Briefly describe the work you do.
I make drawings, objects, and events about my ideas of ecological sustainability. I use humor, performance, and community events to mediate the perceived righteousness of environmentalism and sustainability. I’m interested in the rub between what is possible and what is reasonable.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in Nashville, TN and was lucky to be encouraged to make things by artist mother. She gave me and my brothers access to supplies like paper, scissors, glue, pens, and markers. That early exposure and some great teachers gave me a good foundation of making. I played outside a lot—sports and imaginary-play—and I think those positive experiences laid the groundwork for the Land Scouts.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I have a small studio in my house and I try to put in (and log) a certain number of hours each week depending on projects and my teaching schedule. My work also evolves via research, emailing community partners, and that sort of thing. That legwork is equally important, but sometimes less satisfying. I think I use drawing to see me through those times and to root my ideas in the visual and material world.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I think art has always been for me about engaging with ideas and people, but my ideas of how artwork can engage people have changed. I’m more comfortable now with using my work to ask for more specific responses and behaviors.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
Right now evenings are a more productive time for me. I find it helpful to have ongoing punch lists for projects so that when I have shorter spans of time in the studio I can go straight to the list and knock something off. In a similar vein I try to note on a big wall calendar how many hours I’m in the studio (not counting professional practice work) and any upcoming deadlines.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
It’s still about people and land, but I think I’ve tempered my romantic ideas of agriculture or the Natural World and gotten more specific in my ideas of how we use and interact with land and what sustainability can look like in different situations and cultures.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Wendell Berry’s writing and activism are inspiring to me. I consume pop culture in small doses—things like pop dance music, youth fashion, and mass media. I enjoy work by artists who use humor, the natural world, and/or social interactions to address modern issues, people like Mel Chin, Natalie Jeremijenko, Sophie Calle, Agnes Denes, and Mark Dion.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I’d like to run at a land-based school for middle or high school students. That or some sort of sustainable farming or land advocacy.
A graduate of UT Knoxville (MFA) and Colorado College (BA) Katie Ries is an artist living in Northeastern Wisconsin. Ries creates drawing, prints, costumes, and objects to raise and answer questions about land, labor, and community. She is an Assistant Professor of Art at St. Norbert College and the founder of the Land Scouts, an urban troop promoting land stewardship. In 2006 Ries helped establish and run Ries the Birdhouse, a community space for working artists, musicians and activists in Knoxville, TN. She is currently working to design and construct a pair of sustainable fashion boots appropriate for Wisconsin winters.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.