Rational Beauty

Kathryn Clark

Before becoming a full-time artist in 2005, Kathryn Clark worked as an architectural and urban designer for many years. So it’s not surprising that she held on to her urban planning roots when she transitioned to the art world. Today her art focuses on global land use issues such as the US housing crisis and industrial agriculture, using utilitarian objects such as dishes and quilts to construct her message.

Kathryn’s “Foreclosure Quilts” are simply brilliant. When the housing bubble burst, she was alarmed by the overwhelming number of foreclosures and began to research hard data on the subject. She made the decision to express her findings through—ironically enough—a series of handmade quilts. “It was important to me to present the whole story in a way that would captivate people’s attention and make a memorable statement,” Kathryn says.

In their most basic sense, quilts help generate warmth on a cold winter’s night. Quilts also tell stories reflecting the lives of the people who create them. These eclectic objects use color, texture, and pattern to express political views, remember loved ones, and celebrate life’s milestones. Throughout history, quilters (a majority of them woman) have used familiar materials such as scraps of clothing to record the cultural history of a particular place and time. Kathryn poetically leverages this quilting heritage in “Foreclosure Quilts.”

The patterns are based on RealtyTrac neighborhood maps Kathryn used during her research. The lot locations are completely random, providing an improvisational quality to the overall design. Foreclosed lots are shown as holes in the quilts. These holes question the protective nature of the quilt —in fact, there are so many foreclosures that the top layers are quite literally dwindling away. Kathyrn states on her site: “The situation is so dire that even a quilt can’t provide the security one needs. The neighborhoods shown are not an anomaly; they are a recurring pattern seen from coast to coast, urban to suburban neighborhoods across the US. The problem has not been solved, it is still occurring, just changing shape, affecting more of us.”

Without further ado, here’s my interview with the imaginative and perceptive Kathyrn Clark.

Job description: A fine artist who uses craft in her work. I coined the term ‘articraft’ to describe people who do similar work.

Why do you do what you do? Both of my parents were artists as well as one of my grandparents. I was surrounded by it so it was a natural choice. Standing in my aunt’s art gallery in Atlanta when I was thirteen was when it clicked for me though. I’m generally a very quiet person but I can be very passionate about certain subjects and making art allows me to express it. My current and future series revolves around themes of crisis. I want to tell as many people as I can about some serious issues that I feel are being overlooked in the media.

How do you break through a creative block? Several different ways. I like to visit SFMOMA for inspiration. And sometimes just puttering around in the studio cleaning works. I can see my work more objectively then for some reason.

Education: My parents were both artists (my dad is also an architect) so I grew up having conversations with them about art and architecture. Going to college never really came up in conversations at home. It was only after I met my husband that he stressed the importance of it (we were very young!). At that point I couldn’t decide between art and architecture. I ended up studying painting and drawing at the University of Alabama before switching to Interior Architecture at San Jose State in California. But I always felt that college didn’t push the students enough. I often gave myself extra challenges in school which I think drove the other students crazy. So in some ways I’m largely self-educated. I believe you can learn anything with dedicated study and practice.

Mentors: I’ve learned so many different things from so many people. My bosses in architecture and urban planning, Steve MacCracken and Peter Calthorpe were enormously influential. My friend Neile Royston, a RISD grad, is the one who introduced me to fiber. After featuring Myrna Tater on my blog last year, we’ve become a great support for each other. She reminds me to loosen up and push the envelope with my work. And don’t get me started about the online art community! It has been a wonderful way to meet other artists. We mentor each other constantly.

World-saving mission: That’s a heady question! I wish there was a way I could remind people to be more honest and respectful of each other and our world. There’s so much nastiness in politics and around us every day. No one wants to be held accountable or admit to making mistakes. It’s really frustrating!

Office chair: I own a lot of chairs! Right now, I’m using a knock-off Aeron task chair on wheels that is always trying to roll away from my desk since my floor is sloped.

Office Soundtrack: iTunes podcasts, NPR, jazz from the bebop period and classical.

Most useful tool: There are so many I can’t live without but my sewing needle probably wins.

Favorite space: My vegetable garden in Sonoma.

Favorite design object: A Dyson vacuum cleaner. My work generates a lot of fiber dust so it’s made a huge difference in the air quality in my studio.

Guilty Pleasure: Design magazines and Kinokuniya Japanese bookstore. Kinokuniya has the complete line of Jeu de Paume design books. I have a complete weakness for those.

Underrated: Libraries. I’m fortunate to live two blocks from a small branch of the San Francisco library. I can request almost any book I want, download audiobooks, flip through their magazines and get a great idea of what other people are reading.

Overrated: Mass production. I’m so fed up with the rapid decline of quality made goods. It annoys me that the majority of the population doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.

What did you learn the hard way? How to focus my time in the studio. This is probably the hardest lesson to learn as an artist and it’s a constant challenge. The studio can be very isolating and there are so many distractions in today’s world thanks to technology. Banning the computer in my studio helped a lot as well as recognizing my work rhythms. I’m most productive in the morning. As soon as I drop my daughter off at school, I head straight for the studio.

Has your work ever got you into trouble? Ha! Great question! Surprisingly, not yet!

If you could cross over into other profession… what would you do? I would become a gardener or a geologist.

Dream project: To create a large installation of one of my series, either the foreclosure quilts or a new series I’m working on around global farming.

Where’s home? San Francisco and Sonoma.

In addition to her art, Kathyrn maintains a thriving blog showcasing her most recent work as well as featuring other inspiring artists and craftspeople.



Next post

Albuquerque Foreclosure Quilt

Albuquerque Foreclosure Quilt detail

Cleveland Foreclosure Quilt

“It was important to me to present the whole story in a way that would captivate people’s attention and make a memorable statement.”
—Kathryn Clark

Cape Coral Foreclosure Quilt

Detroit Foreclosure Quilt detail

Detroit Foreclosure Quilt