Kate Anderson: The art of knotting
Kate Anderson, formally trained as a painter, began knotting in 1996 after a workshop with noted textile artist Jane Sauer.
Kate’s knotted objects often reference the work of images from the pop era and mid century cultural icons. Her work can be found in numerous collections including the Philadelphia Art Museum, Museum of Fine Art, Boston, Minnesota Museum of American Art, Racine Art Museum, and Muskegon Art Museum.
Over the past 36 years, she has had extensive professional experience as a gallery director, curator, juror, panelist and workshop leader.
In this interview, Kate talks about her transition from painter to textile artist and we learn why knotting is her technique of choice. We also discover where she finds inspiration to create her astonishingly unique knotted teapots.
The tactile nature of the threads
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Kate Anderson: My background is in painting and I did that for 15 years, 10 of which I spent collaborating with my husband, Ken Anderson.
I found that I had the energy to work as the night lengthened, but that eventually the colour I was mixing wasn’t yielding desired results.
So I decided to find something I could do with my hands that I could do late at night! This led me to a knotting class with the eminent textile artist, Jane Sauer.
And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by knotting?
Craft Alliance is a wonderful non-profit here in St. Louis that offers classes and workshops in various mediums.
I saw that fiber artist and friend Jane Sauer was offered a knotting class. She didn’t do that very often and I thought ‘what a fun and great opportunity’.
I found that the repetitive process, the possibilities for expression, and the tactile nature of the threads themselves really appealed to me.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life influenced your work?
I remember as an art student bounding up the steps at the Chicago Art Institute and seeing the enormous cloud painting by Georgia O’Keeffe. That was a life changing moment. I was also obsessed with the obsessive work of Eva Hesse.
As I continued in art school I started being intrigued by and collecting odd one of a kind objects, including vintage quilts. The poetry, pattern and repetition, and colour relationships were just a few things that grabbed at me and set me on my path.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I played the violin in 4th grade through high school years. I remember it being a choice between visual arts or music, you couldn’t do both.
When I got to college, I tried on a myriad of majors, one of which was early education. I was definitely not cut out for that but one of the required classes was a crafts class for art education.
That was a life changer. I was intrigued, took more art classes and graduated with a BFA in painting.
Painting with knots
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
I knot. Knotting is actually macrame with the use of a larks head knot, basically.
I use a 4 ply thread to create the knots that are formed over a cord thread that is typically around 11 ply. The core wraps around a form repetitively, thus creating a structure for containment. It is an extremely labor intensive process that is not very forgiving.
I use threads in the form of knots to paint the image. As a painter for 15 years prior to knotting, thinking of threads as paint was a natural fit.
Because I am limited by the number of colour choices due to thread availability, I often mix threads optically by putting differing colours next to each other.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I consider my work to be part of the contemporary craft movement, and contemporary art as small scale sculpture.
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
Yes I use a sketchbook. I also research images and contemplate relationships of images within the realm of ‘blue chip’ fine art paintings to quote, create dialogue and to pay homage.
Most recently I’ve been intrigued by mid century iconic imagery and portraiture. Mid century iconic images are what attract me the most, first from the Pop era and currently figures significant to film, print and the culture of that era.
What environment do you like to work in?
This is one of my favourite questions, I’m always very curious how people work!
When I was painting I had a 1500 square foot studio with 12’ ceilings. As a textile artist knotting, I work in a lovely room sitting on a sofa with my feet up on an ottoman. My work is in my lap, elevated on a pillow and lit by a high intensity light.
My studio is filled with artwork, almost all folk art from a collection my husband and I have amassed over thirty some odd years. And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the help I receive from our 3 pups who keep me company.
Who have been your major influences and why?
In my life of making fiber works, I would say Jane Sauer and Ferne Jacobs.
Jane was an incredible mentor in the beginning, and Ferne also touched my life at a meaningful time. Their bodies of work are inspiring.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
The very first few teapots I made and a couple of the most recent ones I think, are ones that I do enjoy thinking of. The Summer Teapot/Katz-Hockney, 2013 comes to mind because that came to me as an autobiographical moment.
I was outside on one of those perfect summer days, balmy, breezy, by a pool with gently lapping water, and I wanted to capture this blissful, perfect moment. I like how that piece came together with the diving board as both the lid and spout and the handle as the steps to the pool.
At the moment I like thinking about a cup and saucer I made, based on a painting of Georgia O’Keeffe. The Philadelphia Museum acquired this recently and I was so happy to hear this news!
Turning to the teapot
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
In the beginning I made cups and saucers. The cups contained an image, another on the saucer, a third representing the water inside the cup.
When asked if I could make a larger piece, the natural evolution was to make a teapot. I had two sides, and a handle, spout and lid to work with that gave me surfaces for commentary.
The significant turning point then, was making my first piece quoting a Roy Lichtenstein painting. He’s a good example of how I would often work. He appropriated from a comic strip and made a painting.
I would quote from Lichtenstein, but then research the original comic strip and find the font, the character dialogue, maybe the name of the comic itself to reference not only Lichtenstein but the original source material all while creating a piece that itself was juxtaposed commentary. That process evolved for many years.
As I worked, ideas developed regarding my source material and I became intrigued with the actual cultural icons of that era. This work has become even more detailed and intricate in that I’ve been depicting real people and it has to be believable.
I think my work has become more personal while still retaining ideas regarding dialogue and charged potential.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Paul Stankard, the glass artist, wrote a marvelous book Craft as Career which offers advice from several contemporary craft artists of various disciplines. I was asked to offer advice and I offer it here;
Be true to your own vision, hone your skills, experiment with both process and materials. Work from your heart and commit to your practice. Get out and meet fellow artists and see what is being created in your field.
Find joy in the totality of the experience; Creating, making mistakes and recovering, expressing yourself, and finding ways to interact with like minded people.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
The immense catalogue for Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America: University of Missouri and National Basketry Association is phenomenal.
Exploring Fiber Art, Vol. 2: Sculpture, by Ashley E. Rooney and Anne Lee. Foreword by Lois Russell. Schiffer Publishing, 2017. The whole series is great.
Craft As Career, by Paul Stankard. Schiffer Publishing, 2016.
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Knotting is probably the lowest tech form of art making. Threads, scissors and an awl will get you started.
Having said that, it’s all about the awl! Can’t knot without that tiny 5” tool because removing a knot to do it over is part of the process.
I do remember, though, being called for jury duty early on. I had a ton of deadlines to meet and I couldn’t bear the thought of just sitting there for 8 hours waiting to be called.
While I could prepare threads to bring with me, I wouldn’t have been allowed to bring in an awl since it’s a metal pointy thing. So my husband took a brooch of mine and filed the pin part just so, so that I could pull out a thread if I needed to, but not so pointed that it would shred the thread. I wore the brooch, got through security and then knotted for two straight days. Worked like a charm!
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I talk or teach 1 day – 5 day workshops sporadically when I’m invited to, usually through a conference or university. But I’m happy to go anywhere to teach!
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
One piece can take up to five months to complete so I do have choose carefully. When I get invited for an exhibition, I consider the venue, who is inviting me, the time commitment, and the other artists that are included.
Where can readers see your work this year?
I currently have work in Racine Art Museum’s exhibition Small Gifts from Big Donors.
I also have work touring in the basketry show Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America. It’s traveling to several venues through December 2019. Currently it is at Whatcom Museum, Bellingham WA where it then travels to the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft opening June 1.
Bruce Hoffman is the marvelous Director of Gravers Lane Gallery in Chestnut Hill, PA and has represented my work for a very long time.
For more information visit: www.kateandersonarts.com
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