by Sonny Kay
Seattle-based painter Katie Metz specializes in documenting the hustle and bustle of the city around her. Employing a unique blend of kinetic impressionism bordering on abstraction, coupled with a peculiar technique whereby she scratches her way through the paint (only to layer on more), her uncanny ability to capture a sense of movement and atmosphere results in work that virtually comes to life before the viewer’s eyes. Her recent show, Concrete and Light (at Friesen Abmeyer Fine Art) presented 14 recent works, and the culmination of an obsessive commitment to refining her process, not to mention eight years of coming to terms with the city she currently calls home.
Born and raised outside Boulder, Colorado, Katie attended St. Mary of the Woods College in Terre Haute, IN before returning to Denver to attend Platt College. There she earned a degree in computer-based graphic design, and began illustrating and designing logos for freelance clients. For the next few years, she focused heavily on classical figure drawing (even spearheading a figure drawing group for four years), still lifes and landscapes, refining her technique until she felt she’d exhausted it. Soon after the new millennium, Katie found herself in Seattle, living a truly urban lifestyle for the first time. She was, as she puts it, “stunned” by the city – it’s scale and impersonality. All of a sudden, I was worrying about keys! Laundry! Driving! It was weird” she says. Overwhelmed by the relentless din, Katie experienced a phase of creative inertia that lasted almost 2 years. Her prior work seemed, simply put, irrelevant. Her motivation at an all time low, she decided to simply absorb the experience and wait for the proverbial dust to settle.
And settle it did. Katie soon found herself fascinated by certain elements of urban decay. Armed with a digital camera, she began photographing cracks in sidewalks, an obsession that gradually broke open the creative shell she’d been cocooned in. Printing the photos at work, she’d then spend her evenings collaging them together, using a gel adhesive, overpainting them and developing a technique incorporating a razor blade to scratch away at the existing images. The results were exciting, so much so that the twenty or so pieces she hung in a local coffee shop sold immediately. A second series sold just as quickly. How’s that for inspiration?
Katie’s restlessness, however, ensured that she wasn’t content for long. “I really wanted to not paint landscapes, I wanted to paint feeling”. She continues, “I consider the razor blade a brush. It’s the same as any other tool. When I started scratching, it was movement. Scratching achieves the roundabout connection of everything I feel”.
Disenchanted almost immediately with cracks in the sidewalk, Katie soon turned her attention to windows. With hundreds of thousands of them looming ominously amid the Puget Sound fog of downtown Seattle, there was no shortage of inspiration. “I was mesmerized by buildings and windows”, she says in retrospect. The collaged photographs soon gave way to a renewed passion for paint and before long she’d amassed enough work for a show, 2008’s City Series. Gestural, almost abstract (though still recognizable) representations, these works captured the essence of the soggy day-to-day existence in the Emerald City. “They were exactly what it felt like (at the time)”, says Katie. All sixteen pieces she hung sold within three weeks. The follow-up show, Downtown Series (2010), saw her fully embrace her passion for the high rise. It’s hard to imagine paintings of a specific urban landscape with a bigger commitment to capturing the essence of that place. Katie’s work quickly developed into an impassioned homage to the clutter and chaos of the modern metropolis, a love letter in skittish acrylic. 2011’s City Darshan series ventured even further into abstraction, a collection of visual meditations in which her employment of an exaggerated perspective and a playful grid structure became more evident. Concrete and Light carries these ideas to their logical conclusions. She hints that perhaps now might be a good time to switch gears. “I don’t know where things are headed in the next five years”, she says. “Sometimes I just like to paint… whatever”.
These days, Katie’s still taking photos constantly, though she is quick to point out that her skills are modest. “I don’t consider myself a photographer” she says, “I’ll print out a picture and paste it to the wall of my studio. Sometimes it’s the complete foundation (for a composition), but not always. I’m not trying to be completely accurate. The hard part is letting-go. I want to tie it together and make a feeling. It’s about trying to capture the essence of a moment or a situation”. She’s concerned with her work being “too illustrated”. “I don’t like 100% abstraction and I don’t like 100% illustration”, pausing only briefly before quoting the English poet, David Whyte. “The middle barely exists”, says Katie, contemplating momentarily the conundrum by which her creativity charts its course. Which isn’t to say that things are necessarily any clearer or easier now than they have been.
Life for Katie Metz, as for everyone, is a work in progress. The customary existential questions which occur to anyone passing the 40-year mark have, naturally, raised their heads. “Sometimes”, she continues, “I understand why people give up. There are days when I get that”.
Fortunately for us, however, that sentiment is short-lived. “But, then I realize… There’s way more to see and understand.”
For more information and many more examples of Katie’s work, go to www.katiemetzstudio.com