Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hair embroideries at The Belger Art Center exhibition in Kansas City, MO: "Undressed", Hair Embroideries & Psychological Clothing by Kate Kretz, June 1st - Sept 7th. (click to enlarge)"Oubliette I", human hair embroidery on cotton, 5 x 7" oval frame, convex glass, 2006
"Oubliette I" (detail)

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Excitedly (and a bit frantically) getting ready for departure to the Surface Design Conference in Kansas City tomorrow. Flying out and rooming with my buddy LM. Trying to get a grant application out before I leave. If there is any time, I am making ginger cookies... some for my sweetie, and some for the Belger boys. Will blog from the conference. If you (or anyone you know) lives in Kansas City, tell them to come out on Friday night to the Belger Art Center, 2100 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64108. I will be giving a gallery talk at 5:30, and the reception is from 6-9pm. For further information, call (816) 474-3250, ext. 308. It will be First Friday, so all the galleries will be open and featuring amazing exhibitions (I peeked while I was there).

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Shipping Defense Mechanism Coat round trip $800
Shipping dress forms & pillows round trip $130
Shipping fan for Summer Night Breeze Dress round trip $24
Belt sander for Def Mech Coat Crate $50
Lumber for crate $30
Jigsaw for cutting crate and dress forms $70
Roundtrip airfare for set-up, take down, and opening $570
Car rental set up and take down $110
Hotel for set up and take down $210

An opportunity to show your work, in the hopes that "something might happen" - priceless.

My friend Pip, who is a bit of a cynic, used to say "The best part about having an exhibition is the first 5 minutes after they tell you you've got the show; it's all downhill from there."

I like the moment that you take a good long look after the whole show is hung, and you are alone in the space, trying to imagine what it will look like to someone seeing the work for the first time. (At the Belger, Mo made me walk all the way back to the freight elevator and get on, so he could open up the gate and let me see the view to the defense mechanism coat, at the end of a long steel plate walkway that leads you up to it, because the effect was so dramatic.)

I like getting ready for the opening, going to the opening, and going out after the opening. (The absolute best is when there is someone in attendance who has known you for many years, and knows how long and how hard you have worked at this, someone who has seen you when you have not slept for 4 days in a row because you want to finish a piece... celebrating an opening with someone like my brother, who has been there since the beginning, is incredible.)

I always enjoy having some time alone in the space to take stock, and really see where you have been, where you are, and where you are going with your work, thinking about where you might go next, and remembering that it is "all forward" from here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

click to enlarge

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sneak Preview....

Look how brilliantly Eddie and Jeff lit the Defense Mechanism sparkles!

There are a few pieces outside the black room, then the majority of the work is inside. (I have always wanted to show my work in a black room.) I left the Belger thrilled with the results. Will post the rest of the pics after the show opens next week.

Many galleries were closed yesterday, but I did a breakneck tour of the Nelson-Atkins. Can't wait to go back to Kansas City next week and see more art!

Today have many business requests to tend to.... it will be a busy week. The Artspace show in Raleigh comes down on Saturday, and I have to wrap that up before leaving for Kansas City. Proposals and grant appplications, with a little drawing, through the end of this week.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Today was an amazing day. I love what I have seen of Kansas City. There is something about this place that I find invigorating. The industrial architecture, Union Station, the barbecue (I had awesome hickory smoked barbecued LAMB for dinner tonight), and they play blues everywhere... they were pumping it out into the gas station islands while I was pumping gas! I spent the day blissed out, installing the show in a huge gorgeous space, with its freight elevator and worn wooden floors. It has been one of the easiest installations I have ever done: Jeff and Eddie hung while I prepped the dresses. They were amazing, coming up with quick and creative solutions to several challenges that came up. The show looks great, very dramatic, I did not have as much room as I anticipated, so I left one piece out. Will post pics tomorrow or Weds.

Mo oversees exhibitions here, and he has the most amazing truck covered with mosaic tile, done by students at the Art Institute. I was going to cover my '79 Toyota Corolla with glass blobs a few years back, but it died before I got around to it, so I am insanely jealous of this truck. (click to enlarge)

Slept well last night, but still pretty wiped. Tomorrow, go back to check lighting & photograph... if I have time, will hit a few galleries & the Nelson Atkins before heading back.
Packed on Saturday, slept not a single minute Saturday night, up at 4:30a.m. to fly from Raleigh to Kansas City. I am excited: Kansas City is cool. Lots of public art, several museums, and they have saved so many of the beautiful old downtown buildings. I ironed pillowcases & dresses all day in my room at the Best Western, and went to look at the space tonight to think about where to place things when we start hanging tomorrow. I think I brought too many pieces, and we will have to narrow down. Exhausted. bed.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

My Fiber Art Imposter Complex, and a day of French Seams

In a few weeks, my show at The Belger Art Center opens, and I will find myself living out the precise scenario that I have been dreading for years: standing in a gallery with a selection of my textile-based art, giving a talk to a roomful of people who have been dyeing, sewing, and generally working with fabric since they were old enough to thread a needle. In this particular lecture, where I am showing only fibers, I will certainly begin my talk by coming clean on my level of expertise.

I snuck into fiber arts through the back door about 5 years ago. I fell into working with fabric out of necessity: the two dimensional media became inadequate when trying to communicate some aspects of vulnerability. I decided that I wanted get deeper: I wanted to get INSIDE. Embracing the fragile, mutable nature of cloth, the Psychological Clothing series was born. The work was dictating the medium, and I just followed along, running to catch up. I have taught myself everything I know about textiles from books, the internet, and trial and error. While I strive, and I believe, succeed, at maintaining the highest levels of craftsmanship, I have approached these projects the way one would a sculpture in a new material, learning the technique needed to solve each problem individually. I honestly believe that I was only able to make The Defense Mechanism Coat because I was not informed enough to know better.

15 years of controling a paintbrush did not prepare me for my attempts at precision while collaborating with a bulky machine that posesses its own idiosyncrasies of thread tension and feeder-foot speed. My hand is not yet as steady on the machine as it is when wrapped around a pencil. I am a nervous sewer… my foot is always resting on the pedal, engaging the motor at a low hum as I take a deep breath before running the next bit of fabric through: the equivalent of riding the clutch. I keep meaning to take a real sewing class, but there has never been any time, so I have been teaching myself each skill as I need it, task-by task, as I did this morning , with the French seams webpage.

I am fortunate in possessing the drive to learn how to do things the correct way, and the obsessiveness to get them right or do them over, so things usually turn out well. It's just that the process is inevitably nervewracking (My father used to say “Kate has worried her way to success in virtually everything that she has done”). But Friday morning, at 8 a.m., I was reading how to do a french seam online, and 20 minutes later, I was doing it, on an artwork that will someday, if not Monday, hang in an art venue. (I had lots of extra material in case I had to cut out the pattern a second or third time.) It requires nerves of steel, as you must trim close to your seam with pinking shears, without cutting the seam,
and I am working in silk organza, a transparent fabric that unravels and pulls easily, and shows every mistake.

I suppose that French Seams make my heart pound, and they feel like risk-taking behavior only because they are on a garment that will be going on display. I did my first french seams on this piece, and Summer Night Sky dress was the first time I hand dyed something, Physical Memory/Last Goodbye the first time I discharged, etc.

But the day went well, the dress (which is only part of the total piece) got finished, and I'm pretty proud of it. I feel like an old pro at French Seams. And the talk will be fine... until someone raises their hand and asks me what size and type of needle I prefer for sewing organza.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Carry on-

6 dresses
2 purses
2 purse stands
4 pillowcases
1 pillowcase stand
emergency sewing kit MINUS scissors
Oubliette, boxed
Defense Mechanism Coat Hardware
Ironing Ham
Press cloth
Blow up doll
Air Pump
Spray bottles
Masking tape, roly poly lint thing
Camera cord
Brag book
Business cards

Checked suitcase-

extra hardware
garbage bags
personal clothes & toiletries, 2 days, work

It will be interesting to see if an xray of the Vagina Dentate Purse promps an open bag check, and more interesting still to see the face of the person I will be explaining it to.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Everything is clean, checked, touched up, wrapped, and ready to go, with the exception of the piece I am finishing for the show. Yesterday, I framed “Oubliette I” in a Victorian oval frame with curved glass. It is there is a peculiar kind of preciousness to handling something very small that has consumed so many hours of your time to make.

I had stretched it onto a rectangle to photograph it months ago, but yesterday, had to cut the oval, stretch it, and put the whole thing together.

(Thanks again, old undergraduate framing "shit job" at Prints-N-Things!)

Today, been sewing all day. Addressing postcards each evening, when I am too brain dead to sew. National postcards go out before I leave on Sunday. On the plane trip, I will address international textile museum postcards, because I don't expect them to come see the show, I just want them to look at my pictures.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ed Winkleman talks about keeping one's edge as an established artist. Some of his most interesting posts come up when I am too swamped to comment properly, and today is no different. I leave for Kansas City before dawn on Sunday.

Threat of Heavy Weather clean, press

Dream. check

Ebb. More subtleties, rephotograph

My Young Lover more hair?, check, curls, stand from Frost show

Oubliette I clean, frame, wrap

Defense Mechanism Coat airplane wire, tape for fuzzies, hook, hardware

Physical Memory/Last Goodbye Dress check

Fertilization Purse check, pearls, stand

Vagina Dentate Purse check, stand

Individuation Dress check

Summer Night Breeze Dress
clear buttons, fan check, add leaves

Fertilization Dress check

I'm Still Here finish, stiffy or cornstarch,

Crate for Defense Mech Coat, ship X
MERKIN finish & mail X
Buy, drill, ship fan X
Ship dress forms X
Frame Oubliette
Clean Threat
Check others
Finish I’m still here
Prep return mailing labels
Buy box in Kansas for return ship of I’m still here
Fishing line
Double stick tape
Sewing kit with all threads
Needles (buy new)
Airplane wire
white extension cord for fan
blow up doll, pump
long screws for fan
postcards to hand out

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Unable to leave well-enough alone.....

Instead of packing it in a box, shipping it off, crossing it off the to-do list and sitting back to savor the feeling of satisfaction, Kate stays up half the night and most of today creating grass on the "Gatekeeper Merkin" by sewing embroidery thread through the already applied felt.

(So it will be more "fiber-arty", because it is a fiber art show...)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Unveiling: My Merkin.

Here is the press release for the "Intimate Apparel" group show in Kansas City:

Release Date: EMBARGO until May 15, 2007

Gallery Contact: Jody Wilkins Curator Contact: Linda Gass
816-210-6534 or 650-948-1752

The Intimate Apparel Exhibit: Reviving an undercover cover-up

“Intimate Apparel” is an unusual and provocative exhibit of artists’ merkins on view June 1 – 30, 2007 at the Pi Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri. Curator Linda Gass invited 23 artists from around the world to participate and the resulting collection of 37 works is wildly diverse and inspired.

“What is a merkin?” you might ask. Few speakers of the English language know the meaning of the word. Dictionaries vary on the definition however most agree that it's a pubic wig. The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "an artificial covering of hair for the female pubic region; a pubic wig for women."

The origin of the merkin goes back many centuries to a time when pubic lice were a common problem and women had to shave their pubic area to eradicate the lice and relieve the itching. Someone then invented merkins to replace the shaved hair. Prostitutes were frequent wearers of merkins as well, using them to cover up the marks of syphilis and genital warts so they could appear to be disease-free and therefore still employable. As hygiene improved and drugs were developed, the need for merkins disappeared.

When asked why she wanted to create this exhibit, curator Linda Gass replied “I thought it would be fun and fascinating to use this obscure historical object as a format for making art. It seemed like there were so many possibilities for expression and I wanted to see what this group of talented artists could do. The works they have created have exceeded my expectations.”

The invited artists are innovators in their respective fields – some are inventors of key surface design techniques and others have significantly expanded on traditional techniques. A common characteristic in all of the artists is their willingness to take risks. They have created a collection of visually exciting pieces utilizing weaving, embroidery, crochet, quilting, fusing, felting, silkscreening, monoprinting, marbling, beading, bookmaking, basketry, painting, casting, burning, and mixed media assemblage.

The artists explore a wide range of issues in the artwork for this exhibition. Although the original function of the merkin was to replace something “lost” in an area of the body we often consider very private and vulnerable, the artists have gone far beyond these beginnings. The artworks address sexuality, fertility, shame, self-esteem, danger, power struggles and domination, flirtation and seduction, voyeurism, pleasure, and the stages of our lives. Many of the artists use humor in their work - some directly through use of illustrative graphics, others more subtly through their choice of materials or title.

The artists’ merkins are made from diverse and sometime surprising materials. In addition to fabrics such as velvet, silk, cotton and lace, the artists have used beads, sequins, human hair, X-acto blades, silicone fishing bait, bobby pins, pine cone scales, chrysanthemum stamens, lichen collected from the Black Forest in Germany, seaweed, glass eyes, fish skin, vintage keys, match sticks, mirrors, aluminum, copper wire, rusted metal washers, and plastic and glass fruit. One of the merkins will literally come to life during the exhibit: it is made of moss and seeds and visitors to the gallery will be able to interact with the merkin by misting it with water to help it grow.

The exhibit is part of a group of exhibitions on view in conjunction with the 14th International Surface Design Conference at the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. Before being matched with a gallery, the exhibit proposal went through a rigorous review process and was selected as a finalist by the Conference Committee. Pi Gallery founder and director, Jody Wilkins, said she selected “Intimate Apparel” from the finalists for her gallery because she “thought it would be a fun exhibit” and she “liked the idea of having different artists at different stages in their careers showing work on a common theme.”

Pi Gallery was founded in 2004 by Jody Wilkins with the intent to create a comfortable space for people to view and appreciate the works of both emerging and established artists. Shows feature a broad range of styles, content and media. The gallery is located at 419 E. 18th Street on the east side of the Crossroads Art District, Kansas City, MO. The gallery is open Thursday through Saturday 11 am – 5 pm, the first Friday of the month 6-9 pm, and by appointment. For more information, please visit the gallery’s website at, phone 816-210-6534 or email

For more information about the exhibit, please visit the exhibit website at or contact curator, Linda Gass at 650-948-1752.

"Gatekeeper Merkin", 2006, 5.5 x 5.5 x 3", acrylic, cut laminated wood, found plastic parts, felt

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The "Post-Studio Approach" vs. art made by the artist’s OWN HANDS....

Before that, let me share with you our first peonies of the year......
Friday night's opening was great, lots of wonderful work, and it is always a treat to see my friend Carol. We both make very obsessive work in traditional media, informed by, but somewhat resistant to, contemporary art practice. We are also perfectly matched in our definitions of art world success, and frustrations with the system, so whenever we meet, we are always comparing notes and sharing information. We were joined for dinner by two other artists from the show, and Carol was telling me that she went to hear a very prominent NY gallerist speak, and learned that for every artist they represent, there are several people in the gallery working for that particular artist, and one of the things that the gallery people do is coordinate production of the work, much of which is done overseas, to cut expenses. In art, as in life.... outsourcing. We all ruminated on how an artist, alone in the studio, could possibly compete with that kind of art-making machine? (As we were discussing this, it became particularly resonant to me that I had spent most of Thursday making a crate.)

We discussed the employment of assistants, and the frightening implication of surrendered control. I have employed assistants before, usually in some fit of desperation: when I was finishing the Defense Mechanism Coat, my wrists started to give out from spending 12+ hours a day pushing nails through a wool coat. I wanted to finish the piece for a show, and it would have been physically impossible to do so without help.

When finishing “My Young Lover” for the Frost Museum show, (a piece made by threading thousands of strands of my ex-boyfriend’s hair through a pillow so it would appear to "grow" out of the pillow), I hired a few students to come to the studio in shifts and put drops of glue on the individual hairs before I threaded them through.

Back in the days of teaching full time, it was easy to find an assistant whenever I reached a crunch… I hired ex-students, so I always had an established sense of whether they possessed the necessary fastidiousness. With the coat, I was blessed to find Simone, who not only shared my perfectionsim, but had a tremendous work ethic. In the final weeks of the project, when we were pushing to finish, I would try to get her to leave at a reasonable hour, but she knew I would be working through most of the night, so she often worked alongside me into the wee hours of the morning, refusing to go home until I gave up and crashed for a few hours.

It might be time to start looking for some help again, (at the very least, for things like crate-building). A general posting to the local art departments may or may not yield a good match: I am basically looking for someone with the same borderline OC tendencies as myself, the kind of person who will bring a compulsive care to the activity. As an ex-Catholic, there is a part of me that believes that the work is supposed to be born of MY sweat, MY blood, MY tears, or it is not authentic. I guess that when other artists have assistants totally fabricate their concepts, they "bless" the object at the end of the process instead. Yes, I know that there have been artist workshops for hundreds of years... but cathexis (thanks, Sarah) is such an essential part of my artmaking process, it is hard to imagine where I would be comfortable drawing the line.

In related news, I will be going to California in a few weeks: I started researching what is showing in the Los Angeles area, and stumbled upon an exhibition entitled "Poetics of the Handmade", showing at MOCA.

According to the press release, "Poetics of the Handmade features a group of artists based in Latin America whose works of art are made by the artists’ own hands. While many of the artists' contemporaries tend toward a post-studio approach with assistants producing their work, this group explores the close relationship that exists between a person and his or her craft. The artists' interest in transformation and process has led them to produce works that are painstakingly handcrafted from a wide range of materials."

Between the demands of the ever-crazy art market (take advantage while it lasts?) and the careerism and artist-as-project-manager-approach being taught in MFA programs, art that is hand made by the artist is in danger of becoming a niche market. With the artist's "hand" taken out of the equation, I wonder how they will be able to detect forgeries of these million dollar artworks in the years to come? More importantly, what satisfaction does the artist gain? I have always felt like a five-year-old whenever a project reaches completion: I want to say, "Look what I made!". Sometimes, it is even more magical than that: I get involved in the process and my hands ache and I am exhausted from pulling a few late or all-nighters, and finally, it is finished. I look at the piece and say "wow... did I really make that?!"

As opposed to, "you have executed the design perfectly, according to my specifications.... thank you."

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Art Preparation Marathon Continues....

The Defense Mechanism Coat is wrapped in its new shroud,
inside a gorgeous crate (photographed by a very fuzzy, tired artist at about 2 a.m.)
that took all day yesterday to make. The 160 lb., $400-to-ship-one-way-insured crate is sitting in the garage, waiting for the DHL guys to come pick it up. Kevin offered to help with the crate, but my ego, feminist, and control monsters insisted upon doing it themselves, and today, muscles in various hitherto unknown parts of my body are paying the price.

Today, shift focus to finishing a secret project for the Intimate Apparel Exhibition, a group exhibition in Kansas City. I'm still not alowed to talk about it. Here is the postcard (click to enlarge):
And here is the postcard for my upcoming exhibition at The Belger Arts Center in Kansas City (ditto on the clicking):
Getting fiber stuff ready for this show will consume all of next week, culminating in a flight to Kansas City on the 20th for installation. After that, NOTHING but making art in the studio (back to my big paintings, with embroidery in the evenings).

Tonight is "Homegrown", an exhibition opening at SECCA in Winston Salem, and one of the featured artists, my friend Carol Prusa, is flying in for the reception from FL. Tomorrow I am getting up at 6 a.m. to drive to a day-long, public art workshop.

P.S. Watched the film "Jesus Camp" a few nights back, via Netflix. Amazing & scary. Worth a look.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Back to Grunt Work...

Things are going well with the show: did an interview today, The Independent (free paper) ran a photo last week, and the Raleigh News and Observer included the show in their critic's picks for the week.

Back in the studio, or rather the kitchen, (as I have overflowed into the house today), I am sewing a new carrier for the Defense Mecahanism Coat.
For previous exhibitions, I have always driven the coat to its destination, and moved it around on an old comforter, which lowered into a specially made crate. Now that I am shipping the coat to Kansas City, I am working on a more presentable, professional and efficient way to move it from point A to point B without injury. Today and tomorrow I finish the carrier, reinforce the crate, and generally fuss over the coat, meticulously "neatening up" the parts that don't show, in case someone peeks. The exhibition in Kansas City overlaps with The Surface Design Conference, which means that REAL fiber artists will be looking at the coat (as opposed to artists who wandered into fibers, like yours truly), and I want it to be perfect.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

"Sublime Imperfection" at Artspace in Raleigh, through May 26th. We had a great turnout for the opening last night, despite the rain... several thousand people. Fantastic feedback, and some interesting faces from the ones who DIDN'T give any feedback. Someone paid me a great compliment by saying, "People might ultimately love your work, or hate your work, but the one thing they cannot do is just walk past it without stopping."

Today, I am on to the next show: polishing up the Defense Mechanism Coat and its crate for shipping to Kansas City.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


If you live in the Raleigh area, or have friends who do, please encourage them to come out to First Friday in downtown Raleigh, and to stop in at ArtSpace, where I will be having an opening for my first one-person exhibition in my new home state. Stop in and say hello!

The show, entitled "Sublime Imperfection", will feature drawings and paintings in various media, referencing human vulnerability and dysfunctionality in a lurid palette influenced by images of Catholicism and Technicolor films.

"Sublime Imperfection"
Drawings and paintings by Kate Kretz
May 4-26, 2007
Opening: Friday May 4th, from 6-10 pm.
Artspace, 201 E. Davie St., Raleigh, NC
phone: (919) 821-2787.
Hours: Tues.-Sat., from 10 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., First Friday Gallery Walk until 10:00 p.m. Admission is free.
Located in Raleigh's Historic City Market, at Blount & Davie Streets.


"The Initiate", 2007, acrylic/oil on found rug, 60 x 24".

The two new pieces are difficult to photograph. In reality, the baby is darker than it appears here because I have to lighten the image to show the carpet. I will post again when the official photos are taken.

The show went up yesterday, though I will go back tomorrow to "polish" everything, after Sacred Ovaries arrives from Miami. I have decided that I need to put a stabilizer behind the carpet at the bottom to straighten it, so that it hangs neatly and the corners do not curl back.

Today, I am still exhausted, but I must get the studio back in shape, as it is time to shift gears and prepare for the Kansas City show which will be all the hair embroideries & select Psychological Clothing, with a new clothing piece. I was telling the gallery director as we were putting up the show yesterday that it had been a week of insomnia for me. She responded that, in the past, when they mounted shows a day before the opening, she has had artists almost sleep through their own receptions.

Radley sleeping in the sunny spot, oblivious to the cleaning going on around him:

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Crying Man IV, 2007, oil on black gesso, 24 x 18".