Mostly everything contains some aspect of visual appeal. However, it is an unfortunate fact that many creative individuals are little appreciated despite their amazing abilities. Hence, I decided to start an “Artist Spotlight” series where I will interview various artists in order to gain a deeper insight into what inspires their creativity and what they plan to do with their careers.
Keren Katz is one of the artists who agreed to be interviewed for this series. An Israeli illustrator and comics artist, Keren earned an MFA in illustration, has published several books of drawings, and currently has work for sale on a number of websites. Keren’s colorful and detailed drawings certainly make a visually striking—and beautiful—impact and they are all inspired by dance and/or movement. Below, Keren answered some questions about her life as a professional artist:
Q: What influenced you to become an illustrator?
For a long time my life was centered on dance. I attended a performing arts high school oozing music, song and razzle-dazzle from every corner. I enjoyed dancing because I have always preferred to communicate indirectly with the people in my life. I felt free only when moving within a strict choreography, hiding in a costume, allowing only the particular and subtle articulation of my joints to represent me. The audience I wanted to perform for has always been very specific; the boys I had a crush on. So though it pained me to lose my twirling abilities when I quit ballet, I hoped to find a more modular and open art form preferably one that I could mail. I like taking text that someone else wrote and then spend time articulating my way through it; sounding my voice through someone else’s words. I would never dare to scream my own words, but I would very much enjoy screaming something by someone else.
I was first inspired to think about stories from the work of the choreographer Pina Bausch. The center of gravity of her dancers is extended beyond their own bodies by an object on the stage, a rock, a hippo, a tub, a chair or the stage itself full of sand or flowers. And the other dancers become the objects into which they crash. The stories are about relationships, love and solitude; they are very real but they are offset by the displacement of gravity.
Discovering the world of comics has helped me embrace my creative imperfections and stutters. Writing and drawing at the same time transports me to that surrealist exploration of gravity. I write all my stories with a specific person in mind, same as I did when I danced. On some occasions I find myself talking to a stranger and in a moment of panic I reference a comic I have presumably created, making up the story on the spot, and then have to rush home to retroactively produce the book I had made up. Putting things into book form is exciting for me, because I am able transform my hysterical silly incoherent thoughts into something serious and communicative at least in appearance, because it has a spine and mass and it has a designated place in the world. It can live in a library, on a shelf. It has a home.
Q: In terms of subject matter, what are your cartoons about and what inspired the ideas for them?
My subject matter always evolves from movement. In my book “Crossing the Rubikon,” a mash-up between the adventures of Peter Pan in Neverland and Rubik’s Cube speed solving competitions, I imagined what it would be like to have constantly twiddling fingers.
In “Chronicles of the Falling Women,” I imagined what it would be like to live in perpetual instability. In “The Night Poetry Class in Room 1001,” I returned to the theme of magical fingers, mesmerism and gestures of bearded magicians. The Jumping Janitor is a character that has the ability to jump for a few minutes at a time. Another character is a girl who is bind to a chair and enjoys peeling oranges in secret. In “Jospeh and his Amazing Technicolor Coat Check Dream” I imagined what it would be like to be head-less and neck-less and to be handed coats by strangers all day long.
I find myself moving on my chair in response to something I read on Wikipedia or make a peculiar gesture as I make way to the fridge and I assign them to a character. The story evolves spontaneously from there. The setting is filled in the negative spaces left in the composition by the movement. I often change it a few times along the way. In recent years I've been working mostly on comics, so the dances have room to grow beyond their silly starting point and guide me towards interesting sources and ideas I would never have thought to research.
Q: As far as working in illustration, what has been your most rewarding experience so far?
Comics festivals are the highlight of my work year and the anticipation drives me to create new work. I enjoy exchanging books with fellow cartoonists and know that each book I bind and pack into a box is just a placeholder for brand new stories by my friends, old and new. It’s like a conversation in slow motion that I can touch and smell and re-arrange the “sentences.” The NYC Comics Symposium has also been extremely rewarding. The weekly interaction with the comics community is a celebration of this language as one of endless exploration, design and inclusivity.
Q: Are there any up and coming projects that you would like to mention?
I'm looking forward to collaborate with my boyfriend who is an experimental poet and new media artist. We are writing a comic based on the play Prometheus Bound and cryptography and also some illustrated sequences based on his latest book Code in which he transcribes the entire bible in Haiku form, thus excavating a strange delightful texture. I also have an upcoming show at Kelly Writers House inspired by a series of guerilla poetry readings Kenneth Goldsmith curated as poet laureate of the MoMA. I attended the readings with my sketchbook and interpreted the movement in the galleries activated by their voices. I am also working on a volume of stories titled “Plans to Take Up Astronomy,” funded by The Sequential Artists Workshop. It’s based on my collection of 1960’s American yearbooks and set in a fantasy school inspired by the Tower of London and run by The Raven Master. I also have some stories lined up for “Linen Ovens #2, Ink Brick” and “Three Armed Squid.”
Q: What are your ultimate goals for the future?
My ultimate challenge is to write and illustrate a graphic novel, and hopefully have it published. I work towards this goal every day and the more I work the more I enjoy reading graphic novels and appreciate the aesthetics and possibilities of the form. For the same reason I would also like to teach comics and learn more about the form through my students and their points of view. The reading of comics is mostly an intimate experience but some of the magic of it stems in the discourse and sharing of ideas. I would love if the concept of a Comics Symposium could be formed in Israel.
Q: How has MoCCA helped your career?
I am extremely fortunate to have had the chance to live in New York and have access to so many of the comics treasures and meet the authors of the books I admired all through art school. There is nothing more inspiring than to see the originals and to be able to talk and discuss comics with their creators. Also, it’s a place where everyone knows your name, right from day 1. The feeling of support is driving me onward. I have attended the MoCCA festival 3 times so far. Each time I add more books to my arsenal of work (and my library). It has been a great school for learning how to communicate and present my work, how to tell better stories and improve for the next year. The sheer amount of exhibitors and variety is overwhelming. Everyone is happy to discuss their work and share their loot and I have formed many connections and collaborations for projects to come.
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To find out more about Keren see the below links: