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Katy Horan, Artist

On occasion, the editors of Sight Unseen spot a story about creativity told from a viewpoint that’s not unlike our own. This one, an interview with Austin, Texas, neo–folk artist Katy Horan, originally appeared on an illustration blog called Pikaland in August, but we chose to feature it anyway because we recently met Katy Horan during a trip to Austin and thought this interview was as nice an introduction to her process and motivation as you’re likely to find. Horan’s newest work can look like paper-cutting at first glance, but in fact it’s meticulously painted, usually in gouache. Inspired not just by folk art but by children’s books, ghost stories, fantasy movies, bluegrass, and traditional feminine crafts, her elaborate handmaidens, grandmothers, and noble ladies exist in a fairy tale world with a dark side. Born in Houston, Horan took drawing classes all throughout her childhood, and now she paints as a form of escape. “I have always been a sucker for anything that allowed me to enter another world,” she says. Find out more about what’s behind her work in the interview excerpt below, then continue reading the rest of the story by following the link to Pikaland.

Interview by Melanie Maddison

Hi Katy, how are you? What are you working on at the moment?
I am great, thanks! I’m experimenting quite a bit these days. I am trying to balance the tiny details with more texture and looseness. I am hoping to make some large scale figures that incorporate ghost and widow imagery… Should be pretty spooky.

How would you describe your art?
I would say I make bizarro lady monsters out of tiny lace patterns that make my hands hurt. That’s the casual version. Here’s the formal version: I intuitively combine fragmented visual references with imagery from my own memory to create something that is both ambiguous and familiar. I do this to filter images from my own subconscious while raising questions of what we visually identify as feminine.


What are your daily inspirations?

I get a lot of inspiration from things I read, listen to and watch. I like to use my work as a filter for all the tiny pieces of inspiration I absorb in my everyday life and that remain from my childhood. Folk and ghost stories are a source that I return to regularly. I am also really into history, so I like to incorporate visual details from the eras that interest me. Right now, I am really into Victorian mourning customs, so there is a lot of widow imagery floating around my head and studio.

How did you first get started in art, is it something that you’ve always been interested in and excelled at?
I always drew. As a kid, I did all kinds of other activities….dance, theater, piano….but art was the only thing that I never got bored with. It always felt more natural to me than anything else. I always wanted to do something visual. I went to college initially to study costume design, but became more interested in children’s books than theater. I then transferred to RISD to study Illustration. After I graduated, my work gradually began shifting towards fine arts, so when galleries began showing interest and publishers weren’t, I decided to pursue a more fine art sort of path. Since then (around 2006) I have been pushing my work and process, trying to find deeper concepts and create more dynamic imagery.

How did you personally learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art and creative expression your career?
My work is at it’s best when I work completely intuitively. I have always sought that place where the conscious mind shuts up and the work becomes meditative. I listen to audio books to distract the nagging, judgmental part of my brain, so that I can work without thought. It’s been a lot of trial and error to find the best way to get around my neurosis and ADD, so that I can just work and not worry about it! As far as confidence goes…I am not sure how I kept that up. I am just so self conscious about everything else that it was a natural choice to pursue the art instead of another career.

And, what daily things give you the incentive/confidence/push to continue?

My work suffers when I remain attached to preconceived notions of what each piece should be. It is scary, but when I allow an image to go into unfamiliar territory, exciting and surprising things happen and I feel good about what I have made. My studio is the safest place for me and I feel the most peaceful when I am engaged in the work. It’s my need for that peace that keeps me going. That said, it really is a hard road and many of us as artists seek some form of success or validation. I have been blessed with some great opportunities, but there have also been a lot of rejections. To keep myself grounded and my work honest, I try to keep everything in perspective, and focus on the enjoyment I get from making the work as opposed to any idea of artistic glory that I may have.

I have read of your work that you really value the connection between people and nature – hence why your art shows characters often performing ‘traditional’ tasks within their everyday environments. How important to you is referencing ‘the everyday’ and ‘the personal’ – those simple everyday nuances of life that perhaps connect us all?
That was a central theme in my older work. I was living in New York City at the time and I think I was reacting to my extreme urban environment by creating extremely natural worlds for my characters. My current work focus much more on singular characters. I went through a big change last year and decided to simplify my compositions so I could develop a new method of working. These characters allow me to explore historical and mythical ideas of femininity which is something that intrigues me every day.

You have created work in many different ways, from acrylic and gouache painting on wood, to pencil drawings and work on paper, to brown pastel paper and tiny brushes. How liberating to your work is the ability for you to work with different materials and explore many different mediums?
It’s very important. It keeps me interested. All mediums have their pros and cons, so eventually with each medium, I get tired of the limitations. It’s refreshing to find a new way to execute my imagery and let go of the hassles of other medium. I worked for a while on stained wood with acrylic and gouache. When I started exploring a new process, I turned to paper because it is so immediate and allowed me to experiment more freely and quickly.

Magic, domesticity, and femininity are all main focuses in your art; is this a direct influence from your love for folk art, and interest in what art and history can teach us about culture and heritage, or is there a more contemporary aspect and comment being made of current society through your depictions?

Honestly, I think it is because I want to escape reality. I have always been a sucker for anything that allowed me to enter another world. I totally indulge this need with my work. I have never really been interested in cultural or social commentary. Even when I am investigating ideas of femininity, it is not overtly critical. It is in part my love of feminine beauty and decoration that my work explores these themes. I think in the end my motivations are purely personal. I just want to connect to the things I find beautiful and magical.

How important do you think it is to include and represent traditional ‘folk’ art forms in contemporary artwork like yours?
I think it is very important. All these art forms that at one point may have been considered outside or less than by the contemporary art world can make our work so much more interesting and dynamic. There has been a noticeable acceptance of (for lack of a better term) “low brow” art forms such as illustration and folk art lately, and I think it’s a very exciting development for the art world.

To continue reading the rest of the interview, click here to visit Pikaland.