As a Founding Member of the San Francisco Advocacy for National Museum of Women in the Arts, I’ve had the pleasure of learning more about female artists. One that really caught my eye was Katherine Vetne, a Bay Area emerging artist who our San Francisco committee sent to the National Museum of Women in the Arts to exhibit her works. Read on to learn more about her process and love of art.
Robin: When did you first start working with metal/using metalpoint?
Katherine: I was introduced to metalpoint while getting my BFA at Boston University, in a traditional painting techniques class taught by Richard Raiselis. Several years later in grad school, I started pursuing it seriously, as it seemed to be the perfect medium for the work I was making. This was also the same time I started working with silver nitrate, another way of using metal.
R: What inspired you to create your metal art pieces?
K: I became interested in luxury commodities when I started making work about wedding culture a few years ago. Metal carries associations of opulence and class, so it seemed like a good fit for the concepts I was working with at the time.
R: Do you remember the first piece that you made? How did it make you feel?
K: I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember! I can't remember the first piece I made, but I do remember the first piece I made that I was proud of. I was probably in first grade or so, and I sculpted an elaborate jungle scene in my parent's basement using oil-based clay. I remember making a monkey climbing between two trees on a vine. It was hard to get the clay vine to stay put with the weight of the monkey on it, so I remember having a real sense of satisfaction when I finally got it to work!
R: From conception to finished piece, do you have a typical process for creating your metalpoint pieces?
K: I usually set up still lives in my studio using lead crystal, mirrors, and multiple light sources. Then I take several photographs to decide on the final composition. Next, I apply a special ground to my panels and start drawing, typically working from large, big shapes to more specific detail.
R: What’s one of your favorite exhibitions that strongly influenced your work?
K: The Michelangelo drawing show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York last year was mind blowing. Since metalpoint is a Renaissance-era medium, and Michelangelo is a Renaissance-era artist, I took away lots of ideas for developing my techniques and concepts.
R: What are some of your favorite museums and galleries?
K: I visit New York a lot, and really like the programming at the New Museum and PPOW Gallery. Within my hometown of San Francisco, I really enjoy Catharine Clark Gallery, as they represent some of my favorite local artists, like Josephine Taylor. I also absolutely loved the Museum of Capitalism, a temporary pop-up project in the East Bay that took place last year.
R: What inspires you to explore your creativity and try new things?
K: I get ideas for work from so many sources, but I think at a base level, attraction to materials is a big part of my drive to try new things. I love transforming materials from our culture to give them new meanings and associations.
R: What’s a misconception about metal work or artists that work with metal?
K: Metal work is often tied to craft, which is historically considered a "lower" form of making art than the so-called "high" arts. This is largely due to the fact that women, people of color, and folks without institutionalized educations have a history of working in craft-based fields, including metal work. So, the distinction between craft and fine arts became a way to exclude these marginalized groups of artists. Even though the bias between craft and fine arts is based in racism, sexism, and classism, and has been widely challenged and discredited, traces of this attitude still pervade the art world.
R: Is there a type of metal or other medium that you would like to work with in the future?
K: There are so many materials out there I want to try, but I don't like to say much about my ideas until they are in progress. It's a habit I've developed as a way of preserving concepts until they're more fully formed.
R: Do you have any advice for young, female artists?
K: The art world and its participants all operate within a capitalist, patriarchal framework, just like the rest of the world. These frameworks influence your interactions with the art world at large: colleagues, teachers, collectors, galleries, critics. The antidote is to take up more space than you are comfortable with, tell your story, and center those with marginalized perspectives that you don't share. Reach out for support from other women artists, other women working in the art world, and your trusted allies.
R: What brought you to the West coast?
K: I moved to San Francisco for grad school in 2013. I had been thinking about getting my MFA for several years, and spent a few years working as an artist before applying to programs. Artists have difficult lives, and student debt is incredibly exploitative. So, it was a big and carefully considered decision to move to San Francisco, but I think it was the right thing to do.
More about Katherine:
Katherine Vetne (b.1987) holds an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute (2015) and a BFA from Boston University (2009). Her awards include the Allen B. Stone Award and the Partial Tuition Fellowship in Painting, both from the San Francisco Art Institute. Her work has been included in exhibitions in Los Angeles (Angles Gallery, CB1 Gallery), Boston (808 Gallery, Samson Projects), and the Bay Area (Catharine Clark Gallery, Hubbell Street Galleries, [2nd floor projects], the Napa Valley Museum, Root Division, and Gallery Route One). She is included in Heavy Metal: Women to Watch 2018 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts as well as We Tell Ourselves Stories…In Order to Live at Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco, both on view until September 2018. Vetne lives and works in San Francisco.