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Katina Huston - Artist Statement



Katagami and Me, A Brief Statement on Influence by Katina Huston

In a review by Kenneth Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle this spring it was noted that my work showed an influence from antique Asian art. Little did he know

Going on fifteen years I have been drawing shadows; hanging objects from the ceiling, throwing light through them and running colored liquids through the forms. The resulting drawings show the splashy liquidity of calligraphy and the cropped silhouette of block prints, though neither was my intention. I was looking for a way to draw that would allow me to show what I see. Still, where do we learn to see?

My father had a grand vision. In little recognized objects he sometimes saw vast potential. When he did, he collected them. Katagami were just such a thing. Kata, in Japanese, 'cut', gami 'paper' refers to a classic Japanese printing tool. Mulberry paper, strengthened with the tanning qualities of persimmon juice, were cut into elaborate patterns, reinforced with silk thread and used to resist print fabric. The industry represented a national network of villages focused on designing, cutting, printing, weaving, dying crafts that was active for centuries. My father came upon katagami in Europe after WWII where Art Nouveau met Japanomania shortly after Japan opened to the west. Mad craftsmanship and dense decoration fit perfectly in to Arts and Crafts sensibility. Collectors included design professionals like Frank Lloyd Wright and L.C. Tiffany. By 1948, collectors in London, Paris and Vienna were selling their collections to finance war repairs. My father wanted them all. One thousand eight hundred, more or less was the count at its height. He then set about introducing these arts and designs to an American audience by loaning the works to institutions in dedicated exhibitions across the U.S.; de Young Museum, San Francisco; Asia Society, New York and Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, to name three.

He fell ill and the stencils returned to my home.

It should be no surprise that thirty years later that as I matured as an artist the logic of these works surfaces in my work. The most literal connection is the silhouette of shadow meeting the foreground figure that came from block prints then showed up in Manet and Toulouse Lautrec. Structural relationships appear as well. As a tool for printing, katagami are sculptural; flat physical forms held in place by thread. The paper substance, torn, stained and warped by printing bolt after bolt of cloth. Designs that rely dense repeats, so fine they cannot be read but appear as vibration or agitation in a textured field.

Or, like Meiji stencils, western naturalistic rendering of objects play against stylized abstractions. Ok, maybe I've converged those two. Maybe I've converged a lot of these qualities. Most of all there is craftsmanship. Looking at pile after pile after pile of exquisitely made stencils they are obviously formed from human lives and effort.

In this most recent body of work I have indulged this influence, merging object shadows and textile patterns. While katagami designers sought pleasing patterns, I intersect orders into new spatial organization. Drawings yield as much symphony as cacophony. The structure of each simultaneously disrupts the other while making it visible. The viewer's eye is forced to choose which to hold or surrender to scattered juxtapositions. Sometimes you can only see the true form of a thing when it is pressed up against another. Like a band with two drummers, one is there to lay in the beat and the other to mess it up.


Artist Statement 2012

My goal is to make the invisible tangible, even dimensional. The ways in which humans organize their experiences—more specifically, how I organize my experiences into knowledge—is the focus of this work. Sometimes meaning is revealed through events, sometimes meaning is imposed. Capturing shadows documents experience defined in memory from the unique perspective of the person watching.

The shadow drawings began as research on this subject. I sought to collect visual by- products of human experience. Once collected, they could be examined and organized in search of their meaning. I wanted to literally peel the shadows up off the ground using mylar as a substrate. I imagined dozens of rubbery car shadows stacked like pancakes.

One day on the street I saw three crippled bicycles chained to a post. Missing seats and one front wheel bent in half*. In the morning light, it cast a strange and brilliant shadow, so I captured the image in ink.

Bicycle shadows became my primary subject. Over the past six years, this focus has worked into a whole range of abstract compositions. Weirdly, whole bikes become figurative. But, grouped together, they convey a sense of motion and become almost playful.

In this process, technique grows richer. Ink is three-dimensional. As I lay down two thin lines, the lines create borders that can be filled like a pool or channel. While wet, each new line that meets it becomes a tributary. Inks that are light in color have a greater physical density so when a light line meets a dark pool the light evacuates the area bleaching its path. Layering new images on old, the new line washes away its predecessor.

The resulting drawings use twenty shades of ink on Mylar focusing on mechanical elements repeated from several angles to create a complex and mysterious whole. Thus, six-foot drawings of shadows of bicycles made from ink pooled, poured and drawn into familiar yet elusive forms also speaks of geological experience. Liquid ink evaporates, leaving rings of a drying lakebed. Multiple inks create unexpected moments of physics where heavy ink pushes light back, bleaching the pool to white. In other instances, puddles flow to low ground creating random wells of darkness, which then shatter when dry. Fine draftsmanship magnifies the tension between control and chance.

The shadow drawings are interesting from a conceptual viewpoint not because they are of shadows or bikes but because they represent very physical engagement with these materials and tools and document the effort of me chasing shadows. Moments of effort include crawling over the mylar, scratches, spills, a creased corner, gouges from tumbling bikes. They mark the field...and they should.
On the wall these works appear pristine in our imagination. They are not. To make them so takes away part of the art. Removing the marks of the human interaction would reduce the drawings.

In my most recent works, I play between organized and chaotic compositions examining the ways in which lining up the shadows in clean order results in a straight forward inventory. When piled up the same objects become an ominous heap. Others organized in radiating circles become sources of visual energy.

In works like “Dissemble,” I remove a section from a composition and show it separately. All of the drama carries, but none of the context. Beyond bicycles, new elements like chairs, chandeliers, trees, and Cyclone fence shadows are new starting points for my drawings.