Rebecca Morgan in conversation with artist Kady Grant on her playful painting practice and the importance of humor in art.
RM: Can you tell me more about your upbringing and personal narrative? How have some of those experiences from your navigations shaped you or influenced you as an artist and human?
KG: I think one of my mom’s earliest child-rearing decisions kind of says it all in regard to how my upbringing fostered my artistic life. She had read that if you don’t instruct a child to draw a stick figure, they naturally draw ‘tadpole people’ (circle with face and single-line extremities), and that’s what I did. That probably seems insignificant, but it illustrates the space and respect my parents gave to my expression, then and since. The next important thing my parents did when I was about 10, was sign me up for painting classes with a little old lady named Mary, held in her basement. Mary remains one of my favorite humans in the world. It was maybe the first time I recognized myself in another, like birds of a feather. People like that can make you feel so special, it lasts a lifetime. Aside from that support, isolated experiences with tragedy, a short stay with nuns in Tanzania, drugs, alcohol and teenage sex, all did their part in creating a steady flow of fodder that surely still finds its way into my work even now.
RM: When I think about you as a person, you are so unapologetically yourself. When I look at the paintings you make, they feel reflective of the person I am privy to know- celebratory of self, confident, scrappy but genuine and sometimes a subtle one liner knee slapper. I think that most artists are innately diaristic in some sense, even if it just comes down to being hardwired for certain preferences or tastes. Can you speak to what parts of your practice are diaristic?
KG: Every part of my practice is diaristic. Being an artist has never been an isolated pursuit, but feels more like a way of existing and thinking and seeing. I make everything from my home, which is quickly being overtaken by plants and giant hats. All boundaries have been lost (perhaps hiding under said hats). I think making art in the place where I eat, sleep, have sex, etc etc, injects all parts of myself very directly into my work. Conceptually, I usually begin working with a broad idea – not limited to my own experience, but then often discover that the work addresses something I may be personally grappling with. It feels too indulgent to make work about my individual experience only, and so it’s never my initial intention or instinct, but ultimately turns out to be my subconscious motivation. In the ‘jeannie.gov’ series, I examine versions of American women during the Trump administration. Obviously, an extremely topical issue, but I think my fascination more than anything comes from my disappointment and bafflement with certain family members who voted for him (if not with enthusiasm, with apathy all the same). Art offers a way for me to comfortably examine unsettling issues, as an alternative to more blunt modes of confrontation. The ear paintings are more subtly diaristic. These depict droopy earlobes, distorted by the weight of an earring into an almost genital-esque form. The ears are meant to describe the passage of time. Always a receptor, the ear is unable to outwardly express and becomes weighed down by the endless listening of the human experience. For me, I think the ears are an absurdist projection of my own exhaustion with the state of affairs at times. I like to believe that my work most connects to people, when it most connects to myself. I embrace the diaristic qualities of my practice but in the name of humility, don’t readily advertise them.
RM: How much of your personality, inclinations, preferences can be found in the work and in what ways do they show up? Do you think your work reflects yourself as a woman in this diaristic way or is it a separate extension of making things?
KG: Well, I’ll say this, I’ve always had a strong sense of how I like to dress myself. It’s not something I ever worked at, I’ve just always had steadfast conviction in my stylistic predilections. Lots of bracelets all at once, multiple watches stacked up along one arm, shoulder pads for miles, 6 holes for earrings, a gaggle of rings that could second as brass knuckles, knock- off Hermès scarves. I use these same instincts in art making. Lately, I’ve been making oversized hat sculpture/paintings, that speak to this most literally. They’re very loud and clunky, exuding a peacock confidence, almost shouting, “eat your fucking heart out!”. I like to think that they loosely resemble the love child of an Elizabeth Murray painting and Claes Oldenburg soft sculpture. When they’re worn, they start to possess a sort of Leigh Bowery freakiness. My color pallet is less academically determined but arrived at instinctually. I think people read my work as being very feminine and I can understand that, but I just see my work as being tuned in with myself as an individual before my gender. That being said, I don’t find it problematic that my work would impress a deeply feminine sentiment, it’s just more of a bonus to me than an objective.
RM: Some of my favorite paintings of yours are from the “from behind” series of many iterations butts with flowers. Some of them feel sexual- especially “Monk’s Robe” in which the purple flower (already hyped in sexual metaphor) nearly camouflaged itself as the same color of the panties; what first functioned as a one liner is a slower read of discovery. Your work always feels genuine and playful and comes off as a wink and a nod- cheeky and charming- no pun intended. What role does humor, wit and playfulness take on in your work?
KG: Humor is a HUGELY important device in my work. I think humor has this amazing ability to give space to a conversation and disarm people. It’s important to me that my work is accessible and not restricted to any one point of view. The series “from behind” I think achieves this well. Medium to large scale depictions of asses alongside plant life, at first take, appear funny and bright. The viewer is free to leave it at that, but to me these pieces are about the stagnancy of the figure entrapped in a false Eden, the plants often poisonous or sinister in one form or another. It is important to me that my work can live flexibly and be able to be consumed across points of view. And to be perfectly honest, I get a real kick out myself sometimes, and I’m not ashamed to say, I really get off on making people laugh. I am of the belief that differing opinions are bridged more effectively if there’s funny ‘bait’ initially to get them interested in the sometimes, somber undertones.
RM: A lot of your work is centered around female bodies, ownership of the gaze, power dynamics and reclamation or criticism of femininity. Can you speak about the scope and importance of feminism in your work, how the world impacts you as a woman and how it comes out in your work? What are you ultimately hoping to articulate?
KG: Feminism is pervasive in my work, occurring almost naturally, without much premeditation. My feministic values are inseparable from my expression and so are engrained in my work, really just simply because I made it. Because feminist issues concern and affect me, I inevitably always end up dealing with them consciously or unconsciously in my practice.
RM: Would you define yourself as a primarily figurative artist? Even when there is not a body present, like the hats, it still references a body. What is it about the figure that you keep returning to/why are you a figurative artist?
KG: I think my attraction to figurative art, is directly correlated with my affinity for humor. Because the figure is so easily understood by the viewer, they can participate with the piece more readily and the absurdity of the work comes across more strongly since the baseline variable is so universal. I’m also just fascinated by humans in general. A brief stint as a matchmaker, testifies to my curiosity towards my fellow humans. It’s just this sort of open-bar of psychology, I never get tired of.
RM: What are your favorite and least favorite things about making art?
KG: I love making art, it’s the most validating part of myself and I feel lucky to have it – I feel whole to have it. Ahem, however, it is sometimes a difficult relationship to have. Because I have this thing that gives me such a strong sense of purpose, it makes doing less validating (but necessary) things completely unbearable at times. From time to time, I envy people who don’t share my artistic compulsion and just go home at night and watch T.V. guilt free, without a care in the world. When it comes down to it, I would never trade places, but it can make me a little salty on occasion.
RM: What is a perfect day for you in the studio? Do you have a routine that works the best for you? What problems do you deal with in your studio practice and how do you work to overcome them?
KG: A perfect day in the studio is like that Sunday kind of love. There’s a new album out that I have to listen to on loop because it’s so good. And I’m wearing my big ass glasses all day, with a new hair elastic, that doesn’t go limp every five minutes. I’ve probably just eaten a bagel and lox from my shop in Queens and my plants are all watered and perky. I’ve got some brand new #1, #6, and #10 Bright brushes on deck. On the daily, I don’t really have the privilege of routine in my studio practice. As an emerging artist, I need a day job to float my expenses, and so I have to be crafty about making sure I get as much time as I can. Although, I would love to have more time and routine, I think the restrictions imposed by my other obligations make me a more efficient artist by necessity.
RM: What is one artwork that you wish you made? What piece do you consider a masterpiece?
KG: I wish I made those bloated Edwin Wurm cars. I am so fucking tickled by those things I can’t even tell you. I always get such a rise out of bizarre proportions, and those works really hit the mark in that regard. This isn’t an art object necessarily, but I also wish I had made the sets on the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory movie. Except, in my version the Oompa-Loompas would be mini Leigh Bowery figures in latex. Is that a good idea or a nightmare? Hard to say…
RM: What is the best advice you were ever given about art making or the art world? What advice could you impart to others?
KG: A piece of advice that always stuck with me was something a drawing professor said. He said that no matter how busy life gets, always do one thing for your art every day, even if it’s just making one line on a page. I think it can be really hard to do everything you need to do in life, jobs, intimate relationships, family, friends, dentists appointments every six months for fuck’s sake, while also maintaining a steadfast studio practice. I liked this advice because it was practical and sound, it has served me well. If I were to impart advice on others, I would just say to remember that if you want to be an artist, you have to BE an artist. You have to make art because that’s what you like to do and that’s who you are. The level of accolade or fiscal gain cannot be the primary reason for your pursuit or where you draw your sense of artistic worth. You have to be fair to your art, making sure you are providing all the conditions to the best of your ability to let it grow to its full potential.