Installation Art with Kate Holcomb Hale

Kate Holcomb Hale's installation work is an exploration of edges and the physical, biological, and psychological activity that takes place along them. Her recent series Where the Edges Meet? examines the moment one’s identity shifts as a result of loss or trauma. This series also includes her most recent work And Neither Are We. Hale, a Buffalo native, received her MFA from Maine College of Art in 2007. Her pieces are created out of charcoal, paper, acrylic paint and vinyl. We sat down with her to ask her about the practice, process, and inspiration behind her installations. 

Hale installing And Neither Are We in The Garden

Hale installing And Neither Are We in The Garden

Why did you choose to explore edges?

I explore edges because edges signify transition.  The edge of a sheet of paper is typically where a drawing or painting ends.  Rather than being an ending point for my work, the edge of the paper becomes a point of expansion in my art making practice. It is at this point (the edge) that the work transitions from the wall into space becoming more sculptural.  What is typically 2D become 3D.  Paint and charcoal applied to the walls, ceiling and floor interact and draw attention to the edges of the paper.

How does a 3-D work come together – do you design around the space in which you will exhibit? Or do you adjust to fit the space?

While each installation is initially composed in my studio, I am able to transfer my pieces to other locations.  They shift slightly as they adjust to each new space and the architecture of that space.  I used to fixate on replicating exactly what I had created in the studio.  Eventually I decided to embrace each new environment with its quirks allowing the work to adapt and conform to its architecture. I just had an installation in the National Prize Show at Cambridge Art Association and the wall I installed on wasn't as tall as the piece.  We brain-stormed about how to construct a wall or a support for the shape that was supposed to extend to the ceiling. In the end, I resolved the installation by wrapping the shape over the top of the half-wall and letting it adhere to the other side of the wall (a sneak peek of the installation before you rounded the corner).  The installation definitely changed but it was specific to that unique space and moment in time.  I'm increasing becoming more comfortable with each install resulting in a slightly different iteration of the original work.  

How did you choose which medium to work with?

Installation view of Hale's And Neither Are We in The Garden

Installation view of Hale's And Neither Are We in The Garden

I have consistently worked with paper and charcoal for quite some time.  I like the expressiveness of the mark making I can achieve with charcoal on paper.  I enjoying creating marks, erasing those marks and working back into the new forms that emerge from this additive/reductive process.  I love the dark blacks I can achieve with charcoal and how they work in contrast to the clean white of the paper.  I also use heavy paper with a lot of texture.  Once I tear into the paper the tears are thick and beautiful adding another layer to the work.

As for using vinyl in my installations that came about after a gallery asked me not paint on their walls.  Up until that point all my work included paint applied directly on the walls.  I was daunted by the prospect of coming up with a new method but then a friend suggested decal vinyl. I found that I love how the vinyl adheres to the walls and still reads as paint.  I paint on transparent vinyl so that my brushstrokes remain visible as I don't want the color to look manufactured.  In some of my works the vinyl also takes on a sculptural quality when I allow it to curl off the wall.  I've witnessed viewers lean in closer to take a second look at the paint and realize it's vinyl.  I enjoy that moment of suspension when the viewer is unsure of exactly what they are looking at. 

How long do you typically spend on a piece? 

I usually spend 2-3 months creating an installation.  I begin with a large-scale charcoal drawing which takes some time to compose.  Once the drawing is complete I begin to cut into and tear away at the edges of the paper.   I move the drawing off the wall and begin to "sculpt" the paper in space.  Once I'm satisfied with its form and placement, I add charcoal and paint to expand the work beyond the paper.  Finally, I consider the lighting as the shadows add another dimension to the work.  

Hands Held Loosely Closely Charcoal, paper, acrylic paint 110 x 70 x 55 in. September 2016

Hands Held Loosely Closely
Charcoal, paper, acrylic paint
110 x 70 x 55 in.
September 2016

Who inspires you?

I see my installations as rejecting traditional boundaries of drawing and painting.  I'm moving my drawings off the wall in an attempt to engage space and merge material with architecture.  As a result I am inspired by painters, sculptors and installation artists.  Such artists include Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, Lee Bontecou, Eva Hesse, Sarah Sze, Judy Pfaff, Amy Sillman, Mona Hatoum, Doris Salcedo, Annette Messenger and Anne Truitt.

What two artists would you like to be compared to and why?

I'd like people to say my work is in dialogue with the paintings of Helen Frankenthaler.  I admire the attention Frankenthaler gives the edge of the canvas and her use of negative space.  These are elements I'm also considering when I'm creating my installations.  I'd love for people to see my work in dialogue with the work of Judy Pfaff because of her use of space and color.  While her works are larger in scale and more complex, I am inspired by her installations as they push me to think bigger and explore new materials.