For those of us who remember mall culture, be warned that you are about to experience some major flashbacks! The seductive shapes, patterns, and saturated colors in the work of Katie Neece will promptly bring you back to a time when the mall was the place to hang out. And who needs money to shop? The mall used to be just a glorified sidewalk for teens to walk around and roam—instead of what is now a ghost town. Neece executes her paintings with precision and skill, tapping into inspiration she finds from this 1990’s aesthetic. In her work, she combines diverse elements to create a gorgeous mixture of still life, abstraction, design, and perspective, creating a style that is distinctly her own.
Living and working in northern Indiana, the artist shares her thoughts on how virtual connections are shaping her experience as an artist—due to quarantining or otherwise. Currently earning her MFA at the University of Notre Dame, Neece observes her own challenges brought on by COVID as she look forward to 2021 (as do we all!). Join us in conversation as we discuss her past and present inspiration and motivation.
I adore the use of color and shape in your work. Your style sometimes reminds me of design from the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. Do you pull inspiration from a certain era?
Yes, that is what I am aiming for and I glean so much inspiration from the ‘80s and 90’s. I am really interested in design and design history. I am inspired by Architectural Digests from the ‘80s and ‘90s as well as American Mall, Memphis and “yuppie chic” aesthetics from those periods.
You mentioned the lovely term “mall aesthetic,” which I can totally relate to. Can you expand on this term in relation to your work? What drew you to this aesthetic?
When I was in graduate school I got really interested in this idea of the American shopping mall as a dying vestige of what it once was, as a result of digital e-commerce and online shopping. These malls are meeting their slow end all across the US, especially in the Midwest where I live. I see the Internet as the manifestation of the new mall. The old mall brings us aimless wandering, expansive food courts and dislocation into a world of consumption just like the Internet does- but instead of an expansive food court, it is the boundless realms of the Internet.
The aesthetics of old stores, mall architecture and conversation pits fascinate me. It is like manifested escapism, and I really enjoy bringing that into my work. I am aiming to capture that sense of “haunting” of the past that dead and dying malls bring us. This coupled with the music genres of MUZAK, future funk and Vaporwave were a match made in heaven and really inspired and drove the work to fruition.
Do you have any background in design or illustration? Do you use any digital tools to create your compositions before painting them?
I wanted to incorporate digital means of working to make my paintings as a visual compliment to the research. So I taught myself Photoshop and Illustrator and began to make my paintings fully digitally, then painting them. Now I primarily use Illustrator to make my work before I paint it. It is a great way for me to test out ideas and get the ideal composition I am looking for each piece.
Currently earning an MFA at Notre Dame University, what has been your experience in graduate school during COVID? How have you coped with this drastic change?
Grad school during COVID was very tough. My last semester was the semester COVID hit. I gave my thesis defense online and we had an online group show with my cohort, which was a very unprecedented experience. My professors were amazing and so supportive. I was lucky enough to get a solo show of my work (physically) in our Riley Hall Art, Art History and Design Gallery which I am very thankful for and it taught me to persevere through extremely tough challenges. We did our best, and I had to teach my drawing class online toward the end. I told myself in spite of all of this, I could make the most out of this experience and become stronger because of it, and that is what I chose to do. I had a very hard time focusing on my work for several months before I was able to get back into the swing of things again. It was just really difficult to get back into a good headspace again.
Congratulations on your inclusion in the three-person show Future Perfect at 5-50 Gallery in NYC! There is a piece in the show that I love titled “Silk Pajamas,” which seems to be taking your work in a somewhat new direction. Can you talk a bit about this piece in particular?
Thank you! Yes that piece is a more recent of the group. “Silk Pajamas” was simultaneously inspired by wallpaper and an etched glass motif inside of an interior space I saved while doing research, and the women’s pajama section of a mall from the early ‘90s. I really enjoyed the seriousness of black marble that I wanted to use really badly, and then I fused that with this turquoise gradated organic form. For the disks hovering above at the top, I wanted to mimic recessed lighting as if it was in a retail store, but like a disembodied version…fused with contemporary-eclectic vibes. My subject matter is intentionally mishmashed.
I understand your husband is also an artist. Is it all creativity, all the time in your home? Do you or have you ever collaborated?
My husband and I are very creative at home. He is a graphic designer and his office/studio is down the hall from my studio in our home and we bounce ideas off of each other all the time. It is really awesome having a creative partner to be able to discuss ideas with or give suggestions and be able to relate to each other on a creative level.
Being from Indiana myself, I have to ask—what has your experience been like as an artist in what is often called a “flyover state”? I’m curious if you have intentionally stayed in Northern Indiana, or if you are just currently there for school?
I think now that Internet platforms are making art more widely sharable and viewable to people, so it is not as big of an issue as it used to be. I think one of the good things about digital connectivity is that artists who are from smaller towns around the country are able to talk and collaborate from afar with artists, galleries and curators all over, which is really awesome. It gives artists like me more visibility in this climate, and a lot of people are moving out of bigger cities into more affordable areas around the country. In the wake of COVID and the state of things now, I think that is a shift that is going to contribute to a change in visibility, accessibility and the overall stigma of the “flyover state” mentality.
This may seem like an easy question, but I have often found that it is more complex than it seems: What inspired you to be an artist, and what continuously motivates you to pursue a life of creating?
What inspired me to be an artist I would say was my parents. They fostered art education in me when I was really young and would take me to museums and talk to me about art and artists. They both are artists themselves and they always had an appreciation for art and creativity and always encouraged my own. I am an only child so I had a lot of time on my hands to learn and explore art for myself. I am continuously motivated by the act of creativity being a never-ending pursuit. There is always something to learn, to research or to investigate further. Making an idea come to fruition or discovering something new is the best feeling. If I am not painting, I am thinking about painting or new ideas to explore.