Emily Kiacz is a painter and sculptor currently living in Brooklyn New York. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, graduating with a BFA in painting in 2009 and received a MFA in painting from Boston University in 2011. She is a current Fellow at The Corporation of Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, NY. Over the last five years she has participated in numerous exhibitions in the New York area, most recently a two-person show with Maria Walker at Cuevas Tilleard Projects.
Emily Kiacz: Compared to my previous constructions, I’ve flattened out a lot. I’ve paired down my materials to paint and wood. It feels good to set parameters, it structured this new body of work. I’ve been working with a shaped format since undergrad. The paintings I applied to grad school with were shaped.
Megan Liu Kincheloe: What do you like about working shaped?
It is part of my process, but also my subject. I sometimes feel claustrophobic working in a square format, by making my own surfaces I feel like I am building my own world.
This reminds me of that installation of smaller wall constructions (Circuit Board, 2014) at Launchpad.
I’m still interested in the space around the works and the shadows they create. With this Prism Installation I’m more engaged with painting than I was with those older constructions. I am hesitant to overwork things, but with the new work, I have been pushing myself to work out of my comfort zone. This form came from sawing a piece in half after I thought it was already finished. I would have never landed in this place had I not, I recreated the process with the others.The forms I have been working with feel visually futuristic. I have an interest in Art Deco and projected ideas of the future, in relationship to abstraction. I try to envision what a common everyday object would look through a future lens. I get caught up in the mystery and ambiguity of it. Creating an unnamable thing in a specific way is not easy. Recently, I have been referencing crop circles and UFO’S. These works are like space ships, but they’re also portholes. Looking at a painting is a type of time travel. I’m interested in abstraction invoking something unnamable, but could be a tangible thing—like a mirror or a void.
My last body of work played with a lot of sci-fi titles. That’s how I titled the show I curated for Spring Break last year—Four Sided Triangle is the name of a movie where two scientists create a duplication machine to clone a woman they are both in love with. Neither of the women ends up being in love.
Sci-fi and art deco both play with future narratives differently. They’re both heavily stylized visions. Sci-fi has elaborate and specific prop detail and design, but with the same future unknowns as a hole at the center of all that information. And Art Deco seems more optimistic somehow?
I became interested in Art Deco at the same time that I began to focus more on object making. Before I had been painting interior spaces, where I depicted everyday, average life. I began to imagine what these average objects that I was so involved with would be like hundreds of years from now, if they would look the same, or like nothing familiar. I focused on personal items hats, combs, and shoes wanting to develop my own visual language, a kind of a personal iconography.
When I am making, I am immersed in my inner experience. There is a lot of joy in my work, it comes from the mental state I am in when I am the studio. I am hopeful for the future, but my mind goes to mysterious or dark places, like science fiction. Science fiction is something that I have recently been investigating, after some of my forms began to visually go in that direction. I like the campiness of older science fiction; I started watching more movies, and even went to Alien Convention in Roswell.
This one looks digital.
Yeah, this one has these little pixels, made from small pieces of wood. I love the idea of very slowly making this digital image—making something virtual out of the analogue. In all of my work my hand is very present, which is really important to me. It’s part of my practice in whatever I’m involved in.
They’re very modular.
My work has become more modular I have been trying to make the work relate through negative space. One of the ways I combat this is by adding perspective. This is one of the first ones I made in this process, all of them have a lean to them. I felt they were kind of shifting and tilting through space.
While on a residency in Provincetown I started painting circular paintings to to break away from the angular mode. I never really like to get stuck. I work from body of work to body of work. I’m sensitive to my surroundings and living here in New York—everything around me is geometric. I feel like I’m also responding to the materials I use—dimensional lumber—which is also very structural . It’s baby-steps for me.
There’s so many of them.
Yeah I do a lot of works on paper—that’s how I start everything. I work faster with paper, and I am less precious with it. In Ptown I reacted to the natural setting I was in. Being around trees and the landscape, I was able to start to break away. I also did some plein air painting there, which has also been part of my practice for a while. I never really show landscape painting but I go out and do that as much as I can. It forces me to be affected by my immediate surroundings.
I recently started a collaborative project with my mom. I’ve been sending her drawings and fabric and she’s been turning them into hooked rugs. I took them to the Detroit Art Book fair, they were well received. It’s been cool to collaborate with her—working together matching the colors and sourcing the materials. We are making a whole series.
That breaks the hard geometry very directly—seeing them in soft pliable forms.
Totally, and they have a completely different surface too. I like the fact that they’re on the floor.
How does the color operate like that? Because with these the painted effect here is very much like radiant light.
They translate well. They have that luminosity too because her and I really painstakingly picked out the colors. And some of the colors are cashmere, which absorbs dye in a special way. We source colors and materials from clothes too. I was just home in Ohio and we went through all the colors and I numbered them like a paint by number.
How does she feel about it?
She’s excited about it. I sold some of our first rugs at the book fair. She had never sold one of her rugs before so I think she was really energized by that. I had the idea to collaborate on the residency. I was trying think about what I wanted for the future, I really wanted to connect with my mom creatively.
Recently, I’ve been interested in rainbows and begun doing some research. I just made a rainbow book that I also brought to the fair. This is the prototype.
A couple months ago I had an epiphany. I was on Instagram and there was a rainbow in Manhattan, and my entire feed was all rainbows. Across the board, everyone I knew—not just artists—were posting the rainbow. There is something magical about them and they are puffy in painting—like it’s taboo to paint them. Then I started looking at rainbow paintings and there are a lot of good rainbow paintings like Balthus, The Mediterranean Cat. I realized that I make rainbows. It’s just this shaped color in space and I feel like that’s what my work really is. They are here and they are gone, ephemerality is something I am drawn to. I am on a new quest.
I remember you telling me that you took a trip to Las Vegas especially to look at the neon lights.
I went all over Vegas to see neon lights. I visited a neon graveyard there. It was all old lights from the strip piled together. Some of them still work and they turn them all on for you just for a second. I love neon— a radiant object, it hypnotizes me. And that’s effect I try to achieve with color—to achieve luminosity or a glow. It’s how I know a piece is finished. I am able to achieve it with these pieces specifically by not priming them—I let the wood shine through. But if for some reason I do overwork it, I paint it black and am able to achieve the same effect. You can’t tell that the works were black at one time, but I start from a black ground. It’s a strange way of working.
Yeah I would think the opposite: a white ground to achieve that sense of light.
I gesso it black and build the structure of the painting in white, the color comes last.
You tend to assert a lot of energy to the edges—creating borders and subdividing the complex shapes into more basic shapes.
That was something I was interested in: painting on every plane, making the viewer walk around the work. I want the divisions to wrap all the way around and have them be even more segmented.
The linear segments cutting the tall works bring totems to mind.
Yeah, people call them columns or refer to them as pillars. I like that they reference a lot of things. Sometimes I think of them as walking sticks.
Leaning pieces are a form I’ve stuck to for awhile. I think the first ones I made were for the winter rooftop show you curated a couple years ago. I was trying to work out how to make my work more sculptural, I didn’t know where to start. I settled on an in-between by having them lean against the wall—but my first thought was that they should have legs. My first leaning works were roughly the same height as me. I still think of them as anthropomorphic or self-portraits, they are more figurative than my other work.
They conduct the wall space between. Or relating them together makes them even more anthropomorphic somehow—have a dynamic together.
I’m am currently at Yaddo working on two foot square panels, I made before coming. There is so much space and light in my studio it is nice so see all of the shapes relating to each other. This body of work feels more personal than other that I have worked on previously. I have been trying to focus in on ideas of transience and rainbows, I’ll see where I land.