“I love the process of creation. It can be really meticulous. It can be really simple. Sometimes accidents occur, and that’s really exciting. Sometimes accidents make the work better. Sometimes the experiment completely bombs. You just have to keep moving forward and allow yourself to fail, which can be really difficult when there’s a deadline. I am continually building my visual vocabulary within my medium. Each time I create, I learn something. It’s what keeps me coming back.”
Kay Myers is a clear embodiment of natural tendency. Her artistic practice and life’s path have moved along in this sort of way: responsive, open minded, sensitive. It’s her willingness to follow her instincts coupled with a nonnegotiable moral system that has shaped her artistic method and her life’s path into mechanisms for self-sustainment, environmentalism, family legacy, and humility.
Leaving her hometown of Appleton after high school, Kay began a stint of academic transfers that would ultimately leave her a transformed creator. Embarking for Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Kay was initially a theatre major. She cultivated a multivarious creative life from a young age, and by her senior year of high school was acting, directing, and working in costuming and scene painting. Given the all-encompassing stage training she received in high school, she was able to qualify for a more prestigious theatre program going into college. Having been accepted to the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point’s selective theatre program after her freshman year in Iowa, she transferred. However, soon Kay found herself moving yet again and making a foundational shift in medium. She set about pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she would finish her degree and concurrently study abroad through Syracuse University to practice studio art in Florence, Italy.
Kay’s shift to visual art was the fulfillment of an interest and talent long brewing. From a young age, she had worked with handicraft. “I took a papermaking class when I was 11 or 12 at the Appleton Art Center (now the Trout Museum of Art). My mom had to beg to let me take the class because it was for adults only, saying ‘No, you don’t understand—my daughter, she is really interested.’” In addition to picking up sewing, cross-stitch, and design from her mother and grandmother, Kay learned costume creation and pattern work through her technical training in theatre arts. It was these experiences during her younger and adolescent years that created the perfect mix for a skillful, powerful artist, one who would become infinitely inspired by textiles, printmaking, and the possibility of multimedia.
The inspiration came in Italy. Once Kay had taken her first printmaking course through Syracuse’s program in Florence, she was indelibly infatuated with the printmaking process as a vessel for visual expression. “It was the first time I really thought ‘this is my medium.’ It was the first time that the vision in my head became literally real on paper in front of me.” Kay embraced printmaking as her principal focus for the duration of her college career, and continues to dabble in it to this day. “My studio space was small after graduation—the size of my lap. I had taken a bookmaking class in undergrad and began making layered figurative pieces about our relationship with the environment. I didn’t have access to printmaking on a larger scale, so I worked with archival scrapbooking papers and hand-printed and dyed papers. I really love print work and pattern play—to a fault sometimes. Someday I’ll have a home set-up for silk screening again, but now I’m happy to print with potatoes on tea towels and stencil my walls to look like wallpaper.”
Printmaking and surface work are the foundations of Kay’s creative mechanism. However, shortly after the start of her employment with Abel Contemporary Gallery, she was offered an exhibition slot in “the Cooler” space. In that moment, her utilization of textile-inspired pattern work transmuted. Taking advantage of the opportunity to create larger pieces, she began using ready-made styrofoam taxidermy forms to build animals, notably those native to Wisconsin, including a fawn, doe, and a cottontail rabbit.
Subverting the forms traditionally used to celebrate a hunter’s glory and an animal’s death, Kay covered the taxidermy models with the archival paper she had long worked with. Combining textures reminiscent of human legacy with literal environmental schema, she established a visual ideology that both challenges and vilifies man’s current dynamic with nature.
The values that Kay holds salient are as intrinsic to her creative identity as the media she uses. It’s immediately clear when speaking with Kay that she believes society has moved past a point of production and consumption that is healthy. Through her work, specifically through her use of overtly human textures to comprise natural forms, she advocates for a societal return to agrarianism, a historical moment wherein humans were farming the land on a smaller scale and at a lesser cost to the environment. “The work I’m creating now is about my direct experience with nature. It is about collecting and preserving. It is about the evolving landscape and our place in that landscape. The pattern play and textural elements relate to the way man is constantly trying to form the environment and make it his own. I want it to look realistic, but it’s clearly manmade.”
The evolving landscape is a phenomenon that undeniably pervades Kay’s oeuvre thus far. While she continues navigating visual vocabulary relating to environmental change, she has also started examining the contemporary interpersonal landscape. Kay is interested and moved by the effect of personal devices on our communication and relationships with one another. She has recently worked to curate a show in “the Cooler” exhibition space at Abel Contemporary Gallery in this vein. Fitting for the space that prioritizes “evocative shows in all media,” Kay’s curated group show was called Masquerade , and referenced the self-curated vision of life that most of us are compelled to maintain in this era of online identity. “I invited artists from across the country to show masks. Though we are not typically wearing masks in America on a daily basis, we’re definitely only revealing a specifically curated image of ourselves online. This, to me, is similar to wearing a mask or putting on a masquerade.”
Kay’s work is certainly worthy of attentive investigation. It isn’t often one finds a creator able to so seamlessly weave together such disparate themes. As technological and environmental shifts heighten, meditating on our response and responsibility within both will be crucial and challenging. Kay will continue to model how we can navigate both.
To see Kay’s curated life, you can follow her on instagram @kaymyerscreates. She exclusively shows her work at the Abel Contemporary Gallery in Paoli.
Elissa Koppel is a freelance writer and a local artist.