Thinkspace is pleased to present Vancouver-based artist Kathy Ager’s debut solo exhibition Golden Age. Ager creates detailed, still lifes that feel simultaneously Baroque and acerbically modern. Inspired by the 17th-Century Golden Age of Dutch and Spanish painting, her imagery uses historical visual rhetoric to deliver intensely personal and emotively charged themes. A professional graphic designer-turned painter, this is Ager’s first complete body of work to date and will include ten new paintings.
In anticipation of Golden Age our interview with Kathy Ager discusses her artistic background, creative process, and desired love interest in a movie about her life.
SH: For those that are not familiar with you and your work, can you give us a brief look at your artistic background and zodiac sign?
KA: I haven’t been at it for long – I’m a late bloomer for sure! I’m originally a graphic designer from Vancouver BC, focussing mainly on corporate branding. I still like working as a designer but there came a point where I felt I had more to say and was frustrated by the limits of graphic design. I’d been living in Amsterdam for a few years and found myself feeling sick and lonely and far from home. That’s when I picked up painting for the first time since design school. I’d always been drawn to painting and creating in general, but this was the first time I started finding my own voice. I’d work on paintings in my spare time between freelance design work, making only a couple of paintings a year. Things really started rolling when I dropped myself into Lisbon for a couple of months, just to see how it would feel. It was the first time I’d showed up in a new place as an artist, not a graphic designer. I met some amazing artists who became the first champions of my work. I’m not sure if I’d have had the strength to keep going with it if it wasn’t for that experience. Life in Amsterdam had become a lonely struggle for me and painting became my life raft. Sometimes I felt it was all I had, but it felt powerful and super satisfying being able to evoke something in others through the images I’d create, inspired by my loneliness, heartache, music, books, and my endless curiosity for love and life and truth.
Did I mention I’m a Sagittarius? Apparently, we’re forever seeking adventure and the truth. Honesty above all else! In my paintings, I lay it all out there, just like I do with those who know me. I’m not comfortable unless I can truly talk about how I feel. I want people to be in on my life and I want to be in on theirs. There’ve been stretches in my life where I’ve felt like an astronaut floating in space, so far out there but not sure how to get back, and maybe this vulnerability and honesty is how I anchor myself in this universe and connect to others. My paintings have become a powerful way to do that.
SH: How do you approach starting a new body of work? What inspired this exhibition?
KA: This is the first coherent body of work I’ve produced. In the last couple of years, I’ve established a visual language and a few key elements that felt good to me. While working on these latest paintings I was able to keep that language consistent while drawing in elements from my own life and those from traditional still life paintings. I’m always amazed by how objects can be used to express such human emotions. I’ve been inspired directly by my personal life – especially love and heartbreak and the loneliness in between – and the need to grasp onto something solid in this transient world.
SH: Is there a particular piece in this exhibition you feel really challenged you? If so, why and what makes you proud of this piece.
KA: Definitely, the most challenging piece for me was ‘An Immovable Feast’. It’s the largest piece in the exhibition and also the last piece I completed. All of my paintings are deeply personal, so working on each painting means facing those feelings for as long as it takes to complete that painting. The size of this one felt like three paintings in one and felt like the final painting addressing some lingering heartache that inspired quite a lot of my current work. I didn’t feel up to the task. I’m amazed that I was able to push through a lot of self-doubt and shifts in my personal life and still create something I’m proud of. I definitely needed some encouragement from friends who stopped me from setting it on fire or throwing it out the window. LOL!
SH: What excites you about your work / creative process?
KA: I get such a kick out of what I do. I feel so deeply and to be able to translate that into something visually powerful has been transformative. It’s like solving a problem. If the solution makes me laugh out loud while also strumming just the right chord in me, I know I got it right.
SH: What frustrates you about your work / the creative process?
KA: It’s solitary work. I need to hear myself think and that happens best when I’m alone, doing nothing. Which is hard since my inspiration comes from the opposite – it comes from going deep with people and life. And the production phase is especially a solitary endeavor, sitting for hours, days, weeks in the studio. It’s not glamorous. It’s been the biggest challenge for me for sure. My need for connection is strong, so I’ve been learning how to ensure I’m getting what I need while maintaining my creative process. Returning to Vancouver after living in Europe for 9 years has been a huge help.
SH: If you could make the album art for any album, existing or yet to be released, what album or artists would it be for and why?
KA: A Drake album! Damn, it would be a dream. I love how he goes so deep and dark and is so open with his insecurities and his search to understand the actions of himself and others. When Scorpion came out, it was a hot summer in Amsterdam. There you’re so far north, the daylight lingers until almost midnight. I’d sit in my apartment in the heat, in that deep blue light of the night, and listen to this album. Oof. What a time. I’d love to create something for that depth and darkness and glory.
SH: If your body of work inspired an ice cream flavor, what would it be called and what are the ingredients?
KA: I love the idea of something like ‘Peaches N Cream’. Like my work, it takes things that are seemingly innocent, but the implication of their combination can be twisted into something much more provocative.
SH: A Netflix movie is being made about your life, who would be cast to play you and what kind of movie would it be? Try to describe it with similar movies.
KA:I’d be lying if I said this scenario hadn’t crossed my mind before. First off, I’m not great at following celebrity actors, so I’d love a new, break through actor to play me (although Ryan Gosling would definitely be welcome to play a love interest). In terms of what kind of movie it would be, I’d say the running themes and significant moments in my life have been the search for love and adventure, the beautifully lonely self-discovery of travel, days and nights with friends and lovers that made me nostalgic for the moments while I was still in them. And underlying it all, a deep feeling of loss and fear and sadness that makes it all so scary and painful. And yet I’m forever drawn by my curiosity to go for it all, just to know how it feels. Imagine a combination of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Before Sunrise, Skate Kitchen, Lost in Translation. Midnight skates in the heat of Barcelona, the sparkle of beaches on the Costa Brava, the wide open spaces of Northern California. It would be a fucking trip for sure.
SH: What do you think the role of artists is in society? How does other artwork inform how you move through life?
KA: I think the artist’s role is to be evocative. I get so much inspiration and power from music and books and I think that’s true for all art forms. Making something physical out of feelings and ideas and putting them back out into the world creates the beauty, both light and dark, in the world.
SH: Favorite way to celebrate the completion of a project/body of work?
KA: Since this is the first body of work I’ve completed, it was quite emotional. I’m still learning to let myself loose after so much focus and dedication and have been lucky to have some great friends around for support and guidance (and some damn good laughs and adventures 😉
Join us for the opening reception of Kathy Ager’s Golden Age, Saturday, June 29th from 6 – 9 pm.