Monday, January 30, 2012

Kathy Nida - A Very Personal Voice

Here - 2009
46.5"w x 54.5"h
Created by Kathy Nida as a form of protection for a friend diagnosed with breast cancer.

Have you ever been challenged by the work of an artist? Challenged as to form or content, theme or approach? I have been on many occasions and what I often find is that in the fullness of time, the work which interests me most is the work that challenged me most.

Drowning Mary's Baby - 2007
50"w x 65"h
This work came from a dream. Kathy says it gives her the creeps and still doesn't know what the quilt is about.

The textile work of artist Kathy Nida is work that falls into that group. I believe the first time I saw one of her pieces was in Form, Not Function in New Albany, IN. I do not recall the specific piece but I recall being intrigued by the highly developed style and the excellent use of technique, not to mention that the work utilized figures. Many artists in our medium (fabric) aspire to include figures in their work but few do so successfully. Kathy also works heavily with very serious themes and does it well.

Since seeing that first work I have continued to look for Kathy's work and she continues to impress me in the way she addresses and uses content. I find her fearless and very clear in her thinking and presentation. I see her as an observer of life and a very good storyteller.

Drowning Mary's Baby - detail - 2007

Artist Profile - Kathy Nida

Terry: You have a very unique and recognizable style. Do you have art training (art school or college) or have you learned through some other avenue?

Kathy: I have a studio art degree from University of California, Irvine. I don't know that I came up with a style in fabric there... I mostly worked in printmaking and photography. I did a little screenprinting in Britain (I went on Education Abroad to Aberystwyth, Wales, for a year), and when I couldn't afford etching materials after college, I took a local class in screenprinting and did that for a while, even getting into a bunch of exhibits. I learned quilting on the mom taught me to sew when I was young and I sewed my own clothes throughout high school. When I was pregnant, the screenprinting was an issue because of the toxicity, so I gravitated to quilting. I draw a lot too, always have. The recognizable style comes from that, because whether it was screenprint or quilt, it started as a drawing.

A Study in Flesh - 1999
33.5"w x 28"h

I ask Kathy to select a work she felt was seminal in her work and A Study In Flesh is one she chose. She says, "Even though I now work differently, in that I don't pin all the pieces down and I use a pattern, I made this quilt in a Joan Colvin class. It was the first time I really was able to see myself taking my screenprints into the fabric world."

Terry: How did you begin using fabric as your art medium?

Kathy: Whoops. See above. I did actually start with traditional quilts...took a local class. Then branched out into hand applique because I could make pictures with it. So I was making the same types of art, just switched medium from screenprints to quilting...they both use blocks of color/shape to make an image (at least the way I do it, they do).

Earth Mother - 2006
32"w x 82"h

Kathy revealed that she has always liked Earth Mother but it wasn't accepted into many shows, probably because it needed to be professionally photographed.

Earth Mother - detail

Terry: What does fabric bring to your art that is unique from other mediums?

Kathy: I like that the fabrics I choose already have a pattern or texture to instead of having 10 basic colors, I have 10 trillion in my paintbox. With printmaking, I was able to mix colors, but it was more difficult to change a color within a particular shape. Plus I like the texture caused by quilting and the temptation to touch with fabric. My mom is a weaver and sewed when I was young, so there was always fabric and thread and material lying around. It's also way more portable than screenprints. That was good for when the kids were little...I could take it with me and work at the park or at soccer games (I still do that).

One Paycheck - 2010
38"w x 38.5"h

One Paycheck is the work Kathy selected that has received the most recognition. This work was selected for an exhibition titled No Place to Call Home and traveled with the Mancuso shows. The piece was exhibited without incident until a woman complained to a local newspaper in Hampton, Virginia that she was offended by the vulva of the homeless woman. Kathy's website got over 7,000 hits the following weekend. This type of attention was not the goal but Kathy feels it did put a light on homelessness AND art.

Terry: At what point in your life as an artist did you begin to use your art to comment on the human condition?

Kathy: I've been drawing people since high school. In college, I got obsessed with the Being of Woman, I think because it's so frustrating to BE a woman sometimes...our bodies seem to be working against us. I worried about being pregnant when I wasn't ready, worried about not being able to get pregnant. In writing, they always tell you to write what you know. I think I draw what I know, what's around me, what's bugging me, plus I teach life science, so I spend a lot of time on structure and functions of the body and what happens when stuff goes wrong. I've been through a divorce and I'm now a single mom of teens. I teach 7th grade, one of the most challenging years of all...I'm surrounded by human emotion on a daily basis. The drawings keep me sane.

Fallen - 2004
26.25"w x 22"h

Fallen is an important piece in Kathy's life as she began it during a Laura Wasilowski class where she was introduced to Wonder Under.

Terry: Tell us something about your process of working from idea to finished work.

Kathy: Sometimes I just draw...whatever was in my head that day or week will filter into the drawing, which is black Sharpie on white paper. More often now, because I'm so busy, an idea will sit in my head, drawing itself almost, for weeks, as more experiences draw it out and I try to figure out what the drawing is about...and then I'll have time and I'll sit down and draw it all out. That might take a few nights. At that point, the image is pretty much set in stone, so all that type of thinking is done before I ever look at fabric, although not in color. Then I enlarge the drawing, number the pieces, and trace them all onto Wonder Under. I iron the Wonder Under pieces onto fabric...this is a really strange thing. When I was a screenprinter, I would make some copies of the drawing and color it with colored pencils. I don't do that anymore. I hang the black and white drawing in my studio and I pick a background fabric, and then I imagine what the piece will look like as I look through my bins of fabric. It's all colored in my head. I can't explain that. After many hours of ironing and then trimming the pieces, I iron them all together on a nonstick sheet and then onto the background fabric. I stitch them down, sandwich (adds a batting), and quilt. Sometimes I add ink at this stage or I hand embroider or bead. This can take weeks or months to get through all these stages. Sometimes a drawing will sit in my sketchbook for years before I think I want to make it as a quilt. I may not even remember what I was thinking when I drew it.

Terry: Are you a member of a critique group? If so, what benefit do you gain from this interaction? If not, do you have anyone that you regularly discuss you work with?

Kathy: I'm not really a member of a critique group, although I do take unfinished work to my local SAQA meeting and a local quilt group. I'm not asking for input or help in finishing it, though. I don't really want that. People are always offering to help cut pieces out or quilt my work for me, and I think it has to be all me, so I always say no. Plus the image is pretty much done by the time I'm taking it out of the house, at least in my head. I like to show people my work and answer their helps me think about the piece in a different way (and ultimately write a statement about it), but I don't really change my mind about how to make it. I have a lot of online friends who read my blog and comment, and some I email privately with, but I suspect I'm a fairly private person when it comes to actually making the art. For a while, I didn't even like people to watch me draw, but having kids and nieces and nephews made that less of an issue. They ask questions like "Why does that woman have a big hole in her?" and I answer them.

Disrupted - 2010
57.5"w x 70.5"h, 23.5"w x 70.5"h plus 4 small panels 8"x8"

This work was created for Sightlines, sponsored by the Studio Art Quilt Association. The show premiered at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in 2010. The show has been touring throughout the US and will be shown at the Alexandria Museum of Art in Alexandria, Louisiana, until February 25, 2012. Kathy identified this work as one she considers among her most successful.

Terry: How much time do you spend in your studio each week?

Kathy: Depends on whether I'm teaching. I teach middle school full time. When I'm not teaching, it could be 6-8 hours a day, but when I'm teaching and dragging kids to piano lessons and soccer games, there are weeks when I do nothing...which is really frustrating. I aim for an hour a day during the school year...sometimes it's more and sometimes it's less. A lot of what I do doesn't have to be done in the studio, though. I draw a sketchbook with me to a lot of places, I can cut pieces out at meetings, I've embroidered and sewn binding on at soccer games and in hotel rooms during tournaments. Disrupted went to Las Vegas, Lake Arrowhead, and Lancaster. I don't think creating has to be limited to one room in my house, which is a good thing, because that room is small and crowded.

Kathy in her studio.

Kathy says, "I have a very small, multi-use daughter was laughing very hard trying to take this picture without going outside to do it. Plus it was after working all day and YES I'm in my pajamas. It's also missing the three cats and two dogs who are often in there as well...but that's probably a good thing. You may have the only picture of me in my studio that is in existence.....

Currently, Kathy's work can be seen at Art Quilt Elements at the Wayne Art Center, Wayne, PA. as well as SAQA's Creative Force 2010 at The Yellowstone Art Museum, and Form, Not Function at The Carnegie Center for Art & History.


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  1. I love and admire Kathy's work. So unique! I really admire artists who carry their singular voice, and Kathy has that. I can only aspire......... Thanks for sharing more info with us.

  2. Great interview! I have followed Kathy's work for several years and am always impressed!

  3. Thank you Martha and Jenclair! Please tell your friends about Kathy's interview. I appreciate her unique approach and dedication to her art.

  4. Thank you! I love her studio and her determination...the interview was great to hear some insight from the artist's soul. Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

  5. Thanks for sharing Kathy's work. I have been a fan for a long time. I so admire her work ethic as well as her art.

  6. Thank you Mary Helen and Gerrie. I always appreciate artists willingness to share their life along with their art. I also appreciate your generosity in commenting.

  7. Thanks for the profile, Terry, and, Kathy, for sharing. I'm a fan!

  8. Thank you Virginia. You are in good company ;-)

  9. Wow....did you read the letter to the editor about your obscene quilt?
    April/May 2012 issue.
    I just had to look up your work to see what this lady is complaining about.
    I am hooked. I love your work. Sort of a white girl Frida Kahlo. (she is my favorite)
    Love, love, love your quilts.
    K. Frye