CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She maintains a blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com. She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Artist KATE KRETZ - Blessed Are The Paintings, Drawings, Psychological Clothing, Hair Embroirderies
She was a
seeker of the night, her red hair almost to her waist, glowing in the
moonlight, and framing her blue-eyed face.
born on March of 1963, considered the night her closest confidante, relishing
in its slow motion and dark shadows, always finding inspiration.
her studio there, with a light strapped to her forehead. To Kathleen “Kate” Kretz, night was where she
felt safest, where people seemed less guarded, more authentic, and where she
always found a bounty of reference material.
“Now I think I work best in the morning, with the whole
day stretched before me. I find I am more productive that way.”
Now Kretz has a day-to-day
routine. Every other day she rises
early, drinks a cup of coffee and works in her studio. The following days she goes to the gym, comes
home to shower, and works in her studio.
Some days and nights she’ll work nonstop.
sleep. I am thinking about the next
thing I want to do to the painting, so I might as well just get up and do it.
My hands need to be busy all the time.”
And Kretz has
always had something in her hands at all times, ever since she was a little
girl living in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Kretz, the oldest of five children, was born
into a dysfunctional and chaotic family.
She persevered via her magical and
active imagination, in the form of books, film, and music. This imagination,
along with a nurturing relationship with her siblings, enabled her to discover
“Art saved my life. I believe I would have some other kind of
addiction if I did not have my work. There have been many moments of despair in
my life, and if I did not automatically turn to my work at those moments, I
don’t know if I would be here.”
When Kretz was nine, living in
France, she drew a self-portrait, which she now describes as “specific and
While sitting in AP English class
discussing the book “A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man,” Kretz knew she’d
be an artist.
“Before that time, I was a
bit lost and did not know how to channel my feelings. Everything fell into
place and my position in the world finally made sense; I knew what I was here
After high school graduation, Kretz
moved to Paris where she worked as a nanny and attended the Sorbonne.
A year later she attended SUNY
Binghamton University in New York, where faculty member and sculptor Charles
Eldred took her under his wing, and she studied the paintings of faculty member
Don Demauro. While working full time,
she received her BFA in Drawing and Painting.
She attended graduate school at University
of Georgia where she was offered an assistantship.
She also volunteered for Timeless
Seeds of Atlanta, an organization that benefits inner city children, mostly
African American. The organization
brings in professional artists for several weeks to teach the youth a variety
of the arts. The youth created their own
work and displayed it at an art exhibition along with a silent auction. Half of the proceeds went back to the youth
and the other half was donated to Timeless Seeds. Kretz taught 20 students drawing.
“There was always a lot of
noise in the classroom. They were not
comfortable with silence. There was a breakthrough the day that I introduced my
work to them via slides. I told them how
art saved my life. I told them how each
one of my paintings was a way of transforming my own experiences into something
powerful. For the first time, they were
completely silent. They made drawings
from their hearts. It was magical: I remember having goose bumps.”
In 1995, after graduating from graduate school she moved to Florida to take a
teaching position at Florida International University, and was promoted to BFA
Director, a position she held for over ten years.
“I had students of all ages,
from all over the world. In one class, I had a student who was recently
released from jail for stealing cars, next to one who could tell me what corner
of the Louvre a particular painting was housed in.”
Kretz, after years of being single, met and married
her husband. Not long after the
marriage, her husband was offered a position that required the couple to move
to North Carolina. The couple made an
arrangement that pleased them both.
Kretz would give up tenure, move with her husband to North Carolina and
become a full-time artist.
“Giving up tenure was the
scariest thing I have ever done in my life.
It was a tremendous leap of faith, but I have always said that one
should always have two or three lives within the one life that we are given. It was time to put my money where my mouth
was. It was the right decision.”
The couple now reside in
Marlyand, outside Washington D.C. wit their four year old daughter Ilaria,
affectionately known as The Peanut.
Kretz is not a devout Catholic, but
she describes herself as spiritual. She
attended Catholic schools through high school, and looks upon Catholicism as
the visual language she best understands and can best communicate in.
‘It, coupled with the
Technicolor films I watched as a child, make up my vocabulary for saying what I
need to say about the world around me. To those who criticize my use of
Catholic imagery, I would tell them that getting me to use a different visual
vocabulary is like asking me to speak in Russian because they do not like what
I am saying using “their” English language.”
Through this language and dialogue
she is able to artistically express emotions in the forms of art: paintings, drawings, psychological clothing,
and hair embroideries.
The painting, Blessed Art Thou, began
as a desire for Kretz to paint a Mother Mary figure, but have the painting
symbolize today’s age and priorities. One day, while standing in
line at Wal-Mart, she found herself surrounded with images of Angelina Jolie
holding her children.And then she saw
within her mind the painting that needed to be made:Angelina Jolie in the image of Mother Mary
holding her three children, Maddox, Zahara, and Shiloh, floating in clouds,
above a Wal-Mart.
Kretz also noticed the
store’s green fluorescents and knew these lights would represent the
psychological oppressive environment in which the consumer almost has no choice
but to reach for a tabloid like one would reach for a diet drink, or a diet
pill, and like the diet drink is ingested and the died pill is swallowed, the
tabloid becomes a “food” the consumer consumes, hoping to get closer to their
Kretz is not a fan of the
tabloids, has not watched TV regularly in over 25 years, and is not interested
in popular culture. As a result, a part
of her brain was telling her the idea of this painting was absurd. But the more she resisted the more she
realized this was a painting that needed to be made. When Kretz purchased her first tabloid and
started research on Angelina Jolie, she found herself captivated and impressed
by the actress.
“I found that Ms. Jolie was truly
doing more than your average celebrity.
I liked the fact that here were Christians out there condemning her for
media-reported choices inher personal life, but her actions have been more
“Christian” than the lot of her critics.”
The drawing, Promise, a crying
self-portrait,was made in one night while Kretz was
house sitting for a friend.
She sat on
the floor looking into the mirror, and, when she thought the drawing, which was
taped to a board on an easel, was complete, she placed it in the corner of the
room, beneath the rook of the house. It
rained that night, and, unbeknownst to her, there was a leak in the rook of the
house. The next morning she found
rainwater running down the center of her drawing.
impulsively tried to dab the water off before I realized that I should leave
it. They are faint, but you can still
see the tear tracks running down the center of the drawing.”
to go deeper into her art and find a way of showing the vulnerability of human
beings. She took the concept of clothes
and how we as humans use clothes to conceal, disguise, or reveal an image.
to turn the insides out. I feel as
though I can see people wearing the weight of their entire life. The Psychological Clothing series is an
attempt to articulate that feeling.”
Mechanism Coat is exactly that, the insides of a human being on the outside
in the form of a coat. The Defense
Mechanism Coat is anatomically accurate and contains all the major veins and
arteries of the body. To insure this
accuracy, Kretz set up her embroidery hoop with an anatomy book by her side for
The result is a
150-pound coat made of velvet, wood, nails, embroidery that is hand quilted and
hand embroidered with velvet lining representing the actual veins and arteries
of the interior body.
Kretz over three months to create Threat Of Heavy Weather
embroidery. Kretz has always been obsessed with tornadoes, has dreams about
tornadoes, and considers tornadoes the perfect representation of her
of her embroidery comes from the James Taylor song, about a troubled person in
his family who dies.
Kretz likes to paint self-portraits, using herself as
a model, to express “certain kinds of emotional or
psychological states, rather than to say something specific about myself.”
Kretz wants people to respond with questions about
their priorities, about self-delusion, or about not having a truthful
life. She wants them to wonder what it
means to be human, what makes a life meaningful and significant.
A lot of her work reveals
the trials of women: low self-esteem; sainthood; and victimhood. Though Kretz
is a feminist, she does not want her work to be categorized exclusively as
“I have been in feminist
shows before. I don’t reject the
label. I just don’t want it to be the
only label. I take a multi-faceted
approach to my work, and hope that the viewer will see that there are multiple
layers or aspects to the work. I can say that I try to do good in my work, that
I try to help people, but not in a conscious or didactic way. I just try to tell the truth and paint what
needs to be painted.”
Kretz’s Threat Of Heavy Weather is
priced at $5000. Her Blessed Art Thou
had a price tag of $50,000.
One might swallow hard over the price
tag, but Kretz spends up to a year on her paintings, which are highly personal,
require research, emotional sensitivity, intense energy, a colorful
imagination, an open spirit, and a great skill.