Blue Velvet: Kat LiBretto in the StudioDecember 18, 2013
Workspace Resident Kat LiBretto might be going through her blue period.
Two of her 30×22” screenprints are hanging side by side on the wall in our silkscreen studio. At a distance they look like meditations on indigo and cerulean, evocative and abstract.
“I’m not sure what it means that I’m using so much blue,” she muses. “A lot of the work I do is almost nocturnal; it’s about that time of day right on the the edge of dusk. In London my work was very gray. Maybe it’s just where I’m living.”
Upon closer inspection, a road curving around a mountainous road emerges in each print. Kat’s loose, brushy style gives the impression of the leaves, branches, and mountains flying past in the crisp air. Inspired chiefly by her surroundings, Kat has derived her imagery from drives through Rosendale’s wintery rural roads: the moody, gestural landscapes are composites of real and imagined places, fusing into compositions that could be from a twilight drive everywhere and anywhere.
Thinking these prints were paintings would be an understandable mistake. “This is very new to me, almost using silkscreen as a painter would use paints,” Kat says. “It’s very different than matching Pantone colors.”
While earning her MA in London, Kat became interested in adding “more interesting, complicated visual textures and depths” to her screenprints. She began experimenting with hybrid techniques, spot varnish, and overpainting and underpainting. By the end of her intensive one-year program her work had developed from clean and illustrative–recalling her graphic arts roots–to suggestive and gestural, culminating in “Corvus Corax,” a 13-layer monoprint triptych.
“My process motivates me, experimenting motivates me,” says Kat. “From the first sketches I’m thinking about the layers and the inks I’ll be using. The experimental way I’m working with screen printing is just like being in a studio throwing paint around.”
Kat is at WSW to edition her new landscape diptych, using similar experimental processes to achieve her painterly aesthetic. Kat begins by painting a layer in broad, loose strokes onto a piece of TruGrain, an acetate with a grainy side that holds all the details of her brushstrokes. She exposes her screen with this acetate and prints a proof, then reworks the screen by painting emulsion directly onto her screen to alter the printable areas. Then it’s on to another layer: paint, expose, print, rework, repeat.
But as she paints new layers of TruGrain on the light table, with earlier layers serving as a guide, she can get only a vague sense of how the layers will interact once printed. Often a layer will look one way painted in black on the TruGrain, then another way when exposed as a screen, and then a third way when printed. In all the back and forth, the building up and the taking away, Kat has to determine when enough is enough. She know she’s reached the final layer when “I try to add one more and lose the whole image.”
“Working with all these layers is a bit mad,” Kat admits. “But it’s a challenge I love working through. My original acetates often don’t match up with my final prints, so I could never really do a second edition. They’re almost like editioned paintings.”
As Kat wraps up the last of her four weeks in our silkscreen studio she has both resolved old problems and created new ones, but mostly, she’s “just worked with them.” Her diptych comes out to at least 12 colors, with a pearlescent layer dusted on top, sparkling like snow against her moody twilight landscape.
“I don’t think I could have done this work anywhere else. I just wouldn’t be able to get it done without a residency, where I can commit all my time to experimentation,” says Kat. “Yesterday I didn’t know what day of the week it was, or what day of the month it was. I’m just fully immersed.”
Kat LiBretto studied graphic arts before earning her MA in printmaking at Camberwell College of Art/University of the Arts London. She divides her time between London and the US, and has exhibited her work in the US, UK, and Hong Kong. When asked what her ideal studio space is like, she said, “This is pretty close. I love the energy of collaborative spaces, and this place feels like a home.” Visit Kat online at www.katlibretto.com or follow her work on Facebook.