KATIE KATIE, An interview with Katie Locke by Nora Mapp

N: I read that Nabokov story you gave me after our last conversation. I keep thinking about the basket of assorted fruit jellies that the parents of this boy or young man decide on as a birthday present at the beginning of “Signs and Symbols”. What do you get someone who reads portents into everything? They end up with ten tiny jars, each filled with a different fruit jelly. I keep imagining what would have happened if they hadn’t been turned away that day at the sanitarium. I think about their son receiving the basket and staring into it every morning, maybe in the afternoon too. He would pick up a small translucent jar and hold it up to the light of the window to test its tone. What would crab apple jelly tell him about the day as opposed to quince? At night, what would he read in that dark raspberry, the small seeds apparent against the fluorescent ceiling light? Would he ever open them? Would he save them to read like tarot or would he consume those flavored tones, accepting the telling of his future on dry toast?

If they were ten identical empty jars, would this have freed him? Or would a new game develop with the containers. A throwing of stones, a reading of sticks. Of course, he might have gotten the basket the very next day. The day after the story ended. It’s merely implied that he did not.

K: When I first read it, I identified with the young man most, the description of his world, and the way he felt the world. I remembered the young man as the subject of the story.

After I told you about it, I read it again, and this time I felt the story was more about the parents. I kept coming back to their choice of gift. It’s like they understand the puzzle, or are trying to. This time, I felt the parent’s urgency, even an optimism, towards their son.

N: So you think the parents chose the basket of fruit jellies, not because it was bland in a way, like giving someone bath products, but because they knew he would discover worlds in that jar that they couldn’t predict? Do you think they had an intuition not to be frightened by what they couldn’t foresee in their son? Have you ever been frightened by intuition?

K: I do believe that. At the end of the story, the father has this small and manic moment of looking at the jars with luscious delight as he awakens, frantic with the idea to retrieve or save his son. I think they decide against leaving the jellies because not only do they want to make sure he gets them, but he will somehow miss the message if another hands them off.  There’s something about the pace in which they return home that is so slow, so meditated, with each step acting as an attempt to find a solution for him. They feel sad that their son is tormented, but I don’t think they fear him.

I find it poignant that this piece of writing teeters between believing the phenomena, and the paranoia of reading too much into any little thing. I think I’m projecting some of my own thoughts and desires, but also feel connected to the boy’s sense of the world. I’ve never feared intuition, but I have feared the paranoia of it. My mom and her sister, my aunt, are both intuitive and I grew up hearing about things they could access about the world that most people couldn’t, including myself.

A couple of years ago I wondered for the first time, what did being intuitive actually mean to me? I wanted to rationalize it. If I wasn’t receiving supernatural omens, what was I receiving or sensing? Could intuition be prioritized, reigned in, was there a hierarchy? To feel connected or to be struck with sudden knowledge felt like a loss of control. There are times I wonder too how interwoven being trained visually and being trained to have a sixth sense might be.

N: Tell me about the picture again. What do you mean when you told me that making this painting was your most authentic moment as an artist?

K: This painting has been hanging in my parents house most of my life. I would pass by it in the hallway everyday. They’ve hung other pieces of mine in their house but none of them felt so captivating over time as this one. I just love looking at it. I remember kindergarten, and I find myself trying to get back to that version of myself when I feel unsure of my footing. Of course, kids are authentic and sincere. I know kids are naive in that they are not yet expected to know of politics, money or other strange and painful responsibilities, but I think their world should be respected just as much as ours. In kindergarten, you’re still so much your innate self, but just starting to really form opinions on the world. Imagination seems really lush at this time.

N: We started talking about this painting about a year ago. I think we were on another one of our neighborhood walks; petals falling over narrow streets. You were pushing a baby carriage, occasionally one of my nieces would make a chirp. We met because you were a peer of my brother’s in an MFA program at Penn and later, he had twins, and you became their nanny. After graduating that spring, you were taking a break from art, and I was visiting my nieces frequently from New York. Sam was often busy during the day working on a PhD, and you and I spent quite a lot of time on the living room floor of their apartment talking about art and family while the babies played and slept.

I always talked too much. You listened too well and pushed the stroller. There’s a lot I’ve forgotten about those rambling conversations but one day you described a still life of fruit you painted as a child. I asked to see the image and we stopped on the street and you showed it to me on your phone. A banana, an orange, a lime, a red apple, a green apple and your name signed twice in huge orange letters floating in the sky above the fruit. We continued to touch on this painting in the next months while feeding the babies or putting them in fresh pajamas. Gradually, it became the center of how I thought about you, or how I organized each new story or feeling I perceived, in regard to it. Probably, because I picked up on the feeling that you were doing the same thing yourself. Many months later, you told me about the plan for this show.

N: So you’re going to replicate the painting twenty times and see if you can get back to that initial feeling?

K: Yeah, I haven’t stopped thinking about you saying so simply, “well, just remake it.” I keep laughing to myself about how surprised I was when you said that. I’ve been thinking how silly and absurd and delightful that decision felt, to confront that little painting again with serious care. I love that.

N: When you’re copying your own name in the pictures does it feel like counterfeiting your elementary school self or are you asking “Is this still me? Can I be found here?” in those orange letters that have always been your own name?

K: I showed a friend the drawing once, and they said, “Wow, you have the same handwriting!” as if we were comparing signatures from a long lost twin. When I sat down to do the first iteration, I thought I would be painstakingly recreating every gesture and stroke. As I began, I knew right away that wasn’t possible. Yet, my handwriting today is similar, I always write in all caps and dot the “I”. I felt like this action of repainting was a portal to that self I loved so, a way to meet myself as a child and take stock of the present remainders.

N: I wonder. Does it feel at all like you’re performing the original painting? I know you set a time limit for each picture.

K: Maybe, I did develop a rhythm to it, a little dance. Each new painting begins with the name, left to right, making sure in the placement of the letters that I will run out of space at the end. Then the drops around the A, I , and E. Then left to right again:  the big red apple, the inky orange blending into the lime, the black leaves of the apple, the sweet satisfying shape of the small red apple, the cool yellow banana, the bruises, the big orange, the green apple, then the black edges, the white reflective spots, the table cloth, and the final mark, the black line, the signifier of the edge.

I always imagined before this that the orange in the middle was smiling, and I keep seeing it as smiling. The other fruits have also developed characters. The big red apple on the left I saw as feminine somehow, activating the translucency of the original was difficult. The little orange and lime meld together, having their own affair together, separate from the rest of the bunch. The little red apple reminds me of movies like A Christmas Carol or Little Women, when they received fruit for the holidays. I always wondered how it was possible for the fruit to look like the most gorgeous and precious gift ever. The banana, lounging, so confident and careless. The big orange, smiling, round, robust, happy. The green apple, soft, kind, gentle.

N: Do you like any of the new ones as much as the original?

K: Even though they’re all copies of the original, the new ones seem to have a life of their own. With each drawing I started again by rendering the original, as opposed to copying the previous copy.  Each one seems familiar to the original yet I know they will never be the original. I let go of the idea of comparing them as soon as I knew that. Each rendition has revealed something completely new and unknown to me.

N: You have often wondered aloud to me about why you are a caretaker type person.

I wonder if growing up with people who could see through to something you couldn’t is what made you, as a child, listen and look harder, honing your skills, ready for the day you too would receive. But you never heard messages from the dead or foresaw the future. Instead you became an incredibly skilled listener from those years of practice. You use that skill with color, with people, with an interest in children who represent that age when there aren’t as many frames surrounding the concepts of intuition. Instead of taking up the family business, you became an artist.

Katie Locke has an MFA from Penn and is excited to present her first solo exhibition, KATIE KATIE, this summer at NAPOLEON. Nora Mapp graduated with an MFA from Bard College and is currently writing a cookbook in Indiana. We haven’t been taking walks lately, so this conversation allowed us to pretend like we still could.

To download a PDF version of this essay, click https://napoleonphiladelphia.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/locke_mapp_june_2017.pdf

NAPOLEON is a collectively-run project space that strives to provide a platform for new work and new ideas.

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