The New Vanguard III: Interview with Kathy Ager for ‘Fool’s Gold’

Thinkspace is proud to present new work by Kathy Ager for her latest exhibition ‘Fool’s Gold’ as a part of ‘The New Vanguard III’ showing at The Lancaster Museum of Art.

Ager is known for her surreal still-lifes inspired by the 17th-Century Golden Age of Dutch and Spanish painting. Her compositions are comprised of historical visual rhetoric to deliver intensely personal and emotively charged themes. 

In anticipation of her first museum exhibition, our interview with Kathy Ager discusses her love of light and color, finding inspiration in heartbreak, and how switching between big and small pieces helps artistic pursuits move forward.

SH: How long have you been showing your work in galleries and various exhibitions? Do you remember the first time you showed your work to the public? What was the exhibition?

KA: I’ve been showing since 2017. I remember my first exhibition was a sort of DIY situation in Lisbon, Portugal. I’d spent quite a bit of time there and met some amazing artists and friends. My friend Isac decided he wanted to make something happen instead of waiting for a gallery to approach us. It was a great show! I showed alongside some amazing Portuguese artists like Wasted Rita, Kruella D’Enfer and Maria Imaginário.

SH: When painting, what are you listening to in the background?

KA: Depending on my mood, I’m either listening to podcasts or music. I find if I’m in a lonely mood, which is pretty often when sitting in a studio alone all day everyday, listening to podcasts really helps. I really love dark, funny shit like Last Podcast On The Left. If you haven’t listened, start with Episode 331: The Donner Party or Episode 161: Hollow Moon. I’m also super interested in other people’s lives (I’m so nosey) and love hearing personal stories. The podcast Heavyweight gives me a good dose of that, plus some good laughs and some satisfying digging up of the past. Episode #2 Gregor is a good place to start, where they attempt to ask Moby to give Gregor’s damn CDs back.

SH: What was the inspiration behind the body of work that you will be showing for New Vanguard III?

KA: For this body of work, I continued to delve into my own personal experiences and observations and seek ways to express them through objects and light. A lot of my inspiration comes from my more painful experiences and outlook on life, but I try to make something beautiful out of that darkness. I was particularly inspired by the alienation I felt last year when caught up with someone who valued the pursuit of the party life over building something solid and real. That’s where the title “Fool’s Gold” came from. It’s painful to feel like you’re not enough, but to those who are after more fucked up pursuits and easy highs – the fool’s gold – you will never be valued the way you deserve. I find so much inspiration in that heartbreak.

SH: When viewing other artists’ work, what elements get you excited or inspire you?

KA: I definitely get excited by the use of light and color in other artists’ work. I’m always analyzing how the subject matter was lit and what the set up must have been. When I was living in Amsterdam and Barcelona, I got to see first hand how the difference in natural light (cold versus warm) coming through a window can make a difference in the vibe of the original baroque masters. I also love combinations of realism and graphic elements. It creates a playfulness that can be both dark and light and I love that kind of vibe.

SH: Does having an exhibition at a museum feel different than showing work at a gallery?

KA: It definitely feels different. There are so many different lanes in which to show work. From the DIY experience of my first show in Lisbon, to showing with Thinkspace, and now in a museum, they all feel different in a good way. It adds another dimension to the experience of showing and viewing my work.

SH: Every person experiences that moment, when they are in the middle or even at the start of something, where it feels overwhelming or isn’t going as planned – how do you personally push through those difficult moments? 

KA: I feel like I experience that on a weekly or even daily basis! I feel overwhelmed quite often, or feel like I’ve lost my painting ability (a fear that seems to hit me when I start every painting). I get through it by just moving forward and painting. I might move on to a different part of my painting if I’m having trouble with a certain spot. Or if I’m working on a very large canvas and feel like I’ll never finish, I might switch to a small painting for a few days just to remind myself that I’m capable of finishing something. I also find it super helpful to chat with artist friends who can pump me up and reassure me that I’m doing fine! It’s all a mental game, so learning what works for you to keep moving forward is key. 

SH: If you could show your work beside any artist, in the entire history of art, who would you want to share wall space with?

KA: It would be insane to show alongside one of the Dutch masters like Adriaen Coorte, Frans Snyders, or Ambrosius Bosschaert, who inspire a lot of my work. Although their skills are lightyears ahead of mine and I’d be mortified! Haha. I’d also love to do a show together again with Wasted Rita where we can express our inner pain and angst in such different ways. That would be fucking amazing.

SH: What piece challenged you most in this body of work and why?

KA: I think “Look Both Ways Before You Crossed My Mind” was the most challenging. I’d been sitting on this idea for quite some time and it took a while to solve it visually. I’m always looking at how to express a specific feeling clearly enough without getting too literal. Then I came across this coyote who had been hit by a car and it was the perfect symbol for what I was trying to visualize. From there, things were easier to solve. It was also a very large canvas so it was tricky to work within my relatively small working space!

SH: Do you have any pre-studio rituals that get the creative juices flowing?

KA: Definitely tea and some good music every time! My mom is from England so I’m a die-hard tea drinker. Nothing starts before a good cup of tea. I also love to dance so I’ll usually start with a couple solid tracks that get me going. Something like “Last Kiss” by Overdoz or “Summertime Magic” by Childish Gambino. The combination of tea and dancing also explains the number of tea spills occurring throughout the days.

SH: We declare The New Vanguard III is a milestone in your artistic journey, what are three other milestones that mark your path and life as an artist?

1. My first ever exhibition in 2017 with my friends in Lisbon

2. My first ever solo show, Golden Ager, with Thinkspace in 2019

3. A collab with a (THE) sneaker brand which will remain top secret until later in 2021!!

Curated by Thinkspace Projects

September 12 through December 27, 2020

Lancaster Museum of Art and History
665 W. Lancaster Blvd.
Lancaster, California 93534

Featuring Solo Exhibitions From:
ALEX GARANT “Deconstructing Identities”
KATHY AGER “Fool’s Gold”

THE NEW VANGUARD III at Lancaster Museum of Art and History

“Don’t Rock The Boat” / acrylic on aluminum panel / 48×48 inches / 2020

Curated by Thinkspace Projects

September 12 through December 27, 2020

Lancaster Museum of Art and History
665 W. Lancaster Blvd.
Lancaster, California 93534

Featuring Solo Exhibitions From:
Kevin Peterson – ‘Embers’
Kayla Mahaffey – ‘Adrift’
Alex Garant – ‘Deconstructing Identities’
Kathy Ager – ‘Fool’s Gold’

(Lancaster, CA) – The Lancaster Museum of Art and History, in collaboration with Los Angeles’ Thinkspace Projects, is pleased to present The New Vanguard III, a dynamic group exhibition of works by international artists working in the New Contemporary art movement. The highly anticipated follow up to 2018’s successful second iteration of The New Vanguard, on view in tandem with this year’s POW WOW! Antelope Valley will feature special solo projects by artists Kevin Peterson, Kayla Mahaffey, Kathy Ager and Alex Garant.

The New Vanguard III, in keeping with the first two installments, will present a diverse and expansive group of curated new works. In addition to the solo exhibitions on view from Mahaffey, Peterson, Ager and Garant, we will also be presenting our ’Small Victories’ group show focusing on suicide prevention and mental health. We’ve lost one of our greatest allies and friends and one of our rising stars to this ever-growing epidemic in recent years. Sadly this issue is very widespread in the creative community and we want to help raise awareness and funds. If it helps guide just one person out of the darkness, it was more than worth it to mount this collection of works.

This special showcase will include new pieces by ABCNT, Adam Caldwell, Ador, AKACORLEONE, Allison Sommers, Angel Once, Anthony Hurd, Anthony Solano, Atomik, Brad Woodfin, Brian Mashburn, Bryan Valenzuela, Carl Cashman, Charlie Edmiston, Chloe Becky, Clare Toms, David Rice, Derek Gores, Dovie Golden, Dragon76, Drew Young, Edith Lebeau, Eduardo F. Angel, Erik Mark Sandberg, Frank Gonzales, Ghost Beard, Goopmassta, Hanna Lee Joshi, Hilda Palafox, Hola Lou, Huntz Liu, Imon Boy, Jaime Molina, Jeff Ejan, Jimmer Willmott, Kaplan Bunce, Kate Wadsworth, Kelly Vivanco, Ken Flewellyn, Kim Sielbeck, KOZ DOS, Lauren Hana Chai, Lauren YS, Linsey Levendall, Mando Marie, Manuel Zamudio, Mari Inukai, Max Sansing, McKenzie Fisk, Meggs, Molly Gruninger, Mwanel Pierre-Louis, Nicola Caredda, Patch Whisky, Ricky Watts, Roos van der Vliet, Sergio Garcia, Shar Tuiasoa, Stephanie Buer, Tati Holt, Telmo Miel, TMRWLND, Waylon Horner, and Wiley Wallace

Edith Lebeau

A movement unified as much by its diversity as its similitude, ‘New Contemporary’ has come to denote an important heterogeneity of styles, media, contexts, and activations over the course of its establishment since the 90s. Unified in its fledgling beginnings by a founding countercultural impulse searching for its own nomenclature, the New Contemporary movement’s shifting and inclusive designations have offered alternative narratives over the years to those popularized by the dominant art establishment and its conceptual predilections.

Though stylistically disparate, the work belonging to this rapidly expansive movement reveals a desire to reference the popular, social, and subcultural domains of contemporary experience, grounding, rather than rarifying, imagery in the familiar. Looking to the urban landscape and the kaleidoscopic shift of individual identities within it, these artists use the figurative and narrative to anchor their work in the accessible and aesthetically relatable. A fundamentally democratic stance governs the ambitions of this new guard, ever in search of novel ways to expand rather than to contract.

Kayla Mahaffey Adrift

Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, Kayla Mahaffey (also known as KaylaMay) is quickly becoming one of the city’s most sought-after artists with her unique blend of flat, cartoon elements with brilliant photo-realism.

Mahaffey’s work gives voice to the unheard stories of contemporary youth and, as explained by the artist, “serves as a guide to bring hope back into our daily lives by cherishing each moment not in the mindset of an adult, but with the fresh eyes and imagination of a child.”

Being born and raised on the South side of Chicago, IL., only ignited Kayla’s love for all things art. The artist elaborates, “seeing the struggle and the support from the community made my work evolve to a concept that is personal to me. I continue to further my technique, and creativity in my field in order to paint a beautiful picture of a new world for those around me. Living in our society can be tough and most of the time we have to make the best of it. A wild imagination can take you so far, but at the end of the day we need to realize and observe the world around us. And the world around us is where I find my inspiration to paint. Colorful paintings that contain hints of whimsy and realism that tell a story of inner thoughts and personal issues that sometimes go unheard.”

Alex Garant Deconstructing Identities

Toronto-based, Canadian, Québéquois artist Alex Garant is a painter known for her hyper-realistically rendered Op art portraits in which the faces and eyes of her subjects seem to skip their registers through image redoubling and superimposition, Garant is in search of the frenetic internal life of the sitter.

Not unlike the fugitive flicker of a screen or the spectral layering of multiple film exposures, her portraits reveal an unsettling multiplicity, shifting beneath the subject’s surface. Garant creates faces that challenge the optics of identity and the reductive way in which it is perceived, with a visual gimmick that quite literally dislodges and displaces its coherence to produce skittering psychological images of fracture and ricochet.

Garant has long been fascinated by the interaction of patterns and symmetry, and the resulting optics of their graphic repetition and layering. Her portraits begin with a series of superimposed drawings based on her sitters, actual individuals, and muses from her life, and pushes the familiar confines of portraiture to a newly strange and re-sensitized place of sensory confusion. Her subjects and their energy seem to erupt from within, testing the tensile seams of the skin, the body, as always, an insufficient vessel for the incongruous experience within.

The artist’s labor-intensive oil paintings are meticulously executed, often incorporating patterning or other graphic elements and motifs to produce reverberating visual effects. Her color palette ranges from the subtlety of realistic flesh tones to hyper-colored gradients, saturated pastels, and translucent gem-like washes of color. Her stylizations of these vertiginous portraits thrive in surreal kitsch to interrupt the apprehension of the subject, activating a process of invested viewing, that is of trying to “see” the person amidst the trappings of hallucinatory visual interference. The compelling and somewhat unsuccessful process of attempting to stabilize the image produces a fundamental feeling of perceptual instability, one that intensifies our stolen communion with an evasive subject.

Kathy Ager Fool’s Gold

Kathy 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.

Ager begins her process with language – an idea or expression often gleaned from music, a book, or some other source that resonates personally. She then endeavors to resolve the concept visually through objects and composition, assembling a patchwork of references – some collective and shared from pop culture, others steeped in the idiosyncrasies of the personal. Both poetic and revelatory, Ager’s works feel charged with the simultaneous misery and beauty of contemporary appropriation – and express the current world through the formal repositories of the past to create anachronistic moments of resonance and delivery. Ever present amidst moments of undeniably expressed disappointment and disillusionment are redemptive linings, beautifully poignant discoveries, and playful, irreverent mirth.

The seductive darkness with which Ager reveals universal human longings is both disarming and consuming. Broken hearts are offered up as organs in a bowl, skeletal memento mori abound, and dating feels about as abject in the modern world as butchery; books are stacked with suggestive spines, and flowers wither while fruit threatens to decay. The abattoir is never far from the transcendent ambitions of classical statuary in Ager’s world, while beauty is embroiled in the vulnerability of intimacy and self-exposure.

Kevin PetersonEmbers

Kevin Peterson, a gifted hyperrealist painter, creates a fictional world in which innocence and collapse are brought into difficult proximity. His arresting images combine portraits of children accompanied by kindly sentient beasts in a state of kindred displacement. Alone, though together, in strangely desolate, richly graffitied urban scenes, these babes and their benevolent conspirators appear interchangeably as beacons of hope and symbols of dispossession.

Peterson’s works harness a dystopian social hyperrealism through painstaking attention to every possible fraction and detail of the mundane in their execution – every contour is excised, every surface meticulously rendered. The weird crystal clarity of the hyperreal in the depiction of these desolate underpasses and structural ruins provides a starkly strange backdrop for elements of fairytale, like the fantastic alliances proposed between children and animals, and the magical narratives these allegiances imply. A psychologically poignant, if not ambiguous, feeling of transformation and hope lingers in these impossibly arresting scenes of solitary kids. The resilience they suggest is haunting, while the unsettling verity with which these vulnerable fictions are cast strike something in our shared fear of literal and figurative exposure.

Always in search of poetic tension and compelling contrasts, Peterson alloys unlikely parts: beginnings and ends collide, the young appear in worn and weathered worlds, innocence is forced into experience, and the wild infringes upon the ‘civilizing’ city limits. In Wild, Peterson explores themes of protection and marginalization, staging wild animals, ironically, in the humanizing and civilizing charge of caregivers. Though a recurring suggestion in previous works, the role of the animal in a nearly shamanistic role as protector and watcher appears more overtly in the new. Small children are attended by wild bears, watchful raccoons, gentle fawns, mythic looking ravens, owls, and jungle cats, among others, as they hold a living and protective vigil against the crumbling architectures around them; their guardianship staged like a protective bulwark.

Peterson’s hyperreal paintings are at times uncomfortably close in the pathos of their offerings; they remind us, too, of something uneasily present in us all, a childhood that haunts the posturing of all of our adulthoods. Ultimately, Peterson’s works offer beautifully jarring reminders of the need for redemptive outcomes in a disappointed time.

Kathy Ager Interviewed in Beautiful Bizarre

Artist Kathy Ager, whose exhibition “Golden Age” is currently on view at Thinkspace Projects, was recently interviewed by Beautiful Bizarre about her latest body of work. Visit Beautiful Bizarre for the full interview.

“I love how much of a story can be told by the combination of objects. I also find peace in the strong stillness of still lives. I like to include objects and brands that are familiar to the viewer, but that have a secret significance to me personally. ” – Kathy Ager in Beautiful Bizarre

Opening Reception of Jacub Gagnon’s “Dream World,” Rodrigo Luff’s “Afterglow,” and Kathy Ager’s “Golden Age”

Thank you to all those who joined us for the opening of Jacub Gagnon’s Dream World, Rodrigo Luff’s Afterglow, and Kathy Ager’s Golden Age with works from Reen Barrera in the office.

To view available works from these talented artists visit the Thinkspace Projects website.

Interview with Kathy Ager for “Golden Age” opening June 29th

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.