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Student Interview Series #2: Kathryn Beckwith, Sculptor

This is the beginning of a series of student interviews that will showcase the strength of the work being made in the ateliers, as well as serve as a link with our community.

Student Interview Series #2: Kathryn Beckwith, Sculptor

MFA I Sculptor Kathryn Beckwith is no stranger to the Studio School.  She studied painting here before she realized that sculpture was her calling.  An initial marathon with Bruce and contact with clay changed her entire direction.  I met with her in the Chester French, surrounded by studies of various sizes, small heads and figures and a massive full size figure on an armature.  All of the pieces share a vigorous surface, their planes gouged with thumbs and marked with torn pieces of clay.

We spoke about her newfound medium and some of her current preoccupations.

K: For me, clay is like flesh.  I was a painter, and still am, and oil paint has that same meaty quality.  But when I got my hands on clay, which I had never before, it was a getting rid of the brush.  I had been struggling, and was very frustrated.

C: With?

K: Painting.  I wanted to get away from painting, it had been frustrating coming back into the atelier as a student again, but it was more than that.  And it just turned out that I intuited that Bruce, during his lectures, was the person that I wanted to study drawing with.  He was talking spatially, and I knew he had also been a painter, and I think painting and sculpture inform each other.  So I took his Marathon and worked with him during the summer, and once I got my hands on clay and I realized what the frustration was, I needed to go into 3 dimensions.

C: So you felt inhibited by canvas, or paper?

K: By 2 dimensions.  I felt I needed to go further, I was fighting something but I didn’t know what. 

C: Do you feel that when you paint and draw now that it’s more to inform the sculpture or are they still separate?

K: They are not separate in my mind, but sculpture for me is the ultimate experience. 

C: It’s a more complete activity for you?

K: Yes it is.

C: You’re able to pinpoint more of the things that you’re interested in?

K: It has opened up all of the possibilities; I was not limited within a rectangle.  And I also come from performance, so that informs my work.  Training as an actress and working on a stage, and I realized after…

C: That you had been thinking about surroundings more?

K: Yes, I’d been working in 3 dimensions with design and acting and didn’t even realize it.  And when I finally got my hands on clay…

C: Well that’s a great realization; some people never have those types of realizations.

K: Yes, and having these two teachers… Garth is truly my mentor.  I believe in getting a solid foundation, I’ve had a sporadic but lifelong training, but I needed the potholes filled in, which is why I studied with Graham.  But then I knew enough to recognize that there was something about Bruce’s way of speaking about paintings.

C: So the painting was a way to continue growing and to expand your skillset—but personally it wasn’t happening until clay…

K: Well, it had been happening in the past-

C: But then it closed down?

K: Yes.

K: When I work on a body part, or a full figure, I work from the inside out.  I think it is part of my personal history, and part of my training, that I want to get to the gut of it.  I’m very physical, I get really close and I sometimes work with my eyes closed.  I’m not as concerned with the surface.

C: Is it about building an object, or more about capturing an emotional connection?

K: It’s emotional.  It’s capturing the humanity.

C: So would you say that the process is more important than a final product?

K: No.

C: Or is it trying to maintain an emotional drive so that it remains in the final piece?

K: Yes.  My hands intuit a lot, I don’t measure all that much, I’m not concerned with that…

C: Well that type of activity is counterintuitive to the emotional approach—I feel that we usually have two approaches, the intuitive emotional approach and the colder more processing.

K: Exactly, I love the different trajectories…

C: Like different pathways for the work to grow?

K: Exactly, I’m learning a new language, a language I yearn to know without fully knowing it.  And Garth, he sees the whole picture.

C: So tell me about the connection between something like this (small abstracted figure) and something like this (life size figure).  I don’t know if it’s more my studio school bias as I’ve seen so many of these full size figures being made here, but when I initially saw this smaller piece it felt like something uniquely personal, I felt something from that image, that object, the handling, the shapes.  Are you getting the same type of experience out of working with the full size figure or is that more about furthering skills?

K: It’s both, its skills but also connection, connection.  The smaller piece is taking what I’ve learned…

C: But this has to feel more personal than the other, right?

K: No, they are both personal, as they are so much about rhythms, and this smaller piece just happened to be left more anthropomorphic .  They push you off a cliff here, I was afraid of what I was feeling.

C: Afraid of working with your hands or…

K: Well let me show you one of the first things I made, it’s very interesting.  It was supposed to be a 36 inch figure, and it grew and became this.

C: It feels like a head.

K: Or a torso.

C: This feels like it definitely has a connection to the other small one outside.

K: Right!

C: And one of the other things I’m seeing among those 2 is that they have landmass forms.  Have you seen the old Monet paintings of the rocky coves?  These have that landscape feel; that zoomed out precipice or cliff.

K: It feels like skiing.

C: Terrain.

K: That’s what it feels like to me, and it takes great courage, because you go around and around and around, and it takes on a life of its own.

C: What about materials?  Are you still fully engaged with the clay right now?  Do you see that changing, a moment in the future where you’re reaching because clay doesn’t work…

K: Well, yeah- metal.  Welding. 

C: Do you see a crossover between welding and working so viscerally with the clay?

K: One of the things that was made apparent to me in the first crit that we had with Karen Wilkin is I will finish things and leave them on the stand.  I wasn’t recognizing all of the remaining armatures and steel.

C: So you were subconsciously interested in the armatures themselves?

K: The whole thing is sculpture, on a stand, something about the set designer in me. You know, It all has to work spatially, and now I understand.

C: Do you think there is something about your work that you like things held up distinctly as objects in space?  Does that create a different type of distance between the viewer and the object, the sculptor and the object?

K: As opposed to?

C: Well, it’s interesting you were talking about the proximity of the way you work with the large figure, but now we are talking about things remaining with the steel, the elevation, or the armature.  That’s almost like, it becomes a reliquary, an object, something we’re removed from.  There is something we’re not allowed to broach.  And you think about set design, stages, as an audience we are allowed to participate but only to a certain extent.

K: Yes, and I think that’s true. 

C: So do you think that is one of the lines you’re working with right now? How close do you get?

K: It is. 

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