Studio Visit with Katie Stout
January, 2018, Brooklyn, NY
Where did you grow up?
Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, but I went to a boarding school in Delaware. I needed a more structured community-it was a prep school. It was lovely. I went from prep school to RISD. RISD was the biggest culture shock. My mom went to RISD, she was a photographer, so I always did Art growing up. I was thinking the other day that kids have their ipads or their phones and I think, my mom just brought colored pencils [for me] and I’d just draw like I’m sure so many children did.
When did you come to New York and when did you move into your studio?
I moved to New York after RISD. I’ve been in this studio for almost two years. We’re very happy because we just extended the lease.
When you were at RISD, were you always leaning toward furniture and functional objects, and if not, how did this come to be?
Freshman year [at RISD] you have to declare a major, and I remember just waffling basically between everything and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had applied thinking I was going to go into Industrial Design, but I quickly learned that that’s not at all what I wanted to do. I just really liked the furniture department. It seemed like there was a lot of directions you could go with it in the department, and you learned all these really cool skills, and then you actually had to make something. I think I found comfort in that. My mom died when I was in freshman year, so my brother and I had to sell the house we grew up in and so I became really obsessed with domestic spaces. It’s not something I fully realized at the time, but when I look back now it’s so obvious. After she died, all the things I started to make had to do with farm animals and mammary glands and udders. It was really weird, but that’s why I wanted to do furniture.
I love the absurdity of [furniture design,] it’s so practical, but saying you majored in furniture sounds so ridiculous.
Can you talk about your preferred processes and how they’ve changed or evolved over time?
I love working with clay. I love mooshing stuff, basically I like mooshing things together into a shape. I like processes where there’s communication with people, where you’re working with someone else and then it’s like the idea of telephone and broken telephone. something ends up different than you expected, but you work with it.
Clay is more recent, it was more of a necessity thing. I went to RISD for a visiting talk and the students wanted to know what to expect after RISD, and I told them it’s so hard to make stuff after school. Clay was something that was more accessible, without having a huge shop, so that’s why.
I also love paper mache. That’s another great process. Anything that’s sort of childlike and low brow, and not too precious.
The crossover between Art and Design in your work is really interesting. Can you talk a little bit about how you work lives or exists in one world or the other, or both?
It definitely exists in both, and that’s what I want. I really don’t like when people ask if I’m an artist or a furniture designer, but I usually say artist. I just think that furniture and the things we use can be imperfect. I think they can be more of a reflection of life in general, and that can’t really happen if it’s mass produced. Part of me thinks that if I was a smarter business person I would definitely call it Art because it has a higher perceived value and you can sell it for more money. But right now I’m just sort of seeing where it goes. I guess I am leaning more toward Art.
In your studio practice, how do you keep moving forward and how do you think about making meaningful work?
I feel like deadlines help me keep moving forward, or else I would just putter around. Deadlines help me make decisions and get things done, so I’m always imposing them on myself by agreeing to do group shows. In terms of making meaningful work, I’m not sure. Half the time I don’t even know what it means before I start making it, and then I look at it after and figure it out. For instance, with this chandelier I wanted to do something different. With the girl lamps, I just love making them. They’re constantly entertaining. I think doing lots of different things at once helps. We’re (in the studio) constantly flip-flopping between different projects. And it also helps to keep things fresh. All the projects feed into each other and inspire each other.
What do you struggle with the most when it comes to your studio practice? And how do you overcome these obstacles?
Organizing. My studio isn’t that bad, but I feel like it could be really lovely. I feel like it’s a lifelong problem-well, not a problem, it doesn’t prevent me from doing anything. In fact, sometimes I pick something up and think, what’s this? Good thing I didn’t put it away.
Do you have any interests or hobbies outside of your studio practice that keep you sane?
I recently started surfing. I’m not good at it, but it’s fun. I play basketball sometimes. I dip into downtown girls basketball sometimes. After hiking the Appalachian Trail before RISD, I kind of shut off this side of me that likes to be outside and doing outdoorsy things. So letting it back into my life makes me happier. Sometimes it’s hard when this thing you love becomes your profession. It is really fun, but I can’t do it for fun now. Physical activity is so good though, it makes me feel so much better, then I can eat more which is another activity I love.
Do you have any projects or exhibitions coming up that you’d like to promote?
I’m doing a show with Venus over Manhattan which is so exciting. It’s a project space in Manhattan and they have this great space so I want to do an army of girl lamps, sort of like the terra cotta army, but lady lamps. That would be in the Fall maybe. It’s still in the works. I might do a solo show with Alison Gallery in Nashville, they asked me if I wanted to do a solo show in the Summer. Nothing definite, but just various projects. I’ve been talking to Coachella about an AR sculpture that you’d see through your phone, which I think would be so cool. But I’m just working out the kinks for all these other projects. I’m making a piece for this woman named Alice Lichtenstein, and she’s in Austria and has this castle. She puts on these design shows, so I’m doing that. I’m also making two new pieces for R and Company’s new space, for the Armory show and their 20th anniversary show.