KATHERINE STRAUBE

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What is the first creative project you remember doing and enjoying?

Mrs. Conklin's class, third grade. We had to do book reports that were 5-10 minutes long. Basically we had to pick five objects from the book and create them in some way. So I don't remember what book I had to do or what objects I chose, but I do remember I made a little flag. I rolled up some paper on this little stick and attached some pink ribbon to it so you could wave it around. I don't remember what that had to do with the book, but that was the first project where I remember rolling up for the presentation like, "my object is dope and everyone's going to be really impressed". I put it in a yogurt container that I then wrapped paper around and drew on. That was the first project I was excited about, that I was truly proud of.

What really got the creative seed going was when I kept asking for a fancy digital camera and all my friends had one and my parents wouldn't buy one for me. I was getting ready to go to Austria and I really wanted a nice camera to take nice pictures. And my parents kept saying "it's not about the camera, it's about the photos". Which I understand. But you do need a good camera to some extent. It’s probably why I don’t photograph now - I don’t have the technical skill to do it. I definitely have the eye for it, but I never practiced with a camera. 

When I went to Austria I just had this little dinky blue digital camera, which I was just fine with, because I got very creative with it and I took a lot of pictures that I’m really proud of that didn’t rely on the technical stuff - I just relied on the content. So I took thousands and thousands of photos but they were all “layout based”. I wasn’t practicing any kind of technical skill since my camera didn’t require that of me. So when I saw something [I wanted to photograph] I would see it as the final image, not what it takes to get there. I think with a lot of other things in my life I don’t enjoy the process because I see the final result and I don’t necessarily know how to get there. If only I had that fancy camera! My workflow is that I see the final product and what it’s going to look like and then I try to get there and it looks like a piece of shit and I get really discouraged and then I quit. That’s my biggest struggle.

 
 

You were a studio art major in college. How do you think this influences your art now? Or does it?

I think it does. Studio art majors, unlike other colleges, are very all-encompassing so you dabble in a lot of different stuff which to some extent encourages me when I'm in the mood to try different things and experiment a little bit. You’re supposed to focus in on one main thing, which I did, but it was sort of non-traditional in a certain sense. My thing about the culture that I went to school with... it was very what I call “tortured artist”. My 60 year old white male professors expected you to go into your studio by yourself in a dark hole with candles and toil over one image and then you come out of your dark cave into the light and show it to everybody and everybody worships it because there’s so much emotion behind it. 

And I did that. I went through that phase. But I didn’t enjoy it - in fact it made me very anxious and I was having panic attacks and I quit for a semester. I still took art classes, but I didn’t keep going down that route because it wasn’t going to be productive for me. Creating art should be an enjoyable thing, not something that you’re freaking out about constantly, which I was.

 
 

What’s a project that you’re working on now?

A coffee table book is the latest project that I’ve been working on. It was a goal for 2016 - my New Year’s resolution was to publish a coffee table book, which I didn’t do. I worked on it a little bit but then a lot of personal shit happened and I stopped making art for a while. During that time I messed around with weaving for a while and I got back into painting again, which was fun. There’s certain things that I always go back to. Right now the marble print stuff is always fun. Except I still have that thing where I imagine the final product. This book is probably going to be very expensive for me to print because I want to have transparent sections, pages cut out, graphic design layout shit. I want the book to be very customized. I’ve been talking to my therapist which made me realize that creating the artwork for the book doesn’t necessarily appeal to me as much as once I have the book, actually laying it out and creating the experience where you view it. One thing I’ve been trying to do when making the images for the book is once I get to a spot where I think that I like a section, I move it between apps. I create the marble pattern in one app - Procreate, on my iPad, and once I decide I like it I take that image and put it in Adobe Sketch and erase what I don’t want. I do really enjoy digital art. 

I just followed @my_beautiful_artworks on Instagram and they use something called “alcohol inks”. I want to go to Blick and get some of those inks. I do enjoy watercolor, but the thing is that I love how dark they are when they’re wet. They’re vibrant and have an energy to them. But when they dry, they look bland to me. You know that makeup trend right now with eyeshadow that looks wet? That’s what I need for watercolors. 

One of the things that I always go back to are my scribble drawings, which I always do with my left hand. I haven’t done them in a while, but I need to get back into drawing with my left hand again. Abstract, landscape-type stuff really appeals to me. So yeah, the coffee table book is my latest project but it’s really in its fetus stage right now. It’s about playing around with different stuff to find what’s interesting enough that I’d be ok making thousands of them and then sifting through those for the best ones. 

 
 

Tell me a little bit about this piece (relationship wasn’t healthy anymore). Eventually you stopped writing on it. Any plans for that blank space? Or will it stay blank?

The canvas was originally a gift from a college friend. It had blue markings on it, and I painted over it. After my ex boyfriend and I broke up I was going to therapy and after talking to my therapist about it, one phrase that she said that really stuck with me was “the relationship wasn’t healthy anymore”, which is true (among other things). There was one night where I had this blank canvas and I decided to lay it on the ground and write “the relationship wasn’t healthy anymore”. It's like lines in school when you did something wrong and you had to write lines and it had to get pounded into your brain “this is bad” or “the relationship wasn’t healthy anymore”. I just needed to write it constantly. So I did the whole first column and then the next night I did the second column and then another night I did the whole third one. At one point I thought about doing one line for every day we were together. But then I just ended up doing three columns. And at that point I weirdly felt good about it so I left that part on the side blank. There’s a lot of energy. Just from a graphic sense, I like the idea of lines. I’ve thought about painting over it but I can’t. 

And that’s when I also fumbled around with an embroidery project for a while where I put “nobody’s bae” on things. I think there are a lot of female-empowering mantras that can be shared and spread. I was really interested in a streetwear line that has very feminine, female-empowerment phrases on it because in the fashion world streetwear fashion is created by men and worn by men. I read an article once where Lena Dunham was talking about how since streetwear is created by men for men, if a woman is wearing an oversized long sleeve shirt the assumption is that she got it from her boyfriend because why else would she have an oversized long-sleeve shirt? I was just thinking it would be a really interesting concept to have streetwear with female-empowering phrases on it. I think I’ll still do it, at least for myself so I can wear it. 

I did a project in college because my sketchbook was so near and dear to me, where I wanted to be vulnerable and I based it off of a piece that Yoko Ono did called “Cut Piece” where she sat on a stage and people could come up with scissors and cut off pieces of her clothes until she was pretty much naked. 

So this sketchbook originally had a red cover which I fucking hate because I only have black-covered sketchbooks. For a week, I set it up in a special room in the art department where people could come in and cut out whatever piece they wanted. They could look through and see whatever I had written and whatever I had drawn. A lot of it is just notes layered on top of doodles, which is why I think I’m so interested in layout stuff. I would just stick with one page in class and layer. And there’s some pages where somebody cut something out - like I don’t even remember what was there - but I basically let people go in and cut up pieces of my sketchbook because that was incredibly personal to me. And this one guy cut off the cover, thinking that that would anger me but really I was like thank you! I hated the red cover and was going to paint it black anyway. 

 
 

Who are your inspirations in the art world? Any artists that you emulate or admire?

James Turrell is one of my favorite artists. He has a piece at The Henry in Seattle called “Skyspace”. When we were in college we did a trip to The Henry and his exhibit was there and at that point I wasn’t really familiar with installation art but I’ve found it’s what I enjoy the most and what really gets me going creatively. You basically walk in, it’s an oval-shaped room and there’s these beautiful wooden benches in an oval shape and there was an oval cutout in the sky. And the first time we went it was late evening, kind of towards when the museum was going to close, and you could just sit there and look at the sky. On that day it was completely clear - stunning and beautiful. As the sun starts to go down you see a gradient as it goes from light to dark. It was the first “art” that I had experienced where I sat there and I thought: “It can be this simple”. I realized there doesn’t need to be anything crazy - there’s just a concept behind it and it’s simple. Just looking at the sky and seeing how the color gradient of the sky changes over the course of hours and how every once in awhile a seagull flies over the opening, like that’s so simple, but yet it’s so beautiful. I think it’s really hard to achieve. I think something that’s very clean and simple is harder to achieve than something that’s very busy and has a bunch of shit slapped on. 

Another one is Joseph Beuys, who is a German artist that I did a research paper on. He did some performance pieces and some installation art but he always had certain materials that he worked with. He always worked with fat, he always worked with wool, very sort of standard materials. The story is that he was a pilot in the army and got bombed down and then these people rescued him and wrapped him in fat and wool blankets and that’s the only reason he survived is because they wrapped him in this cocoon of fat and wool and that’s why he uses those materials in his artwork. He did a lot of performance pieces where there’s this chair that has this triangle of fat on it that he melts with his own body heat and he did this piece called “Fat Corners” which is exactly what you expect. He put these little triangles of fat in a gallery space. For me, it was a turning point because the gallery as a "space to experience" is very basic - you come in, there are pictures hanging at a specific measurement for viewing compatibility, and they’re all on the same spot, equidistance apart - it’s all very structured. Which kind of bothers me. It has its place; don’t get me wrong, but I feel like if you walk into a white box, there’s so much more potential than to just hang everything so standard on the wall. But for him to put fat in the corners, [it] draws your attention to a part of that white box that you wouldn’t normally notice. That’s when I realized “there’s a lot more potential here”. It even came up when I was curating our final thesis show. I remember we were sitting in the Linfield gallery - there’s a lot of natural light, which is really nice, but I remember that the walls were really high, like huge, and amazing, but all my professors kept saying “You need to go big, otherwise your stuff is going to get swallowed up”. So everybody went huge, and had huge stuff, but the thing about that is you can just stand in the middle and just turn in a circle and see everything. There’s no need to interact with the space. But it's the opposite! What you should do is make everything tiny, because then it forces people to move around the space and interact with it. I want to do a show someday where the art is so tiny you need a microscope to look at it. 

 
 

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR AESTHETIC?

All black everything! Today was the first time I wore white and I fucking tucked my napkin over my shirt like my Opa did because I didn't want to spill breakfast on it. But usually I wear all black. Even though I wear a lot of black and my apartment is very monochromatic and minimalistic, my artwork usually tends to be the opposite. Especially in my studio practice it tends to be very graphic - bright colors, busy, layers, etc. You'd never guess that I would make so much art that contains pink since the rest of my life is so muted. I do enjoy a mix of masculine and feminine. There's some times when I want to dress up and wear a dress and heels but then there's other times when I just want to have an oversize shirt and jeans and do the fuckboy thing so I just try to mix it up and keep it interesting. Keep it comfortable and oversized. 

 
 

Do you find that your inspiration ebbs and flows? When are you the most inspired? Are there times when you don’t feel like creating at all? What do you think causes those lulls?

The best mental state is a positive one. One of the things with the tortured artist phase is that you use art to cure your bad mood. It’s like therapy, which is fine, and I get it, but for me I’ve noticed that especially as I’ve gotten older when I’m emotionally distressed I don’t want to sit down and draw - that doesn’t help me - I want to drink a bottle of wine and cry in my bathtub. Which I’ve done! I’m not in that stage of my life anymore. 

There’s definitely times when I don’t feel like creating at all. The hardest part about going from college to the real world was going from an art department where supplies were free and I had my own studio to living in a room in a downtown apartment that's basically the size of my studio at school and having no money for art supplies because I can barely afford to pay my rent. It’s been hard for me. You go from your whole life revolving around making art - your classes, your homework assignments, to now I have to go to my 9-5 job and I don’t have money for art supplies and I don’t have a place to make art - it’s just a complete 180. I know it shouldn’t be an excuse, but it’s taken me a long time to get back to it. The biggest thing that was inspiring to me in college was having a group that you could bounce ideas off of and that you clicked with creatively. I’ve met a lot of creative people here in Portland but there haven’t necessarily been ones that have met me on the same level. Some of the creative people that I’ve met are judgmental. Everybody here wants to do street photography and be the next big thing. When I really get into a creative mindset I’m a little more cooky than everybody else that I’ve met. I’m kind of over here by myself - I don’t really know where my artist tribe is, so I feel like I’ve kind of had to resort back to that tortured artist where I’ll just try and figure it out here on my own and then see where it takes me. 

 
 

I see you’ve got some sage on your windowsill, as well as some crystals. Can you talk a little bit about how those types of meditative practices can influence your creativity?

Let me tell you - the nights when I hold that Rose Quartz crystal and fall asleep with it I have the best night’s sleep of my life - I’m not even joking. Each one has a story. The sage I got at some shop because I was moving into a new place and I had to cleanse my apartment. I listen to a podcast called That’s So Retrograde and I’m obsessed! They were asking one of the ladies they had on how often you should sage and she used to be a fashion director and she said you should do it with each season. It’s now the middle of summer and I have yet to sage for spring and summer, so I’m a little behind. 

This one [long, iridescent straight crystal], I’m pretty sure is called Citrine. I go to this place in Portland called Ed’s House of Gems and got the Rose Quartz and the Citrine for like 7 bucks. Other places, you pay for the spirituality. With crystals, you give them intention - they don’t come with it. You’re supposed to sage them and wash them and hold them and you give them intentions of what you want them to do for you. A lot of them have properties. The Citrine is for a clear mind and decision-making. I recently went through a breakup and this Rose Quartz is like the self-love crystal. You need to love yourself first before anyone else can love you. I went in and I knew I wanted to get Rose Quartz and there were so many sizes. I wasn’t sure what I wanted but then I saw this little one in a box and the reason I picked it is because there’s so many ways it fits nicely in my hand. I literally saw it, picked it up, held it, and was like “oh this feels kind of nice” and I just walked around the store with it and held it. That one is my current favorite because I’ve spent so much time holding it. 

And then I also have Amethyst, which happens to be my birthstone. This was actually a gift from my ex boyfriend. He bought one for himself as well, and he would carry it in his motorcycle jacket when he rode his motorcycle because Amethyst can bring you protection. But I kept this one, because it’s my birthstone and my favorite color is a deep, royal purple. I also have a salt lamp. I got it at Urban Outfitters. It’s a stone, and the light inside heats up the stone and it’s supposed to bring you shit. There’s one crystal that’s very deep ruby red, so I want to go buy that one. 

 
 

TELL ME A LITTLE MORE ABOUT YOUR SELFIE PROJECT. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE DREADED “SELFIE CULTURE” THAT EVERYONE CLAIMS MILLENNIALS ARE OBSESSED WITH? HOW HAS SELFIE CULTURE INFLUENCED YOUR SELFIE PROJECT?

It all started in college when we had an assignment for one of our classes and basically it was something relating to the human body. One week it was the body in motion, the next it was the body as a decorative surface, and then one week it was “the self” and what it means to be the self. Back when I was a tortured artist, it meant that I would stare at a mirror for five hours and draw one very tortured portrait of myself. So we thought that was boring and decided to go with the complete opposite end of the spectrum and take ten selfies a day for ten days. And so we all created separate Instagrams where we followed each other and posted ten selfies a day so that we could all see them. It became a competition of who could come up with the dopest selfies. At the end of the ten days we printed them out and displayed them in grids. We had 6 people that did it. 

After that I kind of quit it and didn’t start taking selfies again until I moved to Portland and had been here a couple of months. I thought maybe I would start taking selfies again to just see what happens. It has been the longest-standing artistic project that I’ve done. And it’s probably one of the most fun. A lot of people give a lot of shits about selfies but honestly, taking selfies as a woman has grown my self confidence in the way that I think I’m beautiful and I am worthy of this selfie. And I can post whatever I want. It’s also a great way to figure out if guys like you! If they follow you and they’re liking all your photos, maybe they’re trying to get in your pants. I fucking love it. Right now I'm at 1,166 selfies. When it was ten selfies a day, that was fun and a challenge. It’s a lot different when you have to do it so many times a day. This weekend I was at Pride so obviously I posted a lot more but generally every couple days I’ll post one and I’d say they’re a lot more curated now - there’s intent behind them and I try to do witty captions. There was a time after my breakup when I stopped taking them. I had been taking them very consistently and then I stopped and I had a coworker tell me to start taking them again and I was like yeah, you’re right. I took a month-long break and then just got back to it. Some of them are really stupid and some of them are definitely more serious. I’ll admit, sometimes I scroll back through and look at them.

It’s very hard to pick a favorite because I post all of them because I really like them. It encourages me to go out and do stuff because I can only take so many photos in front of the mirror in my apartment. Selfies are fun. And I think as a woman you can take selfies. There’s no shame in being confident in yourself and who you are and your beauty. If you think you’re beautiful, then I definitely encourage you to take selfies. 

 

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