Talk Crafty to Me — An inside look into Arrowmont instructors’ connection to craft, Gatlinburg, and studio practice.
What is your connection to craft?
I am new to the craft world. I received an MFA in painting and drawing from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Most of my experience with art has been from an academic, fine art perspective. Learning about the craft world and the workshop-based, craft school experience has been the most exciting part about becoming a staff member at Arrowmont. I have learned about different media, techniques and ways of displaying craft objects in the gallery. A whole world of artists and inspiration has been illuminated to me and has enriched my viewpoint as an artist and maker.
What was your first ah-ha piece of work that you made?
I remember a big ah-ha moment when I was 18 or 19 years old. I took pride in perfecting my technique in drawing and had not yet been exposed to much contemporary art. A friend of mine gave me a Polaroid photo he found on the street – one where the chemicals had gone awry, creating an unpredictable, abstract image. He talked about its beauty referring to the accidental circumstances of how it was made and found. It opened my mind to what could be considered beautiful and completely shifted my understanding about what was possible in art.
Tell us about your studio space. What is your favorite part of it?
I am a founding member of the Vacuum Shop Studios in Knoxville, Tennessee. I share the studio with seven other artists – most of whom I went to graduate school with at UT. It is good for me to continue having a critical conversation about my work with these artists. We are familiar with each others work and supportive of each others accomplishments. Three times a year we hold open studio nights so the community can see what we are currently working on. The rest of the year it exists as our private studio space. My studio space is very organized and clean. My studio-mates love to poke fun at me about it.
What are you reading currently?
Some of the staff members and Artists-in-Residence at Arrowmont have started a book club called “7th Period.” We read books we read in high school and would like to revisit. I am currently reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde for book club. I am also reading Lives of the Artists by Calvin Tomkins and No-Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel in the hopes that I can learn how to curb the meltdowns my toddler is prone to having.
Why do you make art?
I am in the process of re-evaluating the answer to that question. The answer used to be that I had no choice, that I was a born maker. As I get older and have less time to make my work, I do not believe that as much.
I have also been questioning my need to exhibit. It has felt very anticlimactic and self-indulgent in the past couple of years. Part of it comes from not needing that kind of validation anymore. I feel validated and confident in my job, as a mother, a friend and a wife. I’ve decided to continue making work, but take a break from exhibiting for a while.
What themes are in your current work?
Death and rebirth. I use photographs of domestic subjects to create my work. The photographs are manipulated using a visual language of decoration and cancellation. This creates themes about life and celebration and death and disruption. The images have been resurrected and reconfigured. However, there are enough moments of destruction and erasure to suggest loss. Photography as a medium is the ultimate embodiment of death. It makes sense that I gravitated towards it and away from painting. I believe there is a lot of tenderness in the work through my handling of the images and by what the viewer brings to the work when they are reflecting on their own past.
How do you want someone to feel while looking at your work?
Seduced and unsettled at the same time. The surfaces of my pieces are embellished with glitter and rhinestones. I want the dazzling effect to draw the viewer in. My hope is that there is a secondary reaction to the subject matter, which is often surreal or disturbing. A common visual “move” of mine is obscurification and the simultaneous actions of destruction and beautification. Each subject in my work falls victim to these forces and become impressions of both a presence and an absence.
Tell us a guilty pleasure or secret hobby of yours.
I love to write letters. I had a pen pal in Australia from ages 8-18.
My favorite correspondent was my grandmother, Patricia Hider. She and I wrote letters to each other for at least ten years. It was a touching and often humorous conversation. I love her handwriting. She is now afflicted by dementia and has a hard time writing back to me but I still send her letters.
I have one more fellow Post-Office-Loving-Letter-Writing-Luddite friend in Colorado with whom I write to. We met over a decade ago in Rochester, NY. Although we do not see each other often, our friendship has grown through our correspondence. It is a very intimate exchange where we share our deepest fears, struggles and joys.
What are you currently listening to in your studio and why?
Podcasts. I am obsessed with Fresh Air and I am catching up on old episodes. Terry Gross is such an incredible interviewer and there’s always something surprising or discovered during her interviews. I also regularly listen to Love + Radio, Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People, Slate’s Political Gabfest and This American Life.
For more information about Kelly and her work, visit www.kellyhider.com.