Sunday, June 05, 2016

Kate Kretz Career Narrative

 Recently completed for a major grant application, my art life in a nutshell:

1963 – 1981
I am the eldest of five, born into a lower-class Catholic family. Mom is mentally ill, still undiagnosed. Dad was a high school French & Latin Teacher father who loved (and lived in) books and films. Before the days of videotape, my father put us to bed at 6 p.m., so he could wake us at 9 to watch classic films on TV. Remarkably, during my ninth year, we rented out our house, and lived in a Paris suburb for a year while my father was on sabbatical. I spent 5th grade in a French Public School. We ate lots of cheap sausage and bread, and had no Christmas presents that year, but we all knew how lucky we were, nevertheless.

Harboring a love for both art and literature in high school, I chose to spend my first year after graduation in France: I knew I would be putting myself through school, and wanted take some time to be sure I made the right choice. I left for Europe with $200 in my pocket, worked as an au pair for a prominent French family. I attended the Cours De La Civilization Francaise classes at the Sorbonne and earned a Certificat, and enrolled in a non-credit drawing class at The Ecole Des Beaux Arts, where I drew from casts. Upon my return to the states a year later, I enrolled at my hometown university, SUNY Binghamton, as a default while I applied to other schools. I found the art schools to be prohibitively expensive, even with financial aid, and simultaneously discovered an incredible mentor (Charles Eldred), and a painter whose work made my jaw drop (Don DeMauro) at Binghamton. I decided to stay and get my BFA there. I put myself through school by working 30 hours a week as an art framer while taking a full course load. I slept only a few hours each night, and lived in the studio when I was not at my job. I graduated from Binghamton with the SUNY Foundation Award for Excellence in the Fine Arts, Harpur College Departmental Honors in Art, and Harpur College Academic Honors in 1987. As an undergraduate senior, I was asked to be a teaching assistant for one of the faculty. I entered my first regional show at The Roberson Museum upon graduation, won Best In Show, and someone came in and slashed the painting from top to bottom, for reasons that are still unknown. 

1990 – 1994
Working as an illustrator and an Art Director for two years after undergraduate school (while pulling all-nighters to paint) made it clear to me that I needed to return to school to get my MFA. I was accepted to the Hoffberger School of Painting at MICA, but, even with financial aid and loans, I could not afford to go. Instead, I chose University of Georgia, in Athens, one of several schools that offered me a teaching assistantship.  At the time, I was painting night landscapes, heavy with mist, and when I came to visit the Athens, GA, campus, I stepped off the bus on a warm Spring night, smelled the magnolias, and I was sold.  Aside from teaching, I spent every waking hour in the painting studio: I knew that university teaching jobs were hard to come by, and that this might be the last time in my life I could focus solely on my work. One of my friends/fellow students spoke to the faculty, concerned that I was working to exhaustion, because I had no life, and rarely left the studio. In my mind, if I was going to choose to be an artist, coming from a family background like mine, I HAD to be successful, and consequently gave it my all. When people remarked on my ambition, I remember telling them it did not feel like a positive trait, as I felt as though I was trying to climb out of a pit by my fingernails. My paintings, which required a time-consuming glazing technique, were getting increasingly obsessive and intricate, and took many months to execute. I spent three years, rather than two, to get my MFA, squeezing all the time I could out of my school experience. While in grad school, I sold two pieces to The Morris Corporation. Jerry Cullum, Senior Editor of Art Papers magazine, saw my work, and started curating it into exhibitions in Georgia. My work was also in several museum surveys of Contemporary Southern painting in 1994 that were glowingly reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Savannah News Press, and Art Papers magazine. Upon graduation, I received a full 6-week fellowship for a residency at The Hambidge Center in Georgia.

1994 -2005
I was hired for a tenure track position at Florida International University, a Research I university in Florida, in 1995. I had a solo show at the FIU museum in 1996, which was very favorably reviewed in The Miami Herald. As a junior faculty member, I was given the position of BFA Director when a senior faculty member retired. Just before I came up for tenure, I received a letter from Jerry Cullum stating that, when queried, he had recommended me for The Whitney Biennial. I was unanimously awarded tenure, but was never contacted by the Whitney folks. I had been exhibiting primarily in university galleries and non-profits, but never actively sought gallery representation: my paintings took so long to make that I needed them to be available to circulate, so I could build up my exhibition record for tenure. I received many reviews of my work: all positive, and all generated by my own press releases. While living in Florida, I received the $5,000 Florida Visual Arts Fellowship in 1996, a Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council Artist Access Grant in 1997, a $15,000 South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship in 1998, Millay Colony residency and Hambidge Center Residency in 1999, and a Florida Cultural Affairs Artist Enhancement Grant in 2004. Florida International University awarded me a Provost’s Summer Research Grant in 2000 and 2002, and my department nominated me for a Teaching Incentive Award in 2001. I participated in group exhibitions at the Telfair Museum, The Huntsville Museum, The Georgia Museum of Art, The Morris Museum, The Fort Lauderdale Museum, Georgia State University, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Agnes Scott College, and the Museo Medici in Tuscany, resulting in further reviews in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Miami Herald, and Art Papers. Laurence Pamer, curator at The Fort Lauderdale Museum, gave me a small solo show in 1998, and another substantial solo show when he moved to The Hollywood Art and Culture Center in 2000. I had a solo show at The Fiber Arts Foundation in Amherst that received great reviews in The Boston Globe, The Recorder (Greenfield, MA), and The Valley Advocate (Amherst). I had a solo show at The Frost Art Museum in 2005 that was positively reviewed in The Miami Herald, the New Times Magazine, and was the catalyst for long feature in Surface Design Journal. The Frost Museum acquired one of my works. This same year, UK writer Martyn Forrester also purchased a work.

2005 – 2008
In 2005, my soon-to-be husband was offered a substantial new job in North Carolina. I refused to leave my hard-won position, until we crunched the numbers, and realized that selling our house in Miami and moving to an inexpensive area in rural NC would finally afford me the opportunity to work full-time in my studio (The only reason I could ever be persuaded to give up my job.) In addition, the move put me substantially closer to my father, whose health was declining. I took a one-year leave of absence from FIU, and then resigned in 2006. I started working with my first commercial gallery, Chelsea Galleria in Miami, in 2005. In December of 2006, the gallery showed one of my paintings, entitled, “Blessed Art Thou”, at Art Miami. Due to the press releases I had sent out, the work was picked up by The Associated Press and appeared in every major international newspaper and on most TV news stations around the world before the fair even opened. The painting was not my strongest work, but was in the right place at the right time. I got death threats from Christians who were offended by the painting of Angelina Jolie as The Virgin Mary, and we put an alarm in our house. The painting is still being reproduced in textbooks in several countries. A full list of documented publications is available on my website at  Previously, my work had always been very personal, but this painting marked the first time I made a piece about the outside world. When all the press and controversy happened, I already had a second, similar painting sketched up and ready to start, but, deciding that this was not the kind of publicity I wanted for my work: I rolled up the drawing and put it away. 
2007 marked the year of my first NYC gallery group show, and my first NYC museum group show. Some of my hair embroidery was in the “Pricked: Extreme Embroidery” exhibition at The Museum of Arts & Design in NYC. One of my images was chosen by the curator to be on all the banners around the city (which would have been a great boost to my career), but, in an unprecedented move, the board nixed it at the last minute, finding the image too unsettling. My work was mentioned in many of the exhibition reviews, including The New York Times and Pasajes Diseno, a Madrid-based magazine. At the same time, I had work in a show at 31Grand on the LES, (included in The James Kalm Report) where my piece sold opening night. I was told they were interested in showing more of the work, but the gallery closed soon after.
My Miami gallery showed my work at Art Miami for several years, as well as doing a solo booth of my work at Palm Beach Contemporary Art Fair, before closing in 2009. In 2007, I had a solo show at The Belger Art Center in Kansas City. The exhibition was “Pick of The Week” on the Brooklyn Museum’s Feminist Art Blog, and The Belger Family Foundation acquired a major work for their collection. Reviews and magazine features unrelated to “Blessed Art Thou” from this time include Fiber Arts Magazine, Surface Design Journal, American Craft, n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal, and Trendhunter Magazine. In 2008, I was awarded a $10,000 NC Arts Council Grant.

2008 – 2014
In 2008, when I was 2 weeks pregnant with my first child, my husband was one of 350 employees laid off from his job at LabCorp, and was unemployed during my entire pregnancy. When he got a job in Washington, D.C., we moved there 3 days after I gave birth, settling into a tiny apartment for a year with a newborn, a cat, and an 80 lb dog. My studio for that year was a long folding table in our bedroom. I continued making tiny work, when I was not adjuncting at one of two universities. I had the opportunity to show a large paper piece in Berlin at the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien in 2011, and I worked on it tacked to the living room wall, covering it with tissue paper every day so that the baby and dog would not soil it. I experienced 6 years of financial and personal hardship, but I was determined not to disappear from the art world after having a child, and had more exhibitions in these years than ever before, including a 4-person show at The Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art, and one at The Katonah Museum that was curated by Barbara Bloemink and reviewed by the NY Times, with a mention of my work. I graduated to a large basement studio in our new home after that first year in D.C., and continued to make embroideries and small gouaches.
In 2012, I started working with a new gallery in Miami, Hardcore Art Contemporary Space. I had a solo show there in 2012, and it was quite successful, both in terms of sales and reviews. It received a full-page review in El Nuevo Herald, a substantial review in The Huffington Post, and was Elisa Turner’s “Critic’s Pick for Summer 2012” at, and Editor’s Pick at Hardcore subsequently took my work to Scope Art Fair, LINK-Artfair Hong Kong, and Berliner Liste Contemporary Art Fair, before closing in 2013. My hair embroidery was also shown at Packer-Schopf Gallery in Chicago. My silverpoint drawings on silver objects were shown at Snyderman-Works Gallery in Philadelphia. I was curated into several group shows in D.C., and each one received a generous Washington Post review by Michael O'Sullivan. Group shows from this time include the Van Gijn Museum (Dordrecht, Netherlands), Tsinghua University (Beijing), American University Museum, Ohio Craft Museum, Lyons Wier Ortt Gallery, The Wignall Museum, Agnes Scott College, Tinney Contemporary, Frost Art Museum, Society for Contemporary Craft, and the San Jose Museum of Textiles.  Reviews and articles include Women’s Wear Daily, Art Pulse Magazine, JungeWelt, Der Tagesspiegel, and Jungle World, (all Berlin), Revista Exclama Magazine (Columbia), 1626 Magazine (China),, Weirdposse.wordpress, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and Esquire Magazine. My “Vagina Dentate Purse” was included in Michael Kimmel’s 2014 book, “Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis”.
I was a Trawick Prize Finalist in 2013.
Life took a turn for the better after a tough 6 years. I found a cheap studio to sublet for the summer of 2014, and picked up a paintbrush for the first time since 2008. Having a studio outside of my home for the first time was game changing: I suddenly had frequent studio visits. I was awarded a $6,000 MD State Council for the Arts Grant, and was able to rent a bigger studio for the year. I recently had a solo exhibition at The Arlington Arts Center that was reviewed in The Washington Post, and for the first time in my life, I started saying “no” to a number of opportunities that would take me away from the studio. I have an upcoming group show at The Morris Graves Museum, but have otherwise cleared my schedule to focus exclusively on the creation of my new series, one I have been researching for several years. My newest work, "Gunlicker" was recently featured in The Huffington Post’s Inaugural  “Hot Off the Easel” feature, where it was spotted by some gun advocates, resulting in lots of social media traffic, and a subsequent interview on The Coalition Against Gun Violence blog this past week.