Creative Conversations: with Catie Constas
Decadent Cosmos is very excited to kick off our new interview series "Creative Conversations" with the delightful and talented Catie Constas (she/her). Enjoy our lovely conversation about art as play, the significance of textiles as art, and the importance of the creative process itself.
DECADENT: I want to start off with an idea of yours that I absolutely love, the idea of art as play. Did you always know that about making art? Or did you realize that more gradually as you made more and more art?
CATIE: I love that question. Play is super important in my art process. And it was definitely something I discovered when I got to college and started doing art more seriously. I realized that [art] didn't have to be a super serious thing, it didn't always have to have a major motivation behind it, or a reason or, you know, a specific context. And a lot of times [a sense of play] would follow. So just playing with materials or ideas, and doing things with my hands really allowed me to explore what I actually wanted to create and see what was coming out of me organically.
DECADENT: When a kid is playing, it's very much imagination-based. Do you feel like you have to like tap into your inner child's imagination to access this ability to play with art?
CATIE: Yeah, the inner child thing is definitely super important. I started doing art and taking art lessons when I was five years old at this little studio in my town called Kidcasso. It was this little shed in this woman's backyard, she was an art teacher. And she really encouraged me when I was just five. So I was actually playing with art then, right?
As I got older, it was something I never stopped doing. Being able to tap into that now comes really naturally.
DECADENT: I'm really curious to know, because play isn't necessarily exclusive to art-making, but more of an attitude toward life, do you feel a connection between your art and your life through play?
CATIE: Yeah, I don't feel like there has to be a divide. I just feel like I've naturally created one. In high school, I wasn't super focused on art. I thought I wanted to do science and started off as a biology major at BC, which is so funny. But then I became an art major and I'm so much happier now.
I realized I have these science parts of myself and, you know, serious parts of myself. I'm very organized and I really like order and routine and that kind of thing. Those are skills I cultivated all through school to do well and get into college and, you know, have a good life. So now I'm a very orderly and organized person and even very inflexible at times until it comes to my art.
When I'm making art I can break out of that and allow myself, my inner child, my crazy feelings and compulsions to come out.
That's when the divide breaks, although it's not even a divide, it's more like breaking through a façade.
DECADENT: Interesting. So you work with textiles a lot and I know that you dress as the artist that you are. And I think that a lot of artists do. There's this need to bring your "artist self" into your everyday. How do you feel you express your relationship to textiles in the way that you exist as an artist and a craftsperson? Because there is something of a difference between art and craft.
CATIE: Let's talk about that! I totally have trouble with it sometimes. It's something I don't consider all the time, but when I do, I'm like, "Holy shit, this is really crazy." Because you're right, when I make something like a painting that has a context and is about something, it feels very, very different from something I'm going to make to sell or to give to somebody. It's not that I don't want to sell or get rid of my more personal paintings, I just have a different connection to it. And the way I'm going to talk about it is different. But when I'm painting, it does feel like a craft to me and I feel like an object-maker more so than an academic painter or something. I feel like a craftsperson.
I take the craft and the play that I love and apply that to the more academic arts. So even when I'm making more serious pieces, I think you can still tell that it comes from that place of play.
DECADENT: You're turning fine art on its head by saying that it can also be playful.
CATIE: Exactly. With textiles, I think that was a desire of mine to take my work off paper and bring it into the real world. Not that it isn't satisfying to me but sewing and textiles are very tactile and I like being able to hold my work in my hands and build it up. I feel similarly with sculpting, but textiles really are my medium.
DECADENT: As I'm sure you know, textiles are a historically woman-dominated art field largely because women did not have access to the same opportunities to study and exhibit in the fine arts that men did. So they would often create artwork that existed as everyday objects. Does this fact about textiles play a role in your work as a woman who works in textiles?
CATIE: I've always loved textiles and fashion, I've always wanted to dress well and look good. And because of that, I've always been interested in clothes. When I was really young, my grandmother who also sewed was like, "I'm gonna teach you." So we ended up making some pillows, little pajama pants and like, a skirt.
Seeing figures like that in my life, you know, somebody who didn't have access to an art education, but is still incredibly creative with a good sense of design and skills that they can share, makes me feel very privileged as someones who can now take that and run with it.
I can bring crafts and textiles into the realm of fine art because they deserve to be at the same level as painting and sculpture. Textiles take the same amount of skill.
DECADENT: I definitely see that come through in your work. There doesn't need to be a difference in the aesthetic quality and meaningfulness of a painting versus a purse or a hat. One of them might be more "practical" but they are art regardless of how "useful" the individual piece is.
CATIE: There is a definite difference in a way, but it all feels to me like I'm just doing my art. People will see my work and be like, "Oh, that's not your grandma's quilt!" almost as if they're downplaying the craft that goes into quilting and all those more traditional women's arts and crafts. But yeah, it's not your grandma's quilt and it wasn't then either. Textiles have always been more than people give them credit for.
DECADENT: You are currently studying art and I want to know what the attitude is academically toward textiles and crafts. And how has that affected your work?
CATIE: Yeah, that's been like a really fun experience. I have a lot of fellow art students who are very technically skilled. I do have technical skills, like I know how to throw down a line and I know about value. I used to think that art was "copy/paste" where you take this apple and draw this apple and it should look like this apple. And for a lot of people, that's what art is, it's very mimetic and that's where they find their pleasure and their skill in doing art.
I can't do that, I don't like doing that, and it doesn't feel creative to me. That's not to say that [attitude toward art] is not creative, because it totally is. But in certain classes, I've been really pushed to do that and I've had to push back a little bit. It's fun though. Some professors are very open to the pushing back, and some have been less open to it. I'm trying to incorporate play into the process.
Rather than just copying the actual visual reality, I want to use my visual experience.
How those differ, I think, is a very interesting idea. I like to play with that and think about that. Once I realized that you could work in abstraction and realized that things don't have to always look like other things, that was a game changer.
DECADENT: I am so glad that you brought that up because that was my next question. How do you feel when you are going to make an abstract piece? Do you know it's going to be abstract before you start it?
CATIE: Never. If I actually sit down and I'm like, "I'm gonna make an abstract piece," I end up with the stupidest looking thing ever. I usually try to start with just an idea, or something I want to draw about.
One of my most recent paintings is a little abstracted. It's the big colorful canvas panel with the figure on it, and all the vaginas. It's called It's my body and I'll cry if I want to. That was a really interesting process for me of painting and over painting. I started off thinking I'm going to make a self portrait and I was going to show physical manifestations of emotional pain on the figure. When I started painting, I knew it wasn't going to be anatomically correct or anything, but I started making shapes and lines.
Keeping my brush moving has been important. You can always paint, you can over paint. By adding more lines and shapes and figures, and stacking things on top of each other, I feel like the abstract composition starts to emerge. And then from there, you can build up different areas based on how they're telling you to build them up. They happen and you have to realize that's what needs to happen in that area right now.
DECADENT: Kind of a change of subject, but there is something I really want to discuss and that is the cuteness of your work.
Your art is incredibly cheerful and, I say this with utmost respect for kitsch because I love kitsch: you've totally got a feel for that type of art. And I love that. Where does that come from and what does it mean to you?
CATIE: I think it really goes back to the inner child thing. I think a lot of people label me as a very cheerful and friendly person. I think it comes out in my art because I want to put goodness and beauty into the world.
Cuteness and softness and all these things that we neglect and write off as being unimportant or signs of weakness [are not being appreciated]. It's okay to be comfortable! And it's okay to like things that are softer. If cuteness makes you smile, that's good!
Not enough things make you smile in the world. I don't need to be a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, taking photos of dying children or something. Not to bash those artists but that's not my art and we don't need more of that. We need more kitsch. We need more experimentation. And if what comes out is a little ugly and kitschy but you like it, go with it! I like that people question, "Why do I like this?" A lot of people buy my bags and are like, "I don't know what I'll wear with this." And I think that's good! Try it out!
DECADENT: Not to bring up the gender thing again, but people definitely associate cuteness and softness with femininity. Do you have any thoughts on that? And I feel like the "serious" art world doesn't exactly make space for cuteness and kitsch. Do you ever feel like you have to defend your work to that world?
CATIE: I never feel like I have to defend it in order to feel like good about it. But I do have to defend it in order for people to understand that what they're saying maybe doesn't make sense or is disrespectful to the field of arts and crafts or some other more female-oriented medium. People do write it off as just a hobby or something that doesn't require much skill. People will say it's too cute and feminine, or that you're playing into the male gaze or trying to "prove" your femininity. And it's none of that. But also, it's all of that, right?
DECADENT: Right! Those voices don't bother you, but they're still there.
CATIE: They're still there and I have to respond to them. I'm not in a place in my art career yet where I've had to really defend my work in the art sphere, but I definitely anticipate that, especially because of the writing off of crafts and feminine aesthetics. I'm really not sure how more serious artists will respond to that.
In my classes and on Instagram, people are very responsive to it. I feel like people are drawn to [cute themes and content] for some reason and when they come up in my paintings, like strawberries or whatever, it's not random.
People are drawn to cuteness and I haven't really figured out why, but I think that it has something to do with legitimizing those aesthetics and realizing that it's not useless, it's not weak.
DECADENT: How do you feel about the fact that you can sit down and create something beautiful, something that you love that couldn't exist without you?
CATIE: Yeah, I love the idea of having nothing and then creating something. You take fabric and put it together and all of a sudden it's a bag! Or you only have a blank canvas and then all of a sudden there's a picture on it. It's crazy. And it is a very powerful thing. I do feel I can call it beautiful, but I don't love picking apart that word because I'm like, "It's beautiful, like, fuck you, you know, it's beautiful, because it makes you feel a certain way." I think, for me, it's the process of going through it: the movement that's associated with creating, the relationship between your body and the work.
The whole process of existing in reality and then making a piece of art that enters into reality with you. It's just a crazy process and it feels really beautiful and open.
So for me the process has always been a really important and beautiful part of the piece. The finished piece is never the only part of art-making that I like. I take a ton of process pics and film myself doing work. I like to have that supplemental work to go with the final piece because I feel like all of that has beauty too.
Thank you so much for such a wonderful conversation, Catie!
You can visit Catie's online shop at gummysharkart.com and follow her on Instagram @gummyshark.art . Her commissions are open!!