Life is full of unexpected surprises. From the time Kathryn Geismar was young, she always had an appreciation for art, but never pursued it until she went to college. From that time on, she drew on that initial curiosity to explore different techniques the medium had to offer. Kathryn’s attention to her craft has not gone unnoticed. She has received recognition from organizations such as the Cambridge Art Association and was this year’s Somerville Arts Council LCC Visual Arts Fellowship winner for 2020. Kathryn creates her works at the Vernon Street Arts Studios, here in Somerville.
Kathryn Geismar, November Artist of the Month interviewed by Kerrie Kemperman
How long have you been painting (and collaging) and what continues to draw you
to the medium?
I have drawn since I was little but never painted before I went to college, where I wound up a Studio Art major (which was a surprise). I left art-making for fifteen years to go to graduate school, complete my doctorate and my clinical training in psychology, and start a family. About 12 years ago I found myself longing to return to making things in a more formal way. I am an inveterate student, and I have had the chance to work with many wonderful teachers since re-committing to art-making. Initially I studied portraiture and figurative work with Barbara Baum, Catherine Kehoe, and Kelly Carmody. More recently I have been drawn to abstraction, leaving behind the idea of working within a shared reality. Alexandra Sheldon has been a great teacher for me in terms of building a unique language and utilizing collage elements which provide a fresh array of tools and ideas. I find something satisfying and wonderfully challenging in all of the mediums with which I have worked.
Please tell us more about your techniques and the themes you explore in your work.
Initially, my focus was on learning to paint and acquiring greater comfort with technical as abilities
that I felt I had never learned. I was reluctant to explore abstraction until it was an active choice for me, rather than a result of not being able to render something as I saw it in real life. It is only now that I see how much ALL artwork is abstract and that even the most realistic work is an assemblage of shapes and values rather than a nose, an eye, etc.
I have been very compelled by imagery that moves me, like those from the Deep Water Horizon
catastrophe (my “Beautiful Disaster” series) that were at once unspeakably horrifying and strangely exquisite. When I was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, I spent several years exploring the process of letting go of a sense that life unfolds in relatively predictable ways via a series entitled “The Myth of Gravity.” Along the way, each of these series required investigations of various things that became off-road explorations in and of themselves. Currently, I am more interested in the materiality of art-making, using paintings and scribblings on paper and mylar to create assemblages both big and small. “The Myth of Gravity” series left me feeling very connected to a process of rather chaotic undoing and I have been happy continuing this exploration now via my collages. I like that the mylar covers over parts of the work while leaving a window through which to see some remnants of what was there. I like the different ways that inks and paints move on paper and mylar and then combining these elements. It is all
very unpredictable and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
I first became aware of your work through Somerville Open Studios. Since much of 2020has been months of seclusion due to Covid-19, and thus no Somerville Open Studios events, how has this affected your art?
The pandemic has affected everything. However, I feel incredibly fortunate to have a studio space that I can still access as well as ongoing, online critique groups and classes and engagement with the community at the Bromfield Gallery. While the making of art is, by its nature, a relatively solitary act, I very much miss the kinds of conversations that can really only happen in an open studio environment and look forward to a time in the future when we can open our doors again.
How did your Exquisite Corpse exhibit in Davis Square come about? What was challenging and/or joyful about that experience?
The original idea came from Heather Balchunas at the SAC. The theme for ArtBeat this year was
“Chance,” and they were looking for two artists to create an Exquisite Corpse project that would
illustrate that theme in a visual way (information on what an exquisite corpse is can be found here).
I was the recipient of an SAC art fellowship this year and was fortunate enough to be partnered
with the very talented Stephanie Vecellio, a Somerville-based graphic artist and designer and a fellow grant recipient. Originally the idea was to go into the schools and create Exquisite Corpse drawings with young students. Then the pandemic hit and it became too difficult to imagine how we were going to make that happen. We landed on the idea of asking local artists to participate as a way to emphasize a sense of community and belonging in a very isolating and uncertain time. We divided 24 artist volunteers into three groups, each of which was responsible for a unique version of either the head, the body, or the legs and feet. We then created drawing kits for each volunteer artist so that the materials would be consistent over all of the separate pieces and did contactless delivery and pickup of the work. We had no idea how it would turn out until the day we had collected all 24 parts. It was such a good challenge to figure out how to make this happen in such an extraordinary time and the participants’ work was truly fantastic. It was a great experience.
Please tell us a bit about your background, and what brought you to Somerville.
I moved to London for a year after college in order to work and paint, and when I moved back, my college roommate was living in Cambridge. I moved in with her, and shortly after that we moved to the more affordable rents in Somerville. In the late 1980s I had a studio at Vernon Street that I then gave up when I started graduate school. It is funny to have now returned to the same building several decades later! I love the vibrancy and culture of Somerville and feel very glad to call it home.
What is your favorite Somerville restaurant, diner, or cafe?
My family loves eating in Somerville because the food is so varied and so good. Special occasions bring us to fabulous restaurants such as Sarma or La Brasa. We live near Posto and find their food be consistently good so it’s a fan favorite. And we are looking forward to trying Celeste and Field and Vine. As I said, there are so many!
Where can we visit your work? (In person or virtual.)
I am currently re-doing my website, which is www.geismarart.com. More up-to-date at the moment is my Instagram account, @geismarart. I am represented by the Bromfield Gallery in Boston and my work can be found there as well. My studio is at Vernon Street, and should there ever be open studios again, I will be there!