Other Investigations: Katie Bell

Katie Bell, previously featured on Make Space, lives and works in Brooklyn, NY, but is from Rockford, IL. She talks about her studio practice!

On process and collecting:

Gathering and collecting material is a very important part of my work. I am continually looking for stuff to use in my work. I try to bring in one new object to the studio everyday. This could be something really minor like a scrap of wood or something large like a bundle of countertop pieces. I have a pile of material in my studio in which most of the pieces originate from. I use this pile as my pallet. I think about the work as making paintings and the material becomes paint. The stuff I collect is building material; it is raw material like wood, vinyl, tile, linoleum, insulation, etc. Each piece I make initially starts with an interest in a specific material. I see the material as something to manipulate and transform into a painting language


In my work, I need to have multiple projects going on at the same time. I do not see the work as a series, but rather each piece as individual. The duration of the work is varied, some things happen very fast and others slow. It is important for me to have slow and fast projects going on at the same time to feel like the work is moving somewhere. The pace of the small paintings I make on plaster is slow. I can work on them in my lap, sitting on the floor over a few days or weeks.

The large wall installations and sculptures involve my whole body; they are very physical. The motions to make them are much faster than the small paintings. I use quick gestures, throwing things on the wall, climbing on a ladder, quickly layering different materials.

The small paintings take time, more careful decisions and a quieter, more intimate relationship to the form. Having both of these speeds happening in my studio at the same time, allows for choice in terms of what I feel like doing that day. The large pieces take a lot of energy and some days I don’t have that, and would rather sit on the floor and hold something in my lap.

On materials and medium:

I started my work with an interest in painting. So, even though I use all sorts of materials I still think about them like paint on canvas.  When I collect the various materials, I think about them in terms of color, texture, and surface. In my studio, I have a pile of materials. This pile is what forms the work and allows ideas to unravel. Most of my material I find and pick up off the street. Although, most of the material is found, I don’t see it as coming from the garbage. The things that I choose are not garbage; they are unwanted raw materials.

Often the found material sparks an idea of what it should be paired with it, and then I am on look out for something specific. For example, I was recently on the search for the acrylic shell of a hot tub. This took me about two years to track the perfect one down, and now it is the base for a sculpture I am building. When I construct the installations, I try to think about the wall as one of the materials in the piece. Most of the works are attached directly to the wall in some way or use the wall as an active component. In this way, I try to think about all materials that way- that nothing is a given. Every material I use, including the type of wall it is on becomes part of how the piece functions.


On research processes:

Artists that I am thinking about right now are: Jessica Stockholder, Urs Fisher, Robert Gober, Robert Rauschenberg, David Altmejd, Phillip Guston, Rachel Harrison, David Hockney, Mika Rottenberg, Josh Smith, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Richard Artschwager, Tauba Auerbach, Janine Antoni, Peter Halley, Matisse, Jeff Koons, and Phoebe Washburn.

This list is all over the place. But these are people I think about. Maybe because when I see a piece of theirs I go back to my studio thinking, I need to do better. Many of these people I don’t necessarily think about the physical objects they make, but rather the attitude of the work. I think about attitude a lot in the studio. How different pieces carry different attitudes, and how those attitudes relate to each other. What types of materials are embedded with an attitude, and how can I manipulate that.


On space and site:

My work has undergone a number of changes with my changing locations. In the past few years my location has changed dramatically. I grew up and went to undergrad in Illinois, mainly living in small to mid-size towns, then I moved to Providence, RI to go to graduate school, and now I currently live in Brooklyn, NY. The scenery around me has changed drastically in the last 4 years. Since my work is often site specific and uses found materials, the work I have been making in New York has been much different than in Rhode Island. I see New York as a challenge for my work because it is harder to transport things, harder to gather; more difficult to immediately get the materials I want. I have had to become more decisive in figuring out what the work needs. My gathering process previously was more meandering, I could browse and I knew where to find specific things. In New York I don’t have time to browse, it’s more of a grab-and-go pace. So with this I have had to make more plans and think through works ahead of time.

Most of my work includes the space it is made within. The wall installations are made directly on the wall, so the scale of the wall is crucial to the construction. When I am asked to move an installation to a different location for a show, I try to reinterpret that piece to fit the space. Sometime the scale or the direction of motion changes depending on the space.  It may need to bend around a corner or expand onto the ceiling. To me, this is exciting. The work uses the wall and room as a source of inspiration and transformation. For the gallerist or curator this can sometimes be a bit nerve racking because they don’t know exactly what will come of it. But I see it as a challenge and a way to make the work come alive all over again.