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Q&A: For Kathleen Vance, sculpture is dirty work

January 21, 2016 // by Jaime DeSimone

Kathleen Vance gave birth to two major projects in 2015: Rogue Stream, a site-specific installation based on the St. Johns River for Smoke and Mirrors: Sculpture and the Imaginary, and her adorable baby girl, who arrived while Rogue Stream was being installed at MOCA Jacksonville.

Vance and her husband, Daniel Aycock, and daughter, Ada Aycock, visited MOCA on Wednesday before the exhibition closes on January 24.

Vance created Rogue Stream to help celebrate Cultural Fusion's Year of the RiverWhen creating a work like Rogue Stream, she is often immersed in the soil, plants, and water she uses-a messy process that recalls childhood playtime in the outdoors. She answered these questions before the opening of Smoke and Mirrors.

Kathleen Vance visits MOCA with her family
Kathleen Vance visits MOCA Jacksonville with her husband, Daniel Aycock, and her daughter, Ada, Aycock, to see Rogue Stream and her other works in Smoke and Mirrors: Sculpture and the Imaginary. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.

How would you describe your work to someone who's never seen it?

I create environmental installations and sculptures that capture elements and scenes in nature to be re-experienced in a new context. Recreating the wonderment of a visit to secluded areas along waterways or forestry points manifests itself in a variety of forms, from long flowing paths of water carving their way through space to contained landscapes with rolling hills, babbling brooks, and flowing streams. Often I incorporate flowing water into my works, so a depiction of a stream will be visually and audibly active.

What ideas do you explore in your work?

I explore environmental issues such as water conservation and protection through positive stewardship of the land. I look to convey an appreciation of nature and transferral of the experience of the outdoors.

Kathleen Vance preliminary drawing for scale 01
Kathleen Vance creates a preliminary drawing for scale. Image courtesy of Kathleen Vance.
Kathleen Vance lays out paper template 02
Vance lays out a full-scale paper template to create Rogue Stream. Image courtesy of Kathleen Vance.

What do you want people to know about your work?

For site-specific work, there is quite a bit of research that goes into the process of developing a new installation. Sketches and drawings developed from this research play a large role in the preliminary stage of creation. For the St. Johns River installation, I culled through innumerable maps of the waterway, charts, and historical documents to find the “prime” path of the waterway. In creating the installation, I digested and processed this information in order to transform it into a visual work that captures the essence of each place or site referenced along the lower basin of the waterway.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in nature and the unexpected moments in daily life where nature takes hold and prospers. Local forestry points and waterways are where I gather direct insight into creating new works. My inspiration comes from my experiences with and in nature, and the artwork is developed as a translation of those experiences.

Kathleen Vance chisels edges of base mold 03
She chisels the edges for the base mold. Image courtesy of Kathleen Vance.
Kathleen Vance lays fiberglass base over wire mesh 04
She lays fiberglass over wire mesh. Image courtesy of Kathleen Vance.

What's your workspace like?

I have two studios-one in New York where I create smaller-scale works and develop new projects and another in Maryland where I construct large-scale works. These two allow for a range of freedom in creation and working styles. For a sculptor, space is imperative, and in Maryland I work out of a barn, which is very organic and connected to nature and environmental elements. My New York studio is more “civilized” and is located in Brooklyn.

When and where do you like to create your art?

I like to create my work between these two studios depending on the project. For drawings and development of new work and smaller pieces, New York is where I primarily work. Larger installations and rough site tests occur in my rural Maryland studio where I have access to much more space and open land areas. I rotate between these locations seasonally, with summers often spent in Maryland and the rest of the year in New York.

How do you prepare for a new project?

After I have developed a core concept for a new project, I research and look for relevant data and imagery to support the concept. Sketches and drawings help to flesh out an idea; I often draw and redraw an idea in different contexts and perspectives to determine the form, scale, and overall “feel” of the work. This stage can be extensive, and I spend much time contemplating a new work, developing the idea and structuring its components prior to physically building, creating ,or sculpting a new piece.

Tell us something surprising about your creative process or your working style.

After a concept is developed, researched, and planned, I allow myself to work intuitively, reacting to my own experience of creating a work. I often become physically immersed in the creation and as I am using a lot of natural materials such as soil, plants, and water. It is a very messy process that harkens back to childhood days of playing in streams and creeks. 

For the St. Johns River installation, I referenced imagery of sites along the river and imagined how these would translate to the piece, placing hand-sculpted trees and foliage along the path of the waterway. Consideration of how these areas look and “feel” is a very intense process, and I am extremely focused. It did not impact the intensity or focus of this stage of development of the installation when I was nearly eight and half months pregnant with my first child; this seemed to heighten my awareness of the details of the work. 

Kathleen Vance removes fiberglass mold 05
She removes the fiberglass from the mold. Image courtesy of Kathleen Vance.

What is your next project?

I am continuing the series Traveling Landscapes and have several works in development. I am also exploring a concept for a continuous water flow installation and looking at the possibility of translating one of my Boundstick installations to bronze.

How will exhibiting your work at MOCA Jacksonville affect your career?

Engaging a new audience and expanding awareness of my work-this will be an important exhibition for my career, especially with the creation of a new site-specific work of the St. Johns River, developed specifically for this exhibition. This will open my artistic career to the possibility of more works that explore waterways and the environment.

Visitors Take a Closer Look at Rogue Stream by Kathleen Vance
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

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