Briefly describe the work you do.
I make paintings and drawings that are inspired by imagery from my childhood in rural Wisconsin and are informed by my undergraduate training in physics. In general, I do my best to foster a spirit of experimentation and discovery in the studio. In trying to keep my practice as open-minded as possible, I allow myself to change my mind about the direction of my work throughout the creative process. When I begin a work, I always have a vision for it, but many of my best pieces have developed from letting go of that original vision and embracing a discovery or change of perspective I gain through the process of making.
I am particularly attracted to oil paint as a medium because of its long drying time. For me, the long drying time allows me greater opportunities to work with my subconscious and to imagine alternate realities for the painting. It’s during drying time that I will often think to paint over an old idea, or to sand down a painting to the panel and start over.
As a result of playing with my subconscious while I paint or draw, images from separate layers of the work are revealed to the surface, interacting with each other to create the final work. In this way, the meaning of the work can only be gleaned by piecing together clues from an otherwise hidden history of layers. I like to think of this process of piecing together as a metaphor for how we create meaning in our own lives and for how we, as observers, build reality together.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
As a remnant from my training in physics, my current body of work investigates possible connections between the psychology of experience and physical conceptions of what it means to observe. Expanding from the quantum mechanical notion that observation is interactive, my art practice applies aspects of physicist John Wheeler’s “participatory universe” to the private, emotional and interpersonal realm; in doing so, my work questions the fundamental nature of knowledge and perception.
My visual language is most often inspired by images that are highly familiar to me. Most of the figures in my work are lifted from old family photos, and the deer, birch trees, branches, dead animals and birds that repeat throughout my work are largely inspired by the visual landscape of my childhood in northeast Wisconsin. In practice, I find myself painting these highly familiar images into imagined environments, sometimes juxtaposing them with unrelated images. As a result, I confuse what I think I know about an image with potentially entirely new meanings for that image. By marrying the planned with the unplanned, the figurative with the abstract, the new with the old, my work helps me explore the intersection of imagination, expectation, memory, and reality.
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.”
My studio practice actually does tend to involve a lot of toiling away alone in a room. I did a fair amount of research in an optics lab in undergraduate school, and I find myself recreating the solitude and space of that experience in my studio. I can get stuck in the studio, and I often have to leave it to come up with my best ideas, but once I’ve got something in mind, it’s necessary for me to have a “lab” space to test the ideas out in.
In my case, I my current “lab” is a room in my house. I enjoy having my studio in my home because its proximity doesn’t give me any excuses not to work, but it can also be overwhelming. My studio space and house are both small, so a lot of my work finds its way into the living room, which can make it hard for me to turn my brain off of art when I’m not working.
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’m not sure I ever would have guessed how much I’d have to write about my work. I’ve been particularly swamped lately because I just finished applying to graduate school, so for the past month or so about 80% of my practice has been writing about it. In general though, I often appreciate the break that filling out applications and proposals gives me. I love the solitude and quiet that painting provides, but it can also be nice to reflect on what I’m doing when I get really caught up in the non-verbalness of making.
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?
Because my studio is in my house, I can work almost every day. I try to be present about what I’m capable of doing each day. Some days are detail days, some days are idea days, and some days I just need to power through and paint a huge section. I find that if I force myself into the wrong kind of day, it can be really counterproductive. Typically, I do the most work in the early mornings and late afternoons. I usually don’t paint or draw at night because I like working in natural light.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Since graduating from undergrad I’ve been developing my voice as an artist, and I’ve been feeling freer to rely on my intuition and open up lines of thinking that have a lot of unknowns. I’ve also been increasingly thinking about my work more as an ongoing story and less as individual statements. Also, since moving to southern California, I’ve been using much brighter colors in my work. I wouldn’t have anticipated that change, but it’s been exciting. Though, for the most part, the more things change with my work, the more they’ve stayed the same. I was just at my parents’ place for the holidays and my mom found some art I made in kindergarten…it’s all birch trees and birds.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Oh, definitely. I find a lot of inspiration from conversations with my family and friends. I find myself borrowing concepts from alchemy, psychology, and physics to think about my work. In particular, Carl Jung’s Synchronicity and physicist John Wheeler’s work have been great influences on my creative thinking. I am also influenced by music, especially songs that are highly narrative. Josh Ritter is always a go-to musician for me.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I’m not really sure. I could see myself doing some sort of research or working outside. I’d have to do something that involves quiet and beauty.
Kassandra Mattia is a painter whose work explores connections between observation, experience, and reality. She is a recent graduate of Santa Clara University’s physics program and is currently working from her studio in Laguna Beach, California.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.