.
P: Me too! Do you typically use imagery that is specific to a geographic location, a real moment that you have experienced?
KT: Yes, they usually are specific. The tsunami images are different in that they’re from screen shots of real but distant events and – the rest of my imagery is from observation, physical proximity and experience.
P: Do you search for imagery?
KT: Yeah, for a long time I’ve been drawing and taking photographs of windows and revisiting them in different lights. It felt odd doing these tsunami drawings because it felt like it wasn’t my place, I felt embarrassed, as though I was taking advantage of somebody’s horrible situation. But the images were so powerful that they made their way into drawings despite that.
We didn’t get a TV until I was about nine years old, and it made such an impact on me, making these drawings of a catastrophic event kind of reminded me of seeing those types of images in black and white.
P: Did your upbringing have any affect on this work? Either the geography or your personal history?
KT: Today I got off the bus at a different stop than usual and I was thinking “God I really love the way this place looks,” and I wondered if I would say that about England. I don’t think that I would. I love England, but New York is still foreign enough to look really exciting. It never lost that wonder to me. In England, there’s a strong tradition of observation and drawing, which I feel started me off on a good foundation.
P: What shows do you have coming up?
KT: I have the Richmond Center for the Arts solo show coming up this Fall. I’m also curating a show to accompany that show (I have a very part-time gallery ‘Big & Small/Casual’)
In March/April, I’ll be showing work at Paul D’Agostino’s ‘Centotto’ in Bushwick.
Kate Teale’s drawings in Pierogi’s flat files can be browsed in person at the gallery and online here.