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Spicing Up the Art World: An Interview with Glens Falls Artist Kate Austin-Avon

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An Interview with Artist Kate Austin-Avon

By Monica Sirignano

Kate Austin AvonKate Austin-Avon believes in putting the fun back into art. Take a look at her artist’s statement and you’ll see it simply says “Wheeee!” It’s exactly this kind of playful and colorful attitude that also shines through her work. A talented and creative artist who’s been showing her work since 2006, Kate works mainly in mixed media, juggling her involvement with the Glens Falls Arts community. She maintains a studio at The Shirt Factory (a converted t-shirt factory in Glens Falls, now home to many artist studios, galleries and shops), and serves on both the Art in the Public Eye and North Country Arts Center boards, the latter of which she also served as Co-President for two years. Kate’s latest show, “The Flow”, opens tomorrow (June 4) at The Shirt Factory and runs through June 30, 2011. I recently got a chance to talk to Kate about her work, her recent marriage, and her new business helping promote other area artists.

The Free George: You have a new show opening up at The Shirt Factory this week, can you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be showing?

Kate Austin-Avon: I’ll be showing new works—some of them are brightly-colored textural paintings made with ink on Yupo, a plastic paper. Those are kind of like Rorschach tests—I make this big mess and lay in kosher salt, plastic wrap, bits of my hair, cheesecloth, and other studio droppings (whatever is laying around that catches my fancy) and then I stand back to see what it looks like. Then I help it become that—whether it’s a goat-duck, an octopus, or the universe! Another style I’ve been working in is made on canvas laid thickly with gesso. Those are what I’m calling Memory Maps; crude drawings of places as I remember them from my past, in pencil with dirty faded colors.

TFG: You’re very involved in the Glens Falls arts community, which is a growing arts scene. What benefits do you think are offered to artists living and working in smaller towns, rather than for instance such a vast arts scape as NYC?

KA: You said exactly it—I think that Glens Falls is fantastic because you can just stand up one day and call yourself an artist one day and that’s that! There are so many opportunities locally to show your work, no matter whether you’re some kind of prodigy or just starting to find your way. Between LARAC, Art in the Public Eye’s Third Thursday Art Walk, The Shirt Factory, North Country Arts Center and just the general community of sweet and generous gallery and restaurant owners willing to try something different, there is a lot going on here for an emerging artist. And once you’ve done that whole calling yourself an artist thing, it catches on easily enough in a small city like Glens Falls, too. I much prefer to be a big fish in a little pond and to feel I’m making a big splash here in Glens Falls than to fade into the wallpaper of a big city. I feel like I’m making a real impact on Glens Falls, rather than just blending in with the scenery.

TFG: You work a lot with mixed media, which is great. Does working that way allow you more freedom of expression?

KA: Yes! One of the reasons I left the art program at Hartwick was because I couldn’t choose a concentration. I wanted to try everything! Mixed media means whatever I feel like working in at the time, and I love that I’m not locked in as a watercolorist or collage artist, but rather get to do whatever I want without losing my brand or calling it some big change in my art style. It’s like getting to call yourself a person instead of a nerd or blonde or woman—it’s a label I don’t mind because it’s pretty all-encompassing and allows me great freedom.

TFG: When working with mixed media, do you gravitate towards any certain types?

KA: I’ve been experimenting lately with canvas and creating texture with gesso and inlaid objects there, but I think my true love is working on big sheets of Yupo. Yupo is a plastic paper that inks and watercolors slide around on top of – and you can use gesso on it too. It’s smooth and beautiful and forgiving because you can wipe paints off with water or rubbing alcohol (depending on the type of paint). The only thing I really can’t stand about Yupo is that then I have to frame my works, and I’m crummy at measuring because I’m impatient. Also, framing is expensive. I don’t love that it’s plastic, either, because I try to be pretty eco-conscious. In terms of what I put on top of the Yupo, it’s typically bright inks and watercolor, and then I lay in salt, lopped-off pieces of my hair, plastic wrap, and whatever garbage is laying around, just to see what kind of marks it all makes.

Bridezilla by Kate Austin-AvonTFG: Awhile back you had a series of pieces at Aimee’s Dinner and a Movie, one or two of which revolved around weddings. I think one of them may have been called Bridezilla. I really enjoyed those. They were playful and colorful, yet totally fun and edgy at the same time. I know you recently got married–were these a sort of fun way of getting the angst out about all the craziness involved in the wedding planning process?

KA: Bridezilla—and a lot of my figurative work, actually—is definitely a way to express stresses. The screaming girl is a recurring character, based on hideous self-portraits I used to make in high school to get my self-hatred out of my mind and onto paper where it felt exorcised. For some reason, painting the screaming girl lets me laugh at it a little and just scream through my artwork, which helps me get rid of that feeling. I actually made a companion piece to Bridezilla called Coryzilla (my husband’s name is Cory) —while she’s screaming and the words in the red background are things like “PERFECT” and “MY DAY”—he’s there smiling and angelic with a peaceful blue background with words in the background like “You look beautiful” and “Is there anything I can do to help?” which is exactly how he is. The Coryzilla painting was a gift to him that I surprised him with at our wedding last June—they were both on display there.

TFG: On that topic, how is married life treating you?

KA: Married life is great! Cory is fantastic – the peaceful calm in every Katezilla moment and ever-supportive. And he does the dishes, the laundry, vacuums obsessively… It works out because I hate doing that stuff. Not that I think he likes it, but he does it. And I don’t! We are perhaps a little more boring and stay in more often now that we’re married, but I don’t think it’s the married bit so much as the coincidence of more busy schedules and less extra money than we used to have. Anyway, Cory is perfect. Being married to him rocks.

TFG: You’ve recently launched a new business, Advocate. How’s that coming, and what made you decide to venture into press and promotion for other area artists?

KA: Advokate is BOOMING! I’m writing this now and freaking out about not getting to all the other things I have going on this week. My phone rings off the hook! I feel like I’m always working – but I don’t mind it at all since it’s working for myself. I’m far from rolling in cash or anything, but it’s definitely taken off and is a real business. The idea came about because I heard artist friends lament that they didn’t have time to do their artwork because they were so wrapped up in the business side of being an artist. I thought to myself, “Hey, I can help with that stuff.” It took off from under me because apparently there is really a need for affordable promotions help in this area. I just keep letting it evolve—as people call me and ask if I can help with something, I learn what I’m capable of!

TFG: I know you do a lot of work with Etsy, which a lot of artists seem to be using nowadays. You teach classes as well to help artists learn how to best integrate with Etsy. Why do you feel it, particularly, is such a helpful avenue for artists?

KA: I found Etsy to be an amazing community when I was starting out crafting—their forums and the way the site is designed was just really crafter-friendly, seeming to genuinely have the crafter’s interest at heart rather than just out to make a buck. And it’s a great way to sell things yourself with very little overhead. As Etsy has grown, it’s become even more streamlined and more and more people visit the site to shop. So I say to my students that it’s like having a store in the mall versus on some random road—people go there to buy. It’s clean, easy to use, and keeps growing and morphing to fit crafters’ needs. The down side of it is that an Etsy store needs quite a bit of attention to blossom—you need to list regularly and pay good attention to your listings in order for it to really work since there are now so many crafters using the site.

TFG: In regards to other artists, whose work do you admire most? Local or international artists throughout history?

KA: As a kid, I loved Monet—and when my mom brought me to see the Musee d’Orsay in Paris several years ago it was a really emotional experience. In college, I really admired Marcel Duchamp and how he really took things to a new level, breaking the standards and getting in your face. I like rebel art. Locally, I really admire Laura Neadle, whose teaching is responsible for pretty much my entire Glens Falls art career launch—she taught me how not only how to paint and introduced me to some of my favorite materials, but she also taught me to mat, frame, have prints made and show my work. She is incredibly talented as well. I saw a painting of hers hanging at (then) Ridge Street Coffee Co. and was just fascinated with her work and needed to learn how it was done. There are a number of local artists whose work I really love, but if I got going I know I’d end up with a huge long list and would still leave some out. So I guess I’ll leave it at that.

TFG: What are certain things in art that you haven’t explored that you’d like to explore in the future?

KA: In college I did a little bit of welding scrap metal and I really enjoyed that. If startup costs, time and storage space weren’t an object, I think I’d really like to work in large-scale sculpture and get crazy with it. Unfortunately I don’t end up with much time for art, squeezing it in small bursts around Advokate and my duties at the Shirt Factory where I am part of the management team — and I’ve only got so much space in my studio! I’d also really like to publish books of all kinds – my old sketchbooks, a book of these cartoon “Idiotic Idioms” I’ve made that might work well as a coloring book, an autobiography… Again, time gets in the way!

For more on Kate Austin-Avon, visit her website at Kate’s latest exhibit, “The Flow”, opens at The Shirt Factory in Glens Falls on June 4, 2011 and runs through June 30, 2011. There will be a reception on June 4 from 5pm-8pm.

–Monica Sirignano is Co-Publisher of The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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