Interview with Katie Craighill

by Cole Phillips

Photo of Katie in her studio, provided by her                        

C: How did you get started in the world of visual art, and what attracts you to specific media
versus others?

K: I have been drawing since I was able to hold a pencil. Creating art has always been my escape from the fast pace and overstimulation of the day-to-day. It is a meditative practice; a way to ground and reconnect with myself. It is also an outlet for control and precision when life otherwise feels uncertain and overwhelming. That is why for so long I have chosen to work in ink pens, pencils, and other high-precision drawing tools. These pieces [featured in Malasaña] however, began with an exercise in the antithetical. We were assigned to make a work of art in a style and medium that was the exact opposite of our favorite and established ones. It was one of the most frustrating artistic experiences I’ve had because the control and precision I was comfortable with was not possible working in the new medium I chose, so I had to be loose and reckless. But I demonstrated to myself how much more I was capable of and it opened another realm of ideas and confidence in my work.

C: What is the most challenging thing about the craft, for you?

K: Actually consistently starting projects (the proverbial “blank canvas” can be very intimidating), working on executing my own ideas over commissioned projects or pieces that are likely to draw more income. Definitely, the most frustrating part of being an artist is that we are forced to create within a capitalist system, which is by its very nature, anti-creative. Because my art is currently my primary source of income, I often find myself taking on projects or working on pieces that I know will pay the bills, rather than allowing myself to explore ideas or work I am truly interested in, regardless of perceived or potential “value.” Trying to build a “career” out of your art can feel soul-crushing and can turn something you love into something contrived and forced. It can be hard to find balance between these conflicting systems and values but is crucial in order not to fall into the trap of capitalism.

C: Totally. Those forces seem to oppose one another, right? Creativity and commerce. It must seem to distract from intent, or from interest. What sort of art is most interesting to you right now?

K: This and the previous question are sort of connected for me in that I often grow bored of my own
style (the precise pen and ink line drawings usually) if I work in the same way for too long or on too many projects. Even when others admire it, or it becomes an identifying feature to my work, it can start to feel stale and like I am not pushing myself to expand and experiment as an artist. The work published here [in Malasaña] is some of my favorite I’ve ever made because it came from breaking out of my typical style and medium.

C: I know that a lot of your work outside of what’s featured here is geometric, and that a lot of it, too, feels animalistic in nature. What attracts you to particular aesthetics or styles? Do you feel like you have a particular aesthetic or style that you can really categorize? Or is that limiting?

K: Andy Goldsworthy OBE, a British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist, said that, “We often forget that we are Nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.”

Despite this, I sense a schism between human and nature—more specifically, human and animal—that I cannot reconcile. There is a wildness that I see in animals that lies dormant in humans. It is there, but repressed, surfacing only when we are at our most vulnerable, our most reactive.

We construct our humanness—our culture, society, and civility. We inject meaning into symbols and develop a sense of control and structure. My work examines what it is to strip ourselves of this "Humanness” or, at the very least, to deconstruct it. I seek to understand the most fundamental essence of the human self by acknowledging the animal self. When do the two collide, clash, overlap, or become the same? If we are Nature (or Animal), then why do we constantly attempt to distinguish ourselves from
it by continually repressing or attempting to control it?

C: Does this concpet of animalism affect place for you, or environment in which you work? When and where do you work? Are there places you go to for inspiration, or is place, for you, more borne out of necessity, utilitarian?

K: Place has been deeply influential to much of my work--I’ve worked closely with animals most of my adult life and spending as much time with them as I have, I’ve developed an understanding of their behavior, anatomy, movement, and nature that influences and informs my art. Recently, I’ve shared this absolutely gorgeous studio space on the Saco River with my friend Abbie and there is something about having a dedicated space to be creative that allows ideas to flow and come to fruition. Even when I am no longer working on art that pertains to my place of work as far as content is involved, place still matters for the creative process.

Sometimes Abbie and I will take a break from our work, walk outside behind the old mill where our studio is, and just stand in the river as the sun sets. Watching the water churn and crash over rocks, feeling the current test our balance, and standing as such a small being in such a big landscape is grounding and calms any trivial frustrations from work so that we can go back to creating.

C: If place is so motivating, I wonder how do you find motivation in pursuing art outside of place? Is it that the content needs to be created, in your mind, or is more want than need?

K: One of my professors at Bowdoin once described the artist as possessing an “affliction,” or a need, a reliance on the act of creating art. It is not something we necessarily always want to do, sometimes it just has to be expressed and released for us to feel fulfilled and whole. And always fleetingly… then we have to create again. Motivation for me has always come in waves and bursts and never to a schedule (which makes some commissions exhausting and far more difficult than others).

C: When speaking to your own art--that which you do on your terms, for you, if you will--who are your biggest influences, and what about their work is inspiring for you?

K: So many I can’t even name them all but a couple of my all time favorites are Andy Goldsworthy and Edward Gorey. I am always inspired by my studiomate, Abbie, and former studiomate, Joe, as well as other artists in the Portland community and my circles.

I’ve felt very disconnected from the “big name artists” and the greater scope of the art world since I left academia. My greatest influences are the artists I work closely with, Abbie and Joe, my studiomates, and other smaller artists I follow on social media and in my community.

C: Do you think it’s important to have artists like that in your circle? Does having a group around you, of creatives, feel necessary for inspiration?

K: Yes and no, I think inspiration can come from anything and anywhere but it most certainly comes more often when I am surrounded by other creative minds and I do think that is important.

Katie Craighill was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but raised in the comparative wilderness of Sewanee, Tennessee where she developed an affinity for wildlife and the natural world, which took root in her artwork. She graduated from Bowdoin College in 2017 with a degree in Biology and Visual Arts. With that, she possessed an unshakable drive to explore the intersection of the two subjects and the relationship between humans and nature.

She currently lives and works in Portland, ME and continues to grapple with the perceived divide between humans and nature in her artistic practices. She says of her work, “Through my art, I strive to promote awareness of place, our place as humans in the natural world, and the importance of conserving the ecology therein.” She started her own small-business freelancing and screen printing her own original designs onto apparel and also offers original prints and drawings on paper and stationary. Her work includes screen prints, ink drawings, monoprints, and etchings.

Malasaña | Hudson, NY| Cargo Collective | Portland, ME | 2021