Kim Kennedy Austin: AJ
We’ve been following the work of Vancouver-based artist Kim Kennedy Austin for years, watching her push the boundaries of drawing by using ink, watercolour and even embroidery to execute her delicate and precise creations which often combine imagery with text. Embracing the outdated and outmoded, she has covered a wide range of subjects in her work from architecture and real estate ads to fly fishing lures and old, hand-drawn book covers. Recently, Kim was offered a month-long residency at Malaspina Printmakers Society, giving her the opportunity to use their studio to develop a new body of work, expanding her drawing practice by etching into Plexiglas plates. Her prints, which will be on view at Malaspina from January 5 – February 5, 2012, take as their subject a famous event in Canadian history – the manhunt for Albert Johnson, who was known as the “Mad Trapper of Rat River”. We asked Kim a few questions about this new body of work and how it fits into the larger context of her practice:
Here and Elsewhere: A lot of writing on your work focuses on your interest in the ‘just past’, citing, for example your use of outdated technical manuals and old novels as source material for subject matter. Why are you interested in recent history in particular?
Kim Kennedy Austin: The last series of watercolours that I showed replicated the hand-drawn text and cover illustrations of various books from the 1970’s or thereabout. These books were neither current nor antique and could easily have been overlooked and discarded but I valued their hand-drawn text and illustrations in a time when most book covers are photo based or digitally produced.
The source material for the show at Malaspina looks at the story of Albert Johnson “the Mad Trapper of Rat River” as well as aspects of early Canadian trapping and the fur trade. I am interested in the way old and new technologies came together in this famous event. Albert Johnson raced across the Northwest and Yukon Territories on self-made snowshoes, tracked on the ground by an RCMP dogsled team, in the air by plane, and across the airwaves as the people of Canada followed his every move via live radio reports.
H&E: We tend to think of your work as ‘drawing’, even when you are working with watercolours. Do you think that’s an accurate assessment of your practice? Is printmaking to some extent an extension of drawing?
KKA: I do think of my work as drawing when I use watercolours and even when I use cross-stitch embroidery. My watercolours start with a drawing first. They are flat – I am not attempting to create an illusion of depth, nor am I likely to re-work any areas once I have laid down the colour.
I knew for this residency at Malaspina, I would have a limited amount of time to learn a new process. I wanted to use a method that would be an extension of my drawing practice. I chose a fairly straightforward method of scratching into a Plexiglas plate. The scratching is similar to making a drawing with a metal barreled pen and because the plexi is transparent, I can trace over a drawing or photo to create the image on the plate, which is then inked and pressed onto paper.
H&E: You mention valuing hand-drawn text and illustrations and much of your work seems to have a labour intensive quality such as your embroidery pieces and your works involving miniscule text – is labour an important aspect of your work?
KKA: I think the quality of hand-labour, or time-spent is an important one, both in the production of my own work and in the selection of source materials to draw from. When making a new body of work, the decision-making portion of the process can be quite challenging. Once it comes to actually making the work – filling in an area with small lines or brushstrokes or stitches – it can be a soothing practice, a respite, and opens up a time for contemplation.
H&E: Much of your work is text-based – can you tell us a bit about how you use text? Is it fair to say you use text for its formal qualities as well as its subject matter and content?
KKA: I use text for a variety of reasons: the formal quality of the font and how it is rendered, the ability of text to impart information in lists and indexes, as well as a kind of found poetry or lyricism within dry material.
H&E: Thanks Kim!