Katie Wild’s striking, cinematic paintings transform the tradition of figure and portraiture to achieve a contemporary understanding of the human condition. Hers is a world of extremes: saturated colors, distinctive attire, tense scenes of danger and absurdity. She carefully unpacks our society, picking out the familiar yet exaggerated personalities that populate it. Her paintings open a taut dialogue between conflicting concepts of inner self and outer performance, beauty and superficiality, personal values and social expectations.
“There is an inbred predisposition in all humans to see ourselves, people, and faces in everything,” Wild says to explain her focus on portrait and figure. “I find I can make the most instant connection to viewers with my work by exploiting this genetic tendency.”
A writer as well as a painter, Wild finds ways to incorporate narrative into the still medium of her visual artwork. In her bright, eye-catching series of self-portraits, Color Buy Number, Wild becomes an actress in the tales of her paintings. She uses a whole spectrum of color to encourage the viewer to abandon binary, black-and-white thinking to examine identity. She portrays a different version of herself in each hue, tapping into the diverse, at times grotesque roles women assume in the different lives they lead.
“Self-portraiture can have a broad context, but it always becomes personal,” she explains. “With self-portraits I can create alter egos who at once share a snapshot of my personality and also live in a narrative separate from me.” This willingness to adapt herself into separate personas, which are as genuine as they are staged, draws the viewer’s curiosity and attention.
In her most recent series, Steampunk, Wild references photographs she took of real people at a steampunk festival. The portraits have an otherworldly presence, but are ultimately grounded by authentic individuals. It explores the nature of chance encounters, and the impressions they leave. Her multimedia approach embraces the superficial adornments we use to present ourselves. The paintings are rendered on metallic surfaces, and incorporate objects such as cogs and clocks which are essential to the steampunk aesthetic.
Wild often utilizes multimedia and found objects in her paintings as a fresh take on a traditional subject matter. Her style is unique not only in her skill as a painter, but also in the choices she makes with medium and composition. They can be serendipitous or carefully thought out, and bring her characters to life with a balance between chance and control that parallels the way we compose our own identities.
The magnetism of Katie Wild’s work comes from her willingness to take risks in her representations of herself and others. Her practice speaks to the desire we all have to take chances, though we often lack the conviction to follow through on it. The vibrant personalities in her paintings reveal characters whose stories we want to know, whose eyes we want to see through.
“I want to encourage artists and anyone with passion to be persistent and to keep taking chances,” she says, “because the payoffs are worth the effort.”
Katie Wild was recently selected for the Boston Arts Commission’s Fay Chandler Emerging Artist Exhibition with a piece from her new body of Steampunk portraits, a testament to her philosophy that an impassioned risk, both with yourself and your endeavors, will be answered with reward. The work will be on view in the Scollay Square Gallery through October.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016: Puloma Ghosh