Kathy Bruce is an Ithaca, New York-born artist based in Scotland. She received an MFA from Yale University and a certificate from The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Her work explores archetypal female and mythological forms within the context of poetry, literature, and the natural environment. Ms. Bruce is the recipient of numerous grants and awards including a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Individual Artist Grant, two Fulbright-Hayes scholar grants to Peru, and a Ford Foundation Grant. She has exhibited her work in the U.S. and internationally including in Senegal, Taiwan, Denmark, Peru, France, and Canada.
These images—with the exception of Feral Ecologies and What is Scotland—are from a new series of collages titled, What is Artificial in a World that Needs to be Authentic? in which I have been thinking about the notion of objectification of the female image in popular culture, particularly in the realm of Kitsch. The resulting images of women and girls portrayed as traditional figurines of presumably self-objectifying figures reflect classical standards of beauty no doubt derived from the male gaze. These reconfigured images are meant to bring up questions regarding the objectification of female identities in contemporary culture.
Feral Ecologies; Cover art
Interview with the Artist
When did you first begin making art? What was your first medium?
I always drew and painted throughout my entire childhood. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t make art. I’m not sure where the impulse came from except perhaps from my paternal grandmother who made everything by hand herself—clothing, crocheted table clothes, rugs. She gave my sister and me complete creative freedom in her home and dumped construction paper, magazines, rickrack, and buttons into a big pile on her dining room table where we spent hours playing with materials. I loved that. Once, at age four, I displayed all of my artwork on the living room couch and invited my family and friends to view the “art exhibition.” I priced the works at 4-10 cents depending on the quality of the piece. I was insulted when a neighbor snatched one of the best works and paid me with a piece of Bazooka bubblegum instead of cash! Early lessons on the art market! Later, in art school, I studied painting but the limitations of paint as a medium sent me in the direction of sculpture which enabled me to work freely with a vast multitude of different materials that are more closely related to creating collages. It took me a long time before I realized that collage was an acceptable art form in its own right—as unique and serious as painting and sculpture.
Who were your early inspirations as an artist?
People assume that visual artists are influenced primarily by other visual artists but this isn’t necessarily true. My early artistic inspirations came from listening to Beethoven’s symphonies, running through fields and woods, reading biographies of famous women, and absorbing The Captain’s Verses by Pablo Neruda. These ideas triggered my imagination. Later, while on a Fulbright scholar grant I was deeply affected by a year in Peru where every aspect of my life was affected by the art and culture. As a result, I eventually spent a year backpacking around South America—absorbing the astounding natural environment, ancient art, and architecture while cultivating my aesthetic vision.
What is Artificial in a World that Needs to be Authentic?
Who are your biggest inspirations today?
Poetry, literature, and the environment continue to be great catalysts for my creativity today; I think artists go through phases where certain artists resonate deeply in relationship to one’s own creative process at the time. As a woman, I owe a deep debt to the Surrealist women artists: Mina Loy, Dorothea Tanning, and Leonora Carrington. Lifelong favorites continue to be Velazquez, Francis Bacon, William Blake, David Lynch, and, more recently, Alexander McQueen. Of course 18th C Spanish Colonial/ Peruvian religious Art is always a staple that has been the subject of an ongoing collage series, “Tapadas, Saints and other Heroines.” Then there are many incredible contemporary artists that aren’t necessarily famous or well known but who I am in awe of because we are all a part of this time in which we are living now.
What draws you to the subject matter you choose?
It is important to me as a woman that I am making images of women at a time when it’s okay for me to do so and not ok for male artists because of the historical baggage of the “Male Gaze’. I feel extremely fortunate as a visual artist that all of my interests in life (Peru, women, medical biology, environmental, literary, historical) can be incorporated—like conducting an orchestra—into my work. I always feel excited and stimulated by the process.
What is Scotland?
What does the process of art-making look like for you? From what you consider the “beginning” of a piece to what you consider the “finished” piece?
In my collages, they begin with a scrap or fragment that is built upon until it reaches its organic borders. I never work on rectangular or predetermined sizes of paper. The result is irregular edges, I find it impossible to stay within a limited border. The backsides of the collages look like a patchwork quilt. I’m not sure how to explain when a piece is finished—it’s intuitive I guess.
What draws you to collage? What other mediums, if any, do you work in, and what influences your choice of medium when beginning a new work?
I work in sculpture and collage. The building process is the same although the materials and scale are not. The only difference is that the collages are flat and the sculptures are 3-dimensional. The small scale allows me to incorporate more detail and colors while the sculptures require a more general approach to form because they are quite large.
Examination or Repairing the Damage
Where do you find your collage materials?
Anything paper has the potential to trigger a collage, finding materials isn’t a methodical process. I usually search for materials related to my current interest at the time. At the moment, for example, I am interested in early porcelain figurines so I have been photographing them in antique shops and searching for images of them in old books.
Your work “explores archetypal female and mythological forms within the context of poetry, literature, and the natural environment.” Do you intend to draw any conclusions in this exploration? If so, what might your work argue? And, either way, what questions do you hope to invoke for your audience?
Meaning to me is intrinsic, complex, multi-layered. I don’t expect everyone to interpret the meaning in the same way as I do and that is okay. I am happy for people to interpret with what they bring to the images. I don’t have any conclusions to draw regarding my work…I would agree with Francis Bacon who once said, “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m thrilled to share that my collages have been recently published in the 2021 updated version of the Thames and Hudson World of Art Series, “Photomontage,” by renowned art historian Dawn Ades. It is an honor to find my work in the art historical canon of collage greats.
Pride of Possession
© Variant Literature Inc 2021