Saturday, March 6, 2010

Feature Artist of the Month March Edition: Kara Passey

The Inner Workings of Kara Passey

Tucked away in the thesis area of the art barn at the U of M you will find two rooms, one is an installation in progress with hundreds of beer bottles, cat paraphernalia, and spray paint. In the second room is Kara Passey surrounded by walls plastered in images of women breastfeeding cats ripped from The National Inquirer, massive canvases in progress, and watercolours taped onto a drawing table covered in coffee cups, spray paint and a sewing machine. Decked out in paint, converse sneakers, tattoos, a welcoming smile and a no bullshit attitude, Kara is busy mapping out a painting of her brother. I set up on her couch with my tape recorder and laptop as we shared falafel fries and talked for nearly two hours about life, art and art school.

Embroidered Cat 'Plushies' by Kara P

In progress Installation by Kara P

We stared at the painting of her brother clad in a domo outfit:

Gill: So your brother works at Domo?

Kara: Yeah he’s been working nights at domo for maybe two years now? So the last piece that I did I was really trying to show real life through my art without using symbols or anything and during my crit they suggested that once I’m finished talking about myself that I should start talking about other people. They suggested that if I had a sibling that would be a good place to start. And then I got excited and ambitious and I thought I can work on myself and other people at the same time! I wanted to do a painting about my brother cuz he’s a real person with real ambitions and dreams but not everybody can just do the art school thing and not everybody has the mentality that you can just go out in the world and do anything. So he’s a writer but he’s just kind of like an average person who has the dream. That’s what a lot of people are like and I think a lot of people forget that just because you don’t go to art shows and you don’t go to art school you don’t know anything. I think my brother’s a really talented person but he’s definitely going about his dream the hard way. So I wanted to make art about that cuz there are a lot of people I know that are like that. They want to be writers or musicians but they don’t go to school for it and they don’t have jobs that relate to their dreams. But that’s the reality – there’s a recession going on – who cares – work at domo.

I kind of want to do a painting of my ex as well. I was going through photos of him and I found one of him standing and trying to look all cool with a case of Standard Lager but he looks like such a douchebag and its just like “oh my god I can’t believe I dated that guy for like four and a half years”. I kind of wanted to paint that as kind of a mocking painting. People might look at it and think wow she must be lame because she thinks this is cool but its actually making fun of the idea. He’s wearing stupid sunglasses and a band t-shirt with a case of beer as if that’s a really cool accessory or something.

G: So before we go on, I want to know how to refer to you as an artist. Your full name is Kara Diane Passey but you also go by Kara Von Cannibal, Kara Pee, and Grizzly. Are these all artist names? Why so many?

K: I guess it started when I was younger. A weird thing about the punk scene is that to be considered pretty cool you have to have a weird punk name and Kara Cannibal is what was given to me. I don’t know why – I think it just sounded good. So that was my punk name and I kind of liked the idea of being anonymous but I had all these friends that didn’t actually know my name. I started dating this guy and for the longest time he didn’t know my name. He had to find out when we moved in together - he didn’t know my real last name!

G: That’s really awkward.

K: Yeah! He had a punk name too – it was Donny Cannibal and when we stopped dating he had to go by his real name so that kind of threw a lot of people off. I just liked the idea of being anonymous – it made me more comfortable as a person – being able to go out and do whatever the hell I wanted cuz no one actually knew my name. That helped me get into street art cuz I could do things and whether people knew me as Kara Cannibal or not they still had nothing to really trace me by. I started using my real name because as I’ve been growing as an artist I feel a little silly sometimes. I was just in a show at the Graffiti Gallery and I didn’t tell them what name to use so they just went straight to Von Cannibal and I just felt a little weird cuz I was putting a more serious painting in there and I had the name Von Cannibal next to it. So right now, I’m in this transitional phase where I’m not sure if I’m leaving those names behind. They still come up once in a while but I’m using my real name for stuff.

G: Yeah, well if you’re applying for masters programs you’ll probably want to use your real name.

K: Yeah! My thought is I need to start getting into shows with my real name cuz if they ever try to trace me they might just be like what is this garbage? She doesn’t have her name on anything! So my thoughts are if I want to get into a good school and get a real job I might want to start being a real person…

G: So you’re in your thesis year at the U of M pursuing an honours in drawing. I know you’re a multi-media artist since I see you are collecting cat paraphernalia, converse sneakers, and have been embroidering cat plushies [handmade stuffed animals]. What made you choose to focus on drawing?

K: It should really be called ‘new media’ cuz it’s not just drawing anymore. I don’t think I’ve just been drawing since fundamentals of drawing. Looking back it’s totally misleading, they should not be making kids draw models all day. But yeah that’s pretty much it – its new media – I can paint if I want, I can sculpt if I want, I can embroider if I want. The only other place I can see myself in is sculpture but I would have had to take a second major to be in that so I just took drawing.

G: Since many artists use a variety of mediums do you think the school of art should be making students decide on one area for thesis?

K: No, actually going back to doing the double major thing, I think it should be more of a requirement to do a double major so people can really learn different mediums and take full advantage of them.

G: Did you start off with a vision of what your thesis year was going to be? Has it so far met your expectations and are you on the same track as when you started?

K: I had a million visions when I started my thesis and I didn’t know which way to go. And it’s not what I wanted it to be in the beginning but it’s way better so it’s been a really productive year. I wish I had way longer because I feel like I spent the first half struggling and trying to find what I was trying to make art about. But I’ve been reassured multiple times that that’s the way thesis is supposed to be; you’re supposed to have a breakthrough around Christmas and then you work really hard for the rest of the year to get your stuff done. But I wish thesis was a year and a half long as opposed to just being this one year. So yeah I definitely had visions and they weren’t that great and now I have better ones. But I think that’s the way art is always going to be. You’re going to regret that you didn’t think of this earlier and you’re always going to make stuff that’s better than last time. Its just part of art.

G: Why do you make art? Is it therapeutic? What connection do you want to have to your viewers?

K: I guess I would call my art therapeutic. I started making art because I have depression and whatever else I’ve been diagnosed with in the past. I’ve never really liked the idea of going to therapy or taking pills. I’ve tried pills and I didn’t really like it. Making music and art has been the best way to break through. I can’t really function in everyday life – I can’t do the whole 9 to5 minimum wage job kind of thing so going to art school kind of made sense. It’s just a way to be creative and no one can really frown on me for it cuz I’m going to school and that makes it okay. I just keep getting more and more involved in it and its harder to go back to what real life should be so I’m just going to keep riding the boat I guess.

G: Riding the boat? Riding the wave?

K: Yeah, riding the wave I guess? Yeah, riding whatever I’m riding. I’m hoping that I can just keep pursuing things and eventually there’ll just be some sort of career that I’ll be happy with doing that’ll keep me going cuz I don’t know what I want to do.

G: If you could get grants to make art would that be your ultimate?

K: Yeah that would be especially if I could sell things and tour with my work. That would be the ultimate dream but you just can’t assume that that will happen. I guess I’m interested in the idea of working in a gallery or being an event coordinator but those jobs are few and far between so I’m just doing my best to be a good artist in the community and hopefully something will come up and that will be my life!

G: Your body of work this year seems to be a self-portrait. This seems pretty evident in the large painting of yourself with your nose bleeding, drinking from a Lucky can entitled, When That Can Of Lucky Broke My Face, You Totally Broke My Heart. Is that painting in particular referencing a certain moment in time?

When That Can of Lucky Broke My Face, You Totally Broke My Heart by Kara P

K: Yeah – it is referencing an exact moment in time when I was chasing my ex-boyfriend down the street, calling his name and asking if he was mad at me and he turned around and threw a can of lucky at my face. So yeah it was quite a long time ago and I am okay talking about it now cuz I think it’s the kind of thing that needs to be talked about. I have a lot of people telling me to get over it and saying it’s over now so be happy but I think people need to know that this is a normal thing. I wasn’t a weak person – I wasn’t pathetic – stuff like this happens. You get involved with people that treat you badly and you don’t know what to do because you don’t want to just tell them to fuck off and say that’s it. So I was making all this art about other parts of my life so this was really big turning point for me. I hadn’t made any art about that past relationship and I just needed to do it. I just thought, what is a good picture that would show how fucked up that was? So I just painted it and that was the beginning of me wanting to make art that was real and honest and put it out there.

G: So that’s where you’re going now with your thesis?

K: Yeah and there was that one of my crotch as well. Which is kind of about the same thing. I titled it This is the Last Thing You See Before You Regret Everything and that’s just about after that abusive relationship. I think I probably dated about 20 people before I got into another serious relationship. I didn’t know how to make people like me and it was just about the honesty of the dating world and how it fucking sucks and I don’t think I really did anything wrong as a girlfriend for whatever two week relationships I had with anyone. But it just never seemed to work out for me so this is my attempt to make art about that part of my life.

The Last Thing You See Before You Regret Everything by Kara P

G: You’re also a musician. Do you find your visual arts influence your music or vice versa?

K: I constantly go back and forth. I’ve been making a lot of art this year because I’ve been having a hard time accepting that I could make music in my thesis and I think its cuz we don’t have an audio department. If we did I probably would be a lot more involved in that. I kind of don’t bother making music at school just because I don’t think I would get that great of feedback, it would just be like “cool you can do that!” And its like ok but is it good? So I kind of do them in separate worlds but they do feed off each other. A lot of the music I’ve been listening to lately is local music so I know the people who are making it and I know the real stories. I know the people personally so it’s real music and that’s kind of what inspired my real art. Not saying that people I don’t know that make music aren’t real but knowing that [my friend] wrote this song about this guy I know and he’s totally fucked up… It’s cool to get to see that side of music. So that’s what’s been inspiring my art and then as I make art it starts inspiring songs I want to write so it goes back and forth.

G: With this being the pique of your art school experience, what is the most important thing you’ve learned here and do you have any words of advice for other art students?

K: I’ve learned to not give a shit about what other people are doing and just do what you want to do. I’ve learned that a lot of people will pretend that they know everything but they don’t know anything and that you need to pick and choose your friends. Be nice to people but a word of advice I got from Sharon Alward [my thesis advisor] this year was to stop being so mean and to just be mean in my art [we both laugh]. She said take that energy and make a painting about it. So the main thing I’ve learned about is you should make art for yourself and if it’s good then it’ll be good and just don’t worry about what other people are saying about it.

G: So say after making that can of lucky painting, with it being therapeutic, do you feel like you’ve let it go now? Have you gotten it out of your system?

K: I feel a lot better about it. It’s something out there that people didn’t know existed and it might have made people understand me as a person a little better. I’m realistic. I’m a realistic person and don’t believe in bullshit. I know what it’s like to live with someone for four years and it’s nothing but bullshit. So I don’t think I’m done making art about that but it was really relieving to make it.

G: What are you plans after art school? Since we’ve already talked about the far future, lets say in the next five years.

K: Well I’ve already started to do my thesis to prolong graduation and I’m planning on working my ass off and getting everything else done to graduate in spring. So next year I’m going to try and create a special topics course so I can stay here for another year and then it might be a year or two before I go to grad school. I don’t really plan on going to grad school unless it’s a good school, possibly something that I have to get a scholarship to get into. But yeah I just want to keep up in the scene – the music and arts scene - and keep being enthusiastic and hopefully something will come my way!

To find more from Kara Passey, check out her video blog, Myspace and if you are in Winnipeg, head down to the Fine Arts Open House at the University of Manitoba Sunday, April 11th, from noon to 5pm to see the final work of students from first year through to thesis year.

And here's a sneak peek of Kara's 'Vlog'...

1 comment:

  1. this was soo interesting! Kara you are a rad chick. Very inspiring! and your paintings are phenomenal! (ps, reallllly diggin this blog!!)