Greenpoint based artist Kate Nielsen bases much of her work on “survival tips” in the wild. As the sole individual successfully selling artwork on Amazon, she is also an example of a new type of artist’s preservation. Greenpointers had a chance to talk with the survivor on the eve of her inclusion in Calico Gallery’s Crowd Control.
GP: The lines are blurring between supposed ideas about outsider/trained artists- (San Fransico artists flaunt a “naive” look and L.A. based Llyn Foulkes was strangely referred to as outsider when shown recently in NY) Do you see your work as part of any zeitgeist or movement in this regard?
Kate: I was just reading a blurb about our upcoming Calico show which referred to our “outsider sensibilities”. I am definitely drawn to and inspired by folky, naive styles but think that referring to someone like Llyn Foulkes as an outsider is extremely bizarre. My idea of an outsider artist, is someone that is untrained but has some sort of obsessive need to make art that they secretly spend their entire life on. I am not sure where I would place myself in the scheme of things. I have enough trouble trying to figure out whether to call myself an artist or an illustrator most days and have happily taken a break from trying to decide.
GP: Your “Survival Tips” come off as liney and tongue in cheek, yet your career now demonstrates actual survival tips for working artists. Do you see this as a larger metaphor for your content?
Kate: Ha, I would say, take my advise at your own risk. And read as much or as little as you want into it. Someone told me they wanted to buy my volcano print specifically for a wedding present. After rereading the tip, I can see how it could be applied to a relationship, but also.. it can just be applied to standing on the edge of a volcano. My current “survival” as an artist in New York is do to a string of happy accidents.. which I suppose could be made into a greater metaphor..
GP: You’ve become the face of a new way to sell art. Is it that much different than gallery representation? Does it affect your practice?
Kate: Yes, I snuck my way onto a new platform, but I don’t necessary think what I am doing is that new or different. Ultimately, I am just selling my work online. My thought about selling on Amazon is why not? It’s non exclusive, exposes my work to a worldwide audience, and is a website most people are already comfortable using. It is bizarre to think of my paintings as “products,” and yes it have vastly increased the business side of my day to day art practice. But overall, I am happy to be selling work. And Amazon takes a fraction of the cut I would give to a gallery. Not to say that I wouldn’t still love gallery representation, but I recognize that it is a completely different world.
GP: Do you think the immediacy and humor of your work is naturally suited to commercial product.
Kate: Yes, coming from a background in illustration, I am very comfortable thinking about how I can market my work. The survival tips started as paintings, that I then turned into prints, and i would love to branch the series out even further and make it into a book or an interactive app.
GP: “Narrative” lately has a tendency to go biopic with the artist. Does the “Biggest Little City in the world” (Nielsen grew up in Reno) influence advice on shark attacks and avalanches?
Kate: People always ask me what it was like growing up in Reno, and all I can say is, it seemed normal at the time. Reno is such a strange and unique place, it’s hard to say how it influences me. My work is biopic in the sense that it is an ongoing conversation and personal fixation of mine. It all stemmed from a deck of cards my mother gave me. A couple of years ago, while I was at a funeral, my apartment burned down. I was more than a little upset about life, but at the same time it was only a couple of days before Christmas, and I had a plane ticket to Reno for the holidays. I had something like 10 days to sit and think about the ruin I had to come back to in Brooklyn, and one of the first presents I opened was a deck of cards titled “The Worst-Case Scenario: Survival Card Game, Travel Edition.” My first thought was to wonder if it was a joke, but either way I loved it. Shortly after that, I made the Shark Attack piece, and a series was born. Ever since I made that first piece, people have been offering me me their personal tips, and they never cease to entertain me. I am sure the people of Reno have some great shark attack/ avalanche stories.
GP: Your work is base around (hopefully) useful information. Does or can art be put to practical use?
Kate: Absolutely. I think that illustration and/ or design is art put to practical use and that art and design can inform each other. As an artist/ illustrator I have often been told that to been taken seriously I need to separate those two titles. But all of my favorite illustrators show their work in galleries, and I am always ecstatic to see artists work on projects that have practical uses. A great example of artists making functional objects is The Thing Quarterly, an object based publication that mass produces objects designed by artists.