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”

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