|once you've slept on an island
you'll never be the same
He went on a big trip the other day and I think I went with him. It’s swaying like a trailer or boat that’s loose; not a storm but you’re in the cabin and can’t look out. No compass. No moon. We all have anchors and I keep hoping they’ll help. I load myself down with them. Keep stones in your pocket. It’s probably better to go on a big trip fast because then you can’t pack so much. When you’re in a cabin things get tossed around—hit you in the head—a big spill. It’s better not to have too much, I’m certain.
I think you get to go where Mr. Boss says. I like not being in charge. It’s hard to get someone that’s good at being a Boss. When they tell you to get in the tunnel and lock it up you can believe them. The tour guide tells you and that’s it.
Three days after Thanksgiving, in 1993, I walked into my studio and found a shattered snow globe on the floor. A broken Santa head, fragments of a sleigh and plastic white snowflakes lay several inches apart in a pool stain of evaporated water. The globe was given to me by Kathy several years earlier. To this day I am puzzled how it fell off the shelf. Kathy often painted scenes of car accidents at the moment of impact. Worse than War, 1987,shows a tanker truck colliding with a small car as headlights of both vehicles shine at high beam. Her dioramas had a precarious nature to their construction, which at times seem to teeter on collapse. Flickering Christmas lights, miniature plastic toy horses, plastic flowers and doll shoes were elements that made up the narratives in her fantasy worlds, Futurist Farm, 1988/89, Trailer Park at the Valley of Fires 1986, or Vehicle on Alert, 1987. One can see in these works the influence of Alexander Calder’s Circus, 1931, (Whitney Museum of Art), yet Kathy’s tableaus are less about capturing the spectacle of an event and more about the expression of an idea.
She was a painter, poet, sculptor and weaver. She had a sardonic sense of humor who loved to laugh and pull pranks. Her friends called her Clifford. She tended her garden in the parking lot of the Atlas building in Eastern Market, where she lived for twelve years. For ten years she worked for the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, where she taught art to women prisoners. At times it could be a demoralizing job, but she had the ability to always find the humor in a situation and channel it through her work. She had an amazing wit and vast knowledge of art, literature and history as reflected in her titles to paintings, Flaubert in Egypt, 1982, D.H.Lawrence in New Mexico, 1985, and Like a Catherine Wheel, 1982. Her short stories and poetry have surrealistic undertones but come from a personal narrative. Similarly, her paintings and constructions are often recordings of events, episodes and dreams rooted in her own life experience.
On TV they said
Many of her poems were written in magic marker and kept in various sketchbooks with her drawings. On the inside cover of one is a photo of Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz. Above O’Keeffe’s head, Kathy wrote, “What is tomorrow? 1. Saturday 2. Sunday 3.Thursday 4. before 5. None of the above.” On one page she wrote, “Take me to Easter Island. That’s where I want to go. We could last 6 years there” and above the words is a taped polaroid of Easter Island taken from a program she watched on TV. She included the TV screen in the photo. A 6 of Clubs is taped to a page with a poem about a dead dog and midway through the book is a newspaper clipping, “Bob Marley: winning the battle?” about the 35 year Reggae star battling cancer. On this page, she has the words “Sky Up” written in ink and on the opposite page a poem about an “innocent flight down a Rio Grande.” I counted 85 poems in the book.
In a painted sculpture, Cruiseship, 1989, a broken hockey stick suggests the contour of a boat as three waves resembling shark fins are held at bay. On the opposite side of the sculpture, a white number three is painted against a green background. Did she do this or was it a found piece of wood? On a white painted ledge, she composed a still-life with a bowling pin and various balls. In Trailer Park at the Valley of Fires, 1986, an oversized Buddha head peers out at us from the inside window of a trailer home. “What did the artist mean?” said Kathy to friend Vivian in 1974 after the filming of her Master Thesis project. Vivian tells the story of assisting Kathy in the production, which involved a woman (played by Vivian) dressed in a pink prom dress with a parasol as she traverses through a constructed canopy made of fabric and branches in the forest. She describes the unscripted part of the filming as gunshots were fired in the background, followed by the sound of ducks fleeing the scene.
The sea is a recurrent theme in works like Lagoon, 1984, The Gunner, 1988, and Red Tide, 1987, a small painted sculpture of a magnifying glass perched atop a piece of carved red wood resembling a wave. Could this be used for the big trip she wrote about? “It’s swaying like a trailer or boat that’s loose; not a storm but you’re in the cabin and can’t look out. No compass. No moon. We all have anchors and I keep hoping they’ll help.” Perhaps she created Red Tide to help in the rescue.
I am your mermaid
You see me at a table, making my sculpture, and ask, “Was that piece
Kathy earned a Bachelor of Arts in printmaking at Olivet College in 1971. She later earned a Master of Fine Arts in drawing at Wayne State University in 1974. During the late 1970’s and the 1980’s, her work drew attention both in Detroit and throughout the midwest. She was one of twelve artists in GUTS, Detroit in the 80’s (1981) at the Herron School of Art, Indiana University-Purdue. She was in a two person show, Painted Wood Works in 1979 at the N.A.M.E. Gallery in Chicago with her friend Nancy Pletos. In 1978, she showed new work with friend Vivian Wanless in Two Girls at the Feigenson Gallery. As an independent, artist-run space, the Willis Gallery opened in the late 1960’s and closed in the early 1990’s. Kathy exhibited her work in three shows at the Willis; Conflicts/Configurations (1984), Two Detroit Girls (1977) and Three Artists (1977). In her resume, she wrote under Collections—many personal friends and artists throughout the Continental United States. Some of her close friends were Gordon Newton, Bob Sestok, Bradley Jones, Vivian and Jim Wanless, Ann and Ken Mikolowski, Stephen J. Neale, Holly Branstner and Sharon Zimmerman.
This text is by Ed Fraga in his capacity and does not, necessarily, reflect the views of different infinite mile contributors, infinite mile co-founders, the authors' employers and/or other affiliations.