Adventure Art

The Arctic, the Antarctic and all points in between are where Katherine Taylor finds inspiration for her unique creations

16 Dec 2019 | 12:26

Artist Katherine Taylor, or “KT,” likes the subway because she can observe the city’s finest creatures, rats, in their concrete habitat. KT’s current show ARTic Creatures, housed in Chelsea’s Skoto Gallery, is full of metal sculptures and drawings. ARTic Creatures is inspired by KT’s time with the Arctic Circle Program in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, and by her experience with Project Puffin, a National Audubon Society project that restores Puffin nesting grounds in Maine.

KT grew up in Texas and was a studio art major at Dartmouth College. She then traveled the U.S. and blew glass before getting her MFA in Australia. When she’s not adventuring, KT works out of her Adirondacks studio and in her foundry, Alfa Arte, in northern Spain. We sat down with KT to talk nature, creatures, and art.

Have you always considered yourself an artist?

I’ve always been a creative person, but I never said “I’m gonna be an artist one day.” I see things in a way most people don’t. I know that makes me an artist. I say that because someone asked me recently, “What would you do if you weren’t an artist?” And I came up with a really earnest answer: I’d design sneakers for tigers. It combines being creative, working with animals, and being outside watching creatures run around to make shoes that fit their needs.

The absurdity of the comment shows it’s a good thing I’m an artist. But it’s only in the past four or five years that I’ve said, yes, this is my calling. You’re supposed to be a doctor or a lawyer or something concrete that makes the world a better place. I didn’t realize that through art I could do all that. Now I’m sure of my answer when people say, “Hey! What are you? Who are you.” I’m an artist.

How does your work interplay with the current political climate?

I like the climate word! The arctic is a contemporary, important topic, and it's a part of the world people normally don’t have a chance to experience. That duality of importance is what lured me to it. I’m not a scientist. I’m just pointing things out. These are visual facts. You can interpret how you want.

Why did you go to the Arctic?

The desire to go originated about 15 years ago. I sailed across the Atlantic on a small boat and was out on the open ocean for 31 days. I had that little gremlin inside me that said you need to go back on another crazy adventure, this reawakens your spirit. When the opportunity came, it was a no-brainer. I had to go. I had to feed that gremlin.

Why did you choose puffins, a fox, and terns as the subjects of your sculpture?

Puffins, because they’re completely adorable, and we, humans, love that goofy relatableness as they waddle around. And there was the technical aspect. I could combine the two metals because they had the two colors. I was looking for animals based on black and white, because I could translate that into the metal. The fox came about because I got tired of making birds! And I was fascinated by the relationship between the fox and terns, which I had already made.

What inspires you about working with and in nature?

I’m constantly trying to feed my brain with what’s going on in nature. I was reading a book recently, something like “Why We Need Nature.” I remember laughing. Of course we need nature! Apparently, it has something to do with the Fibonacci series and how plants grow, that it’s really organized and calming for people. Because it is so peaceful and reassuring, I’m able to be more creative. I thrive in sunshine. I’m solar-powered. And again, I’m trying to parse out the black from the white.

I was drawn to creatures from the very beginning. My room as a child was full of stuffed animals. I read all the Mother West Wind, Peter Rabbit, and Jack London books. And now I can say too, being a dog owner, I love this relationship, this communication, that is so simple yet so complex. How does my dog know that when I look at him that’s the look to go outside? There’s something compelling about that.

How much of your art reflects your personal story, as opposed to stories you observe?

Most of it is my personal story. Just after college when I was still thinking I wanted to be a glassblower, I made this piece of glass and in the center was copper. It had these legs, so it looked like a smushed down, glass-covered bug trying to stand up. It felt like what I felt like trying to come out of my shell and embrace what I am today. I’m just trying to figure out life. Art just happens to be how I figure it out. Some people pay with credit, some people pay with cash, I pay with wampum.

Does your identity affect how people react to your art?

I was in the gallery and a couple came in. He made the comment that he didn’t expect a woman would have made the work. I’m recognizing now that there’s a lot of power in the work, and that doesn’t typically associate with a woman.

What’s next for you?

I’m curious about this movement of adventure art. It’s going on an adventure, infiltrating this new scene and then coming back to create higher level souvenirs. I’m curious if there are other people doing this.

I’m going to sail across the Great Passage to Antarctica in a small boat, like what I did going across the Atlantic. I’m planning on doing ice climbing and glacier skiing. The point of a trip like this is to have control over where the boat goes and how long it stays, so I can get my molds and my inspiration.