At the intersection of psychology and art lies the work of a new up-and-coming Arkansas artist.
Kateri Joe of Conway is currently having her first exhibition at the Historic Arkansas Museum in downtown Little Rock. It’s entitled “Thank Your Lucky Stars” and is built around the theme of humanity’s relationship with the cosmos and the idea that everyone is connected to the universe at large.
Each of her paintings is designed around imagery of the universe beyond Earth, whether it be through colorful depictions of outer space or more ordinary things like hair with elements of the cosmos weaved in. In particular, this collection hearkens back to the works of astronomer and writer Carl Sagan, who was a massive influence on Joe and her art.
“I want people to know that we are all united, that we are all from…you know, Carl Sagan’s famous quote that we are all made of stardust and so I wanted to take this approach and take that idea and convey it through all of my pieces so that people can come back from this going, ‘That was something that I would have never thought to combine,'” she says.
Born in Conway in 1988, Joe demonstrated an aptitude for art at an early age to the delight of her parents. “She’s been painting for quite a while now,” remarked Joe’s father, George. “I would try to paint some of the things that she was doing. The ideas that she comes up with are amazing. What she can convert into art has just been amazing to me.”
“I think with me it goes back to when she was in Girl Scouts,” says Joe’s mother, Connie. “I wanted her to just put our troupe number on a cooler top, and she drew these little girl scouts along with it. I thought, ‘Boy, she’s got talent!’ I didn’t think it would take her this far, but I think then I knew she had something there!”
Joe’s interest in art became a constant part of her life. She taught herself the basics of her craft before moving on to much more complicated fare. Her greatest inspirations included Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and Frida Kahlo. Eventually, this passion for the arts would lead to her graduating from UCA with an Associate of Arts degree in 2009, with plans to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design to study animation. However, before she could start her first semester, her funding fell through, dashing all immediate hopes she had for the future. The frustration she felt as a result of all of this inspired her to take up a brush and begin honing her skills as a painter once again.
“My life had been this goal of animation, and after I lost it, it just took me into this really sad time. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and so I just picked up a paintbrush, and I realized that my creativity could live on, so I decided to paint,” says Joe.
This allowed Joe to develop her technique in ways she wouldn’t have imagined otherwise. She immersed herself deeply into her work, experimenting with a wide variety of techniques in search of a style to call her own. Eventually, she developed a painting method that mixes traditional elements like oil paint with more unorthodox materials.
“It is very much gut intuition,” explains Joe. “I just trust my gut and go with it. One day, I’m on this tight deadline to finish this show, so I just decided to lay down oil paint. And from there I was like ‘What about the stars actually bonds us?’ It’s that concept of dust, that very earthly concept of dirt. So I started adding dirt into it, and I started adding salt.”
Since rekindling her fascination with painting, Joe has participated in a variety of art shows and competitions, including the THEA Arts Festival and the Eggshibition 2014 event, as well as contributing to several public murals in Conway. She also took the time to attain a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology through Saint Leo University’s online program as a means of discovering new sources of artistic inspiration.
“I think a lot of personality psychology impacts my work. I am one of seven kids. I was born eleven years after my youngest sibling, so there’s a weird facet of isolation in my life. Turning my subject matter into the stars creates a bonding point so that I no longer feel that sense of isolation,” says Joe.
Joe’s big break came when Assistant Curator Amanda Whitley saw her art and offered her the opportunity to hold an exhibition at the Historic Arkansas Museum.
“I just got talking to her and emailing her and she had shown me a body of her work. I really enjoyed what she already had, so then we decided that we were going to do an art show, and then she came up with this new idea, created this whole new body of work for this exhibit,” says Whitley.
This was part of an ongoing initiative at the museum to promote local artists. The Museum wanted to weave the art of the past with that of the present to create a uniquely dynamic collection that would appeal to a wide variety of people, both young and old. This, says Whitley, is one of the many reasons she saw it fit to give this up-and-coming artist the opportunity to share her work with a large audience.
“This particular show, ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ kind of breaks into what you’re thankful for and what you’re really interested in,” she said. “The purpose of the exhibit is conversation, so I hope that her’s really brings about a new form conversation. It’s not the same old kind of art that you see everywhere. It’s a new form of art.”
Drawing from a wide variety of sources, Joe created over a dozen pieces that all revolve around the theme of man’s relationship with the cosmos. This was a theme that she says offered her countless ways to express herself as an artist, as well as show her appreciation for Carl Sagan and the wonders of the universe.
“Working with a subject matter as the stars,” explained Joe. “It can go in so many different directions. You’re working with something that, in space, we don’t know all the answers of course. We haven’t seen anything but our own teeny, tiny perception of what the universe is like, so that gives a lot of room to play and imagine and, you know, build your own universe.”
The exhibition opened on Friday July 11th and will continue at the Historic Arkansas Museum until September 7th. Admission is free and is open from Mondays through Fridays.