By Jules Prosser
Kate Laster is a visual artist and poet hailing from Alaska. She attended the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, transferring to Evergreen for her last year. She works in many mediums, including drawing, relief printing, and comics.
When you first arrived in Olympia, what were your attitudes toward art, and what kind of work were you producing?
Oh, cool. (Laughs). I came here as a transferring senior. All the way from Alaska. I was coming from Juneau, I was very excited. I thought, this is a really cool school, I wanted to be here. I was also really nervous. I was totally, totally new here. I was waitlisted for this class I really wanted. This arts class called Drawing Time, and I stuck it out. I wrote an email, the first day I showed up. Luckily, I got it. It was a great opportunity. It had been a while since I’d been that excited about a class, like I wanted to go, I needed to go. I was energized. In some ways, that loneliness of being away from home motivated me more. I started drawing people all the time. I ended up doing this side project by myself. It became the project for drawing time for me.
How has life in Olympia affected your work?
When I first came here, it was all strangers, and I was drawing them all the time. It was the huge catharsis of my first project. My first quarter here was drawing people, drawing people I didn’t know, or kind of knew, but wasn’t privy to the what was going on in their life. I’d imagine, and I made it an anthropological study. I have a book full of strangers, and I made a scroll of them. I wanted to somehow make these individuals a part of a community they weren’t part of originally. They are all woven together from different days, different moments. People from the Artesian Well, people from Red Square. It seems really simple, but it became such an obsession, drawing people I didn’t know. If I started to know someone, and that happened when I moved here and I got to know people, I couldn’t draw them anymore. But there were a bunch of people I started drawing, and I became friends with them.
How did you befriend them?
A lot of time it was from drawing time, getting to know people on campus or through the Student Art Gallery, seeing people around. Some people would talk to me, which is scary for a lot of artists, but for me it was comfortable and it was cool because they saw the final process. When you’re drawing in a public place, you become part of it. Even when I was drawing strangers, I was part of that reflection. They were only strangers because they were strangers to me. Who is a stranger? To someone, they’re an intimate person. A best friend, a lover, a brother. It’s cool.
What’s your process for naming your work?
It’s interesting to me because I love words so much. My journals are constantly language and image. For me, naming things is actually really important. Sometimes there’s a feeling of, “image first”. Of course naming is not my favorite thing. But then, the name comes from the work. I name all my journals. Word is indelibly tied to what I make. My mom is a writer. I have to connect these things–words and image, together. That’s really important.
What specific projects are you interested in?
I really love making these pieces of art that are huge. Doing that feels like breathing. I also love the art scene that’s in the Pacific Northwest and I also love looking for opportunities and calls to arms for artists. But my favorite things that I did at Evergreen was making an Independent Learning Contract (ILC) of an arts collective, making that call to arms. I didn’t have to look for it. That first class that I got in was a beacon to me–I needed it. But then I had to make the beacon. I had to send the art signal in the sky.
You were involved in a two-quarter Student Originated Studies (SOS). Can you tell me about it?
It was really hardcore! It was not a light matter. I think sometimes there’s this essence of, “oh, I’ll do an ILC” but I don’t think I came here thinking, “This is gonna be really hardcore, I’m so serious” because I’ve been alternatively schooled, homeschooled, and I have this drive to prove myself, really work hard. I was obsessed with this ethic that had been instilled in me by Drawing Time. I was drawing constantly. I had to keep it going. I couldn’t shift away from art. I wanted to be interdisciplinary but I had a really strong art focus.
I met kindred spirits. I met people with a similar work ethic. We were making different things, but we were communicating in a way about our art and rhythms that was so comfortable, but challenging. When you are working with people you care about and admire, you realize you need to step up.
What are your thoughts on the visual arts department and scene here at Evergreen? What could be different?
I came to Evergreen really interested in artists who had came here, like Lynda Barry. She was incorporated in my last ILC. I really liked the seminar format, that accessibility to
“if you wanna make it happen, you can really try”, but it’s really hard initially, setting out to do that. So if people are thinking of doing an ILC, try it, ask someone about it, it’s an interesting thing to step upon. Not being able to use the printmaking studio or a press was really unique, it taught me to do things very differently. I think, in a lot of ways the ILC format lends itself to the graduate school, too. You’re forcing yourself to do stuff, and I really dig that.
I loved the University of Alaska Southeast. I had a great drawing teacher, David Woodie. He was fantastic. He would always talk to the model. He would get in their head and make sure they were safe and warm. It also helped that there was 5 feet of snow outside and we were all inside drawing in the dark. Art to me is that approach of warmth. and if you’re warm toward your subject, it reflects
What’s the relationship between your work and your emotions?
Yes, the moody artist question! I think it’s ever-tethered. If it feels far away, it’s not far for long. I think a lot of times you can doodle and not think of it, but but then go back in your sketchbook where its encrusted, and you can feel the emotional trigger of what you were feeling. They’re really huge, emotions. I think knowing yourself, as silly as it might seem, is most important. Why you respond to something. In art you love, why do you love it? Stories you hate, why do you hate them? In your own work, there’s something that resonates and you follow that spark.
As a poet and an artist, I am very emotional, but I think it’s a good thing. Catharsis is part of my process. It’s healthy. I like quiet emotions–quiet riots. These emotions that are very under the surface. That noticing of attention, of friendship, the spark of something where you realize this person is a kindred spirit.
That love is really interesting, but love is really multidimensional. Love is not flowery, love is very powerful–boom! pow! thwack! It’s a lot of stuff. It’s also everyday which is really important. It’s not just the swell of choirs, but also the sweeping of a broom. There’s an everyday rhythm and pace of it, you have to listen. I got very good at listening to emotions.
And the relationship between art and love?
My specific examination for my last quarter was intimacy. I was trying to pierce that entire void of what intimacy is. I’d been drawing people very quickly whom I didn’t know, then I ended up drawing people I really knew. I found there’s a similarity between that bond. You fall in love with someone you’re watching when you’re drawing them really quickly; the dignity and honor they have when they’re carrying their backpack or holding a cane. Some sort of everyday rhythms. With people you know or care about, there’s a way they hang their head, or are connected to someone else. With The Lovers Block, which is an exemplary example of intimacy, I wanted that feeling, but it can be obscuring. Two things can be one object but they’re still separate. In any healthy dynamic, the two objects remain whole but there’s some convergence.
Tell me about your process.
It starts with the sketchbook and observing. It starts with an inkling. With my journals, there’s totally chaos-induced doodling. Shorthand poetry. Two lines of a poem I like. I make lists of things. That’s part of me. The other part is the carving part. It’s the physical, the muscle memory. It’s like having a dream of a feeling and viscerally wanting to imprint it. It seems visceral because it is. It takes time. That’s the part of me that would go to the studio early in the morning and carve.
But for me, the most anchoring thing was always writing in my journal, drawing, going to life drawing. They were all parts of the process; they were far flung but connected. There are parts of my process that aren’t drawing. Like a good conversation or a beautiful book like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. Or poetry. Music. I’ll read an old notebook and think about the passage of time. Or I’ll go and draw strangers again if I’m stuck. I think we all get stuck. The process isn’t separate, it’s not on a pedestal, with everything else happening around it. It’s all swirled together.
What’s the process behind your giant prints?
It’s an upward spiral. It’s wonderful. I started carving big for woodcut printmaking when I was in Alaska. I had a teacher who was very supportive, Pedar Dalthorp. He started bringing me big fiber wood. I started carving that. I carved my versions of superheros–women, children, elderly–doing all these different kinds of people, who were big. I wanted to do 8-foot blocks but couldn’t. So I stacked two different pieces of blocks to make something taller. I got permission to wheatpaste on the walls on campus and people would see the art that way. It was my introduction. I couldn’t stop. When my ILC came along, I knew immediately that I had to carve again. I had to carve the figure. Because I’ve been so entranced in strangers and I need do it again. I have to do this small, intimate thing. This tiny feeling I get from a stranger. I want to make it as big as it feels. That bigness is from the small moment.
What advice would you give a newcomer to Evergreen who wants to pursue art?
- Go to the Student Art Gallery. It is a great opportunity. You’ll meet other artists, you’ll find opportunities to show your art. To take a leadership role in art. You’ll meet cool people, too!
- Be brave. It is daunting, but be brave my dears. It’s worth it to say, “I’d like to do an ILC with you”. Or ask a teacher what they think. Find a program you want and figure out an opportunity. Go to life drawing, that free opportunity to draw a model. That’s all here. its great. It also comes from within. Be daring, be bold, ever upward!
What are your plans now?
I’m carving and making art. Looking with excitement for jobs that focus on that. In the past I’ve done lots of things that involve teaching art with kids, working with teens. I love that. It’s energetic and fun. I also am really interested in furthering that educational push. But I feel it’s moving forward and continually making art.
On your website, you describe yourself as an “insomniac poet”. What are your three favorite words?
- loquacious: wordy, or verbose. “Kate sometimes overcompensates and is loquacious”
- a yiddish word, glitch: malfunction in something mass produced
Collect your words! Write them down! See what happens!
Is there anything we left out?
I love being able to keep track of a memory, an intimate moment. When you’re pressing something ephemeral, that disappears really quickly, trying to do something like that. In some ways, that’s my art, and my experience.
You can see more of Kate’s work at www.howlingmoondog.tumblr.com, and purchase it at www.etsy.com/luftmenschlabor