Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Meeting Kay, and the Importance of Gab

Over the course of the last 2 months, I have had the invaluable experience of working closely with a local Philly artist whose reach (by the end of august!) will be global. We've had conversations about making a living as an artist, spent several hours sharing our family histories and trading domestic tales, enjoyed sunny lunch hours and drained a good many cups of tea, and mulled over the phenomenal truths of astrology, all while I helped Kay to prepare for her upcoming show in Tokyo at the end of this month. The show will feature many of the pieces that appear in Kay's larger than life installation, Lost & Found, which will continue to hang in the main branch of the Free Library until the end of October.

When I began working with Kay, I scarcely imagined it would entail such an Ideal balance of relaxing, stimulating, and gently instructive studio activity. Located in a charming and historic Carpenter street building (complete with an ancient pulley elevator) Kay's studio is shared with her quippy, dry husband and fellow artist Greg Pizzoli. My first time there, which was on the business of a pre-fellowship visit, began with conversation. Our ability to communicate with comfort and ease was pretty much immediately apparent - we spent our first 6-hour work day together chitchatting non-stop. After showing me how to pillow sew, stuff, and close an original Kay Healy"stuffie" using techniques handed down from her mother (also an artist), we settled into our respective workspaces and exchanged anecdotes from our childhoods, reminisced openly about the sensory details of the homes in which we grew up, and interrogated one another about the star charts of family members. Since then, we have rarely been at a loss for things to talk about.

Kay briefly explained her approach to holding down a good chat during our visit yesterday, remarking that it is important to ask questions when trying to come off as a good conversationalist. People love to answer questions about themselves, she says, in so many words. It's true - I was very eager to share when she inquired about my home life, what my parents are like, what kind of child I was, what my "totem animal" is, (and later on) what my feelings are about Wagner. In retrospect I notice that she began our relationship with a sort of informal interview, an interesting thing to consider since the "interview" is such a pivotal part of her artistic process. With that being said, I would argue that her interest in personal historical narratives is more a mark of her investigative temperament than a mere shmoozing tactic. Of the many skills that I have improved during my Summer Fellows experience, the ability to sustain engaging talk is among the most precious. I have always felt safer behind the curtain of the written word, and was admittedly daunted before the start of this fellowship by the idea of spending hours conversing with a total stranger. I was scared stiff that I would bore Kay with my silent anxiety, and appear dull or blank or unintelligent. It was more than a pleasant surprise to be met with a gabber as versed as Kay in the "art of conversation".

I might also mention that Greg and Kay share a profound love for seltzer water. I think this photo really captures the essence of Kay's side of the studio.

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