Kate Plourde: Navigating the Smoky Topographies of Memory and Emotion
Being an artist means being open to discovery; being an abstract artist also means being constantly open to uncertainty. How do you paint a feeling rather than an object? How do you guide your mediums when you can’t see what you’re painting in front of you?
Kate Plourde is an abstract artist living in Washington, DC. She creates ethereal large-scale abstract paintings on paper; exploring memory, experiences and emotions in her delicate, smoky forms and landscape-like contours. “I’m always looking for ways to play with what the medium wants to do and what I want the medium to do,” says Kate.
Though she typically creates her paintings using mediums like Liquitex and Golden acrylics on high quality Rives BFK or Stonehenge paper, Kate does not limit herself to one mode of creating. She occasionally practices the esoteric art of bookbinding, as well as creating ultra-modern digital art. For part of her thesis at the Corcoran, she used Adobe After Effects and Photoshop to create the digital animation installation, “Tidal” (2015), which is pictured further below.
It is always interesting to see how abstract artists title their pieces and what role the title plays in the viewer’s perception of the image. Kate’s paintings have simple and sometimes fun names that she typically arrives at after painting. In the following interview, Kate addresses how she makes this decision and how it plays into the closure of a piece.
“Titling a piece is like getting closure with it and to me means the piece is done, so I save that for last. I have some pieces that I’ve had for years that are still untitled because I don’t feel like I’ve processed them fully.” Sometimes, as artists we struggle with when to declare a piece “finished.” This is particularly fascinating because her work seems simple at first glance, but her markings appear extremely intentional and well-thought out in advance of moving the brush. Kate reminds us that’s it’s OK to take your time with your work, or revisit pieces that appeared finished before.
As an emerging artist, Kate looks forward to the joy of experimentation in her development as an artist. “Every time I work with a new medium I discover more about my process, so it’s important for me to keep trying new things.” Being open to new mediums and techniques allows us to learn more about our individual processes as artists. (Pictured above, "Pool," 2016.)
Please visit www.kateplourde.com to see more of Kate's work!
You make abstract paintings. Which mediums do you use and what scale do you normally work on?
Currently I've been using acrylic paint, pastels and charcoal on either on canvas or paper. I was making almost exclusively digital work last year, so I wanted to take a break from that and make more physical objects. I like the immediacy of acrylics for mark making and layering. I like to work at a scale that’s comparable to the body.
I also like to be very gestural with drawing and painting, so I need a lot of room to make a mess. It’s challenging for me to work at a small scale but I’ve been attempting to make some work in smaller sizes to see what effect it has on my process. I try not to limit myself in what I use for my mediums or the scale of the work—it tends to change a lot depending on what I think the piece needs. (Pictured above, "Nesting," 2016.)
Are you from the Washington DC area originally? What do you like about DC, and how do you think the art scene here is different from other places you've been?
I'm from the east coast originally and I moved to DC a few years ago to go to school at the Corcoran. I have strong connections to both sides of the country though because my dad and sister live in Oregon while both my mom and I live around here.
The art scene in DC is super tight-knit which can be really amazing, but it can also feel a little closed off at times. Overall though, everyone I've met in the DC arts has always been incredibly motivating. There's a great culture here of helping emerging artists get their work out there and being supportive towards one another.
Are there any new projects of yours that you would like people to know about right now? Or maybe a long-term creative project or group that you are very passionate about at the moment?
I want to get back into making some digital pieces and animation. Movement and fluidity are themes that I want to explore more fully while still retaining the same kind of expression that my painted works have. Time-based media lends itself well to the explorations of memory and so it seems like an obvious choice for my work.
I also enjoy the challenge of working digitally because it is so inherently different than traditional painting methods. Every time I work with a new medium I discover more about my process, so it’s important for me to keep trying new things.
Do you have a recent artistic accomplishment that you are particularly proud of, or a new project on the horizon that you are excited about?
I'm incredibly excited about the way my work has been going lately. I don't have any major projects going on at the moment but I hope to soon! The most recent painting that I’ve started to work on is on un-stretched and unprimed canvas and I’m enjoying it so far. I want to possibly do a series of works on raw canvas and see what else I can learn from that. Right now I think I’m in a very exploratory kind of mode.
I’m always looking for ways to play with what the medium wants to do and what I want the medium to do. I like the uncertainty that comes with using unconventional supports and mediums.
I really like the titles of your paintings. Do you title them after you've made them, or start out with a title in mind? Where do you typically look to for inspiration when you begin a project?
Thank you! I always title my work after it’s done, because I don't plan how things are going to look beforehand. I'll sometimes go into it wanting to use certain colors or a specific type of mark making, but those are just jumping off points for me. Titling a piece is like getting closure with it and to me means the piece is done, so I save that for last. I have some pieces that I’ve had for years that are still untitled because I don’t feel like I’ve processed them fully.
My work is deeply connected to my relationships with other people and often I'm trying to express an emotion or moment in time in my work. I've always been very introverted and deal with social anxiety so I often use my work as a catharsis for that. I usually try to focus on how I'm feeling and let that energy feed into what I'm creating. I want people to view my work as an entry point to reflect on and remember their own experiences. I like the idea that a painting can be like a conversation without having to speak directly to anyone.
I noticed photos of your work, "Tidal" (2015) on your website. Is this a digital piece? Could you tell me a little more about how you made this piece?
Tidal was my final piece that I made for my thesis at school. It was a digital animation that ran for seven minutes. I projected it onto the corner of the gallery wall—I wanted it to feel both intimate and enveloping, like you could get lost in it. It was a very meditative and exploratory process to create the piece and I wanted those feelings to translate to the viewer.
There were natural elements and signifiers throughout [the piece] that dealt with my trips to the Oregon coast. It was about reconciling and coming to terms with my parents’ divorce and breaking into my own independent life. It’s an important piece for me in terms of my process and work and how I see myself as an artist.
Is there anything else you would like folks to know about your process or your artwork?
I'm always trying to challenge myself with the work I'm making. I think it's really important to be playful with your work and to not take it too seriously. Making mistakes can lead to unexpected discoveries so I always leave myself some room to mess up. I like to paint over old stuff and collage together pieces that didn't work out. My work is constantly changing with every piece I make and they all influence each other so my process is a continuous one.