Artist Spotlight: Katie Kimmel
Welcome to our series were we interview artists that we have heard of. These are women artists who we admire and want to know more about. Get to know artist Katie Kimmel
I met Katie on her 19th birthday, at her apartment, where I found a naked, one-foot tall, ceramic baby, who would haunt my dreams for months to come. Katie didn’t share my fear of her baby; this was the ceramic that started it all. Katie made Gold Baby in California and carefully wrapped, then packed him in her suitcase, to move to the midwest, where she would study painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He was the love of her life, with whom she had planned her future.
Together they would make more babies, Gold Baby gleefully observing, silently supporting. Katie has successfully sculpted these babies in the form of shrimp, dogs, happy and sad fruits and vegetables.
Gold Baby tragically left us when he was lost while moving houses*. I feel that he is up in heaven next to Patrick Swayze and Professor Snape, gazing down upon Katie and upon all artists, even me who doubted him, wishing us well.
In this interview we talk to Katie Kimmel, ceramist and painter, about the importance accessibility in art and Dwayne, the Rock, Johnson’s chiseled bod. She is a multi-talented artist who also creates art in the form of video, podcast and apparel. Never Heard of Her’s Leslie Castromayor caught-up with Katie while she was driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco with her boyfriend Will. Find Katie at her website and on instagram.
*Since writing this article, I’ve learned that Gold Baby was not lost, but taken by Katie’s Mom. Gold Baby is alive and well, in storage somewhere
Leslie: The video is kind of like glitchy.
Katie: Oh it is? You’re coming in fine.
Leslie: Is it me? Oh! Now it’s ok.
Leslie: Nora’s told me a lot of stuff about you, and then I’ve definitely stalked your instagram and website and everything. Ok, I love this. We collaborated on the questions and Nora wrote all of her questions in the third person, [laughing]. Nora says that you’re one of the funniest people she knows.
Katie: Oh my god. Nora!
Leslie: [laughing] I know!
Katie: She knows a lot of funny people so I’m going to have to send her a present for saying that.
Leslie: Your work is always so playful. Is humor something that you purposefully put into your work, or does it come by accident?
Katie: I think when you’re making art and spacing out – especially with sculpture, where your hands are making a lot of the decisions, and you click into this intuition – it’s really hard to separate out any part of your personality from it. I wouldn’t say it’s purposeful, it’s more like it’s unavoidable. It would be insane for me to be like ‘here is my very serious piece about, uh, people who are starving.’ That’s not my identity.
Leslie: Nora say that often in her own work, other people will point out the humor before she realizes that a piece is funny. Has this ever happened to you?
Katie: I think it’s really funny to me – less now that I’m not at school and I’m not having critical conversations – sometimes people would try to pull out these deeper meanings about nostalgia. And I’m like, I guess. I really-
[Audio cuts ]
Leslie: Can you see me? I can see you . . . oh no.
. . .
Leslie: Hello? Hey! Ok. I can see you and then it keeps getting frozen.
Katie: I’m so sorry. I regret doing this in the car. I thought it was convenient and I was like ‘and I just got unlimited data! So it won’t even mean anything.’
Leslie: [laughing] This is good. Now we are good. Which contemporary artists do you look up to?
Katie: I really like Claes Oldenburg. I don’t even know if he’s contemporary, cause he’s super old. He might not even be alive. I just got a book about him, and he’s one of my favorite artists. I – I don’t even know. Honestly, I’m not super connected to the art world. I get more excited [by the] art community through Instagram and hip people I meet through there. And clicking through people’s profiles and being like, omg cuuuute. That’s fun. That’s more accessible. I don’t ever really go to galleries unless it’s a friend’s show. But I’m a lil’ creep on the phone.
Who is the last person you creeped on Instagram – art wise?
Katie: I’m always creeping on my friend, Lorien, who Nora actual just met. She’s an artist who know I’m really good friends with because of Instagram. I think she’s a lot like me. I creeped on her page, and went somewhere to try to befriend her. A year later, she messaged me on Instagram and was like ‘Do you want to come to a party at my house and sleepover?’ and I said ‘Yes! Please don’t kill me.’ Now I like live at her house –
Leslie: That’s awesome.
Katie: and I’m like working out of her studio. Now she’s someone I’m super close with but she’s someone I creeped on Instagram and was into her artwork.
Leslie: I mean there’s a movie coming out with Aubrey Plaza where premise is not that different from your story, but it doesn’t turn out well.
Katie: Oh yeah, maybe my brain will just like flip and then I’ll just rampage everyone like Aubrey Plaza.
Leslie: Has Instagram brought your art community closer?
Katie: Yeah absolutely. I mean – just being able to really find people who are interested in exactly the same thing. [Before Instagram,] I think with artists, you just have the people you meet at school, . . so it’s really awesome to find people that are making art about the same topics as you and the same medium. Just to be able to message someone and be like, How do you get your ceramics to hang on the wall? and stuff like that.
Leslie: I read one of your interviews, and it was titled Trolling the Trolls. I love how you combat the haters. Especially that Jimmy Johns guy.
Katie: That’s only happened twice, that I’ve really had a hater. The other one was just some guy that burned me at the bar.
The Jimmy Johns one, I was so excited when I got that comment because every once in awhile I get some mean 13 year old that says Your art suuuucks! and I’m like, You suck! or I block them or whatever.
That comment was so crazy. It was insane, like wow, this person is so twisted. I wouldn’t even have thought anything about it, if he didn’t have same name as a sandwich I’ve drunk eaten 4 million times. So I was like, how dare you burn me, sandwich!
I love it because you used your art to talk. Do you use your art to relay the things that are happening to you day to day?
Katie: Uh yeah. I think a lot of times with those [types of drawings,] I’ll use them as an exercise. Like if I can’t think of anything to draw, I’ll be like ok, just draw one thing that happened today, or one memory . . . really funny – mostly because I have a really easy time drawing the characters, but with locations, it’s not my favorite thing to draw. It’s more of a technical thing. With locations, I’m forced to draw a whole scene. I guess it’s not fun answer. I mean yeah I guess, it is also me trying to relate or trying to preserve a memory.
Oh, Like this woman chased me down the street because I told her I’d buy her a sandwich and then I didn’t.
Leslie: Did that actually happen?
Katie: Yeah, one time. I’ve been meaning to do a drawing about it because it was so freaking funny. She like confronted me in front of the shop – and she was like this tiny old woman – she just started giving me a sandwich order – which I missed half of before I realized what was going on. And I was like Oh yeah! Then I waited in line for like twenty minutes and she, like, left, or so I thought. I was just like “Ok phew, I don’t have to deal with this sandwich mess.” Walking outside with only one sandwich, she appeared out of nowhere and was screaming at me, as if i had stolen something from her. I remember her shaking a cane at me but I don’t think she actually was. I just turned and ran. That was my fight or flight moment. I guess I chose flight.
Leslie: That will make a great drawing.
Katie: Right?! I maybe I’ll do it tonight.
Leslie: After creating a series of paintings based off of The Rock’s autobiography, you got to meet him and gift him one of your paintings. How was that?
Katie: It was casually a dream come true. But, I like fully stalked him. I found out where he was going to be. Went there. Stood outside his dressing room. It was the most effort I put into anything. I was living in Chicago at the time, and Dwayne was in LA, and we decided to meet up. I didn’t even have any of my paintings that I put real time in. So, I just quickly did a painting him and was like, ‘Ok. I’m gonna give it to him. And he was like, Ohhhhhhhhh. . . I don’t know, I’m sure it’s in a file somewhere waiting with a lawyer in case something escalates. But he’s the dream.
Leslie: He’s huge too. Is he really tall and jacked?
Katie: He’s humongous and I caught a glimpse of his eldest daughter who is also 6 feet tall. I’ve never felt smaller. I’m 5’2. . . Why are these people so tall and beautiful?
Leslie: I didn’t even realize that he had a daughter. Ok, follow up to that – You were on Nicole Richie’s show?
Katie: With the Dwayne [the Rock, Johnson] paintings, yeah.
Leslie: Yeah! How was that? It’s scripted right?
Katie: No it wasn’t! Honestly, it was pretty uneventful. I was maybe there for like 30 minutes, and that was it. I think that the fact that they asked me [on the show] was the funniest part. [I kind of know] the producer of that season and he emailed me. I had just started a different job that week, and I was like ‘hey, um, on Tuesday, I have to be somewhere.’ They were like ‘what the fuck?.’ so the whole time I was really nervous and stressed out because I just started this job and I was ditching to be on a reality TV show. It was fun.
Leslie: I really loved your deadpan responses. Did they [the producers] coach you to be deadpan and as serious as possible?
Katie: No, I mean that’s just kind of how I am. That’s like me normal conversation with 20% stress added to the mix. Then I went back to my normal job [after getting makeup done for the show] with big fake eyelashes and they were like, ‘Hmm. You look pretty.’ and I was like ‘No, I don’t. Don’t look at me. I was somewhere normal.’
Leslie: Nicole Richie is also small. She’s like 5’2. I’m small too.
That was like the reverse of the Dwayne Johnson. She was small and her friend next to her was small. So here we are. We were all small.
Leslie: Who are some of your personal style influences – Nicole Richie? lol
Katie: Yeah. Actually, her friend on that episode is the Who What Wear girl, and I was just looking at her stuff at Target and I thought it was cute. Um, I don’t know. I’m someone who gets wrapped in matching everyone else who’s [at an event]. I get very stressed out that I’m going to stick out, or be dressed differently – I know it’s super juvenile. I mean for the most part I just wear jeans and a shirt. If I’m hanging out with someone that likes to make and effort and get dressed up, I’ll be like, ‘Oh I’ll make an effort . . . I guess.’
Right now it’s [different] because I’m just living in the desert. It’s like I’m in a school uniform [in jeans and a t-shirt] . . . Going to San Francisco I was like holy shit, I get to tap into a section of my closet that I have not thought about, like silk shorts. I just started wearing shorts.
Leslie: You’re a big fan of antique malls and tchotchkes. I am too. Has there ever been an item you wanted to buy but didn’t. That one that got away?
Katie: I feel like every time I leave the antique mall it’s with a little bit of heartbreak. Every time I see a big stack of fiestaware, I’m like give me some! I already have some, but I’m like – get more! But I have plating for like 14 people and I never entertained in my whole life so I don’t need it. . . Actually I didn’t buy a doll once and I was bummed out about it 3 weeks later and then my boyfriend bought it for me for Christmas . . . Her arms are porcelain and crazy long.
Leslie: I love those types of dolls.
Katie: She’s like defective.
Leslie: Even better. Does she have a name?
Katie: NO. There’s a line. She’s just The Doll.
Leslie: If you could live the life of one of your ceramic characters, who would it be and why?
Katie: I just made this girl and she’s holding a mug – OH no wait. I don’t want to be her. I just sculpted a big cheesecake. The imagery is kinda like that American Beauty scene with all the roses, but instead of the roses it’s strawberry slices. And in the middle of the strawberries is this sexy strawberry baby. That. I want to be that one.
Leslie: What’s the best reaction someone has given you after you gifted/sold an art piece to them?
Katie: My grandma. She screams her freaking head off… Or someone who hasn’t seen my dog vases before, they freak out. They’re really freaking cute in person. I don’t know can you think of anybody, Will?
Will (from the driver’s seat of the car): People who haven’t seen your dog [vases] before, when they see them . . . they’ll be like, oh my god what is this.
Katie: Oh you’re right people will walk past them and be like, ‘Holy Shit! Because they’re really freaking cute in person. Actually it’s not just with the vases, [people get excited] if I make multiples [of other ceramics.] Four years ago I made forty of these ceramic oysters. I was like ‘eh,’ and I didn’t like how they looked at the time. I just put them in a box. [Later, I] brought them to a pop-up at Big Bud Press in LA. I found them randomly, and was like oh I’ll just bring them and sell them for 5 bucks each. People were standing there, [looking at them] for fifteen minutes, and picking them up, and getting stressed out trying to pick one out. They were very so different and individual . . . It tickles me when it’s important to other people to pick out the right one, because that’s important to me too.
Leslie: Aw, I love that and now I really need to buy one of your things! Nora wants to know why you love shrimp.
Katie: They’re delicious. I just really like them.
Leslie: I’ll let her know. You do a podcast, right?
Katie: No, I did one a few years ago with my friend Tati for Hello Giggles, but I was living out of town and I had to go back to school so we stopped recording it. . . That was fun. Shit. I just got emailed to be on a podcast, but I forget what it’s called.
Leslie: Oh cool.
Katie [laughing]: Honestly I think I might have scheduled it to be on the drive home from San Francisco.
Leslie [laughing]: Oh no!
Katie: Now I’ll have to change it.
Leslie: Ceramic is your preferred medium to work with. What is one medium you hate using?
Katie: Charcoal. I fucking hate charcoal. My fingernails reject it. Will is like squirming in the corner [as I talk about it.] It’s so unsatisfying. It’s not cute. It’s an annoying thing that your teachers make you do for all of high school and all of the first year of college. Seriously, I think I know one person that draws with charcoal and they make me sick.
Katie: Charcoal is disgusting. Ugh, I hate it.
Leslie: Is it important for you that your art is accessible to a wide audience?
Katie: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s why I feel connected to instagram because that’s a great way to get your image out there to a larger community. I feel obligated to be accessible to people with my pricing. . . I’m not one of those artists who is making a line on a canvas and you can read my 18 page paper about it. I mean, that’s cool and I’m not annoyed by that kind of art at all, but it’s just not my thing.
You reference your stuff being a lot like Pewee’s Playhouse. If you could decorate a whole room with your art, would that be your dream or your nightmare?
Katie: It would be a dream. But it would take a lot out of me mentally. Like I would probably be 10 percent crazier after.
What else do you have coming up?
I’m going to be doing the Gifts for Giving Show. (http://www.blackbookgallery.com/)
I’m also getting ready for Christmas. Christmas is a crazy time for me. Me, my friend Lorien and others are doing a Christmas pop-up, so we’re getting ready for that. Also my website goes crazy at this time, so I’m trying to prepare. Last year was the first time I had a website and posted things for Christmas presents. And everyone went crazy. I wasn’t prepared. But this time I’m going to have a billion stuff on there.