Youth Boost are interviews with COMPAS' ArtsWork and ArtScope Alumni. ArtsWork and ArtScope are unique employment and arts training programs designed for youth to work alongside COMPAS artists. ArtsWork began in 2001 and ArtScope in 2012.
Hey Kara, thanks for taking the time to be interviewed! Do you remember how you first became interested in the arts?
I really don’t! Creation, decoration, and a love for objects has always a big part of who I am. I was always making things. As a small child, I was more interested in making things to play with than playing with store-bought toys. I would make clothing or environments out of whatever random things I could get my hands on, the junkier the better. I enjoyed taking ordinary scraps and objects and transforming them. I once got in trouble for stealing my mother’s razor because it was the perfect size and shape to be a vacuum cleaner for my troll doll. So there has always been this propensity to seek out possibilities and a desire to create. I think making artwork becomes a natural extension of these traits.
One particular moment that does stand out, however, was my first trip to the Minneapolis Art Institute when I was ten. It was Bouguereau’s Temptation that first got me dreaming about painting. I was completely transfixed by the glossy surface, the luminous color, the clear, delicate details. It really glows. It is an incredibly sentimental painting, but to my ten-year-old eyes, it was the most magical thing I had ever seen.
What years were you in ArtsWork – what did you do?
I was an ArtsWork Apprentice in, I think, 2001-2003. I was there for the very first year of ArtsWork and a couple of years following. Then later, in 2011 and 2012, I came back as an Assistant Artist. As an apprentice, I did sculptural projects with experimental materials, explored pastel drawing, learned color theory, studied classical drawing techniques, learned the painting technique of glazing, and worked on a gigantic mural on the side of the old Schmidt Brewery.
How do you think ArtsWork made an impact on you that a “regular” job wouldn’t have?
It was amazing to be employed with the purpose of creating. It made what we were learning and making as apprentices much more serious. Also, studying with the Mentor Artists, who were/are accomplished and dedicated artists was a great experience. They were some of the first adult artists I had met, and knowing them made the prospect of being an artist more real.
Who was your mentor artist? What did you learn from them?
The very first mentor I worked with was Mike. He was an experimental sculptor and did a lot of wild and imaginative things with materials. I remember us apprentices having to wear special masks to protect ourselves from fumes, and I thought that was so incredibly cool. Mike instilled a sense of play and experimentation. Then I worked with Youa Vang for a couple of years. I learned so much from Youa. Everything from technical drawing skills and color theory to more intangible things like being self-disciplined and not settling until you get the very best result. And when I was an Assistant Artist for Roger Cummings, I was inspired by his seriousness, tenacity, and his high expectations for the apprentices. That has certainly shaped how I work with students now.
How did working with a mentor artist affect your choice of education and/or work?
I think they were important in terms of reinforcing my decisions regarding education and employment. In 2006, I graduated from MCAD with a BFA in Painting. I decided that I wanted to teach college-level art classes, and a big part of that decision was how challenging, rigorous and fantastic my own education was - both at MCAD and through ArtsWork. I went on to grad school at SUNY Buffalo, then moved back to Minneapolis, where I was lucky enough to teach at both MCAD and St. Catherine University. It is interesting now, how much each practice - teaching and making artwork - influence each other. They intermingle in ways that are more exciting than I could have imagined.
What are you up to now?
This past year, my husband (who is also an artist/teacher) was hired by the University of Arkansas. So in August of 2015, we embarked on a new adventure and moved to Fayetteville. Here in Fayetteville, I am focusing on my own work, which has been changing a lot lately. Previously I had been making drawings of figures I built out of clay, which were sometimes goofy, sometimes scary, sometimes a little too friendly. I am now working on a series of mixed media works that originate from plants. I am inspired by the dense, confusing clusters of leaves, by the places where the boundaries of forms are obscured by shadows, and by the fact that the plants are so dynamic in their search for light. It is incredible to observe and attempt to draw how much they move over the course of a day. I think there might be a lesson in there somewhere about accepting growth and change. Besides that, I am cooking lots of new recipes, running in the amazingly mild Arkansas winter and enjoying this brief break from teaching.
Where do you hope to be with your work in 10 years?
I am not sure where I will literally be (it is normal for professors to have to move for work, so who knows where I will end up!), but my hopes for the future are very modest - I simply hope to be making things and showing them.