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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

I Paint Them As They Die: An Interview With Kate Dwyer

We are upstairs at a local Dorchester bar, an arsenal of cigarettes and margaritas spread out before us. This is my first interview and I want everything to be just right.

Kate Dwyer is an undergraduate art major who has been quite active on campus as of late, most notably with her exhibit of paintings depicting Muslim women which showed last semester in the Wits’ End. Her work ranges from the figurative to the abstract and she achieves both with equal aplomb. She’s anything but pretentious though; in a plaid shirt and boot-cut jeans, she comes across as laid-back and down-to-earth, the kind of artist who would rather let her work speak for itself. A mane of reddish-brown hair fountains out over her alert and often mischievous eyes. She is energetic and funny but at first she seems wary of being interviewed, and I begin to worry that my questions are just plain silly. After a few drinks however, we both loosen up and the dialogue begins to flow. Kate is an animated talker, punctuating her words with a bright, infectious laugh, now and then pausing to take a drag off a Marlboro before launching back into the conversation.

Evan: Why did you come to UMass?

Kate: I came to UMass Boston instead of Mass Art because I wanted to take Black Studies and Women Studies as well as art. Taking these classes gives me a lot of ideas for painting. In my Intro to Black Studies class I’m learning about ancient Egypt and how western civilization began in Africa; Jesus probably looked more Middle Eastern and African than White European-the way he is usually portrayed, particularly in the religious paintings of the early Renaissance. I’d like to do a portrait of Jesus in the style of the Renaissance painters, but paint him the way he actually looked. So, I don’t want to focus just on art; I get a lot of ideas for art exhibits from my other classes.

Evan: You’ve been at UMass for a few years now. What is your opinion of the Art Department here?

Kate: The art department definitely helps me get passionate about certain subjects and ideas, but there isn’t a lot there for the art student in terms of classes. It’s not an art school. We don’t have a sculpture class; we only have one painting class. It’s pretty limited in that respect. Part of the reason I want to do the portrait of Jesus as an independent study, something that would take a lot work and time, is that in the classes I am taking now you really have to produce; its more about quantity than it is about quality. I don’t think you can really develop yourself if you have to do a painting every week. I’d like to take a class that was more traditional. I’d like to spend more than one week on a painting.

Even though I love my painting teacher, I think that having one painting teacher for your whole school experience can be somewhat restrictive. You only get one teacher’s point of view. And that’s a problem with UMass Boston not being an art school. But at the same time, since it isn’t an art school, you are able to take a lot of other classes which give you more to draw on, more fuel for your art.

Evan: What else do you find positive about the program?

Kate: Well, my art teacher is an amazing artist. Even the teacher who is substituting now, he is a totally amazing artist. I mean, his paintings pay the bills. It’s amazing. Even so, I think I’ve learned more from my fellow students than my teachers. Can I do a shout out?

Evan: Kate is now doing a shout out.

Kate: My friend Ben rocks. He’s the most phenomenal abstract painter, and he won’t bullshit you; he’ll tell you “this is great, but this isn’t working. You should paint over it.” Sometimes I get worried when I’m doing an abstract painting what it looks like to Ben. I learn more from looking at Ben’s paintings than I learn from my teachers.

Evan: What attracts you to his work?

Kate: His use of color. His style is almost organic. His paintings are raw…rough. They’re balls-to-the-wall and at the same time elegant.

Evan: So there’s a real energy there.

Kate: Right. They seem to just flow out of him, and, like I said, I can learn more from looking over his shoulder and watching him paint than from my art teachers.

Evan: Is there enough of that on campus; where you’re doing that, where you’re learning from each other and sharing in each other’s work?

Kate: No. I don’t really think there’s much of an art community on campus. If I didn’t know some of the artists just from being friends with them, I don’t think I’d talk to anybody about art at school. The only sort of community for art students is the gallery.

Evan: What do your parents think about you being an artist?

Kate: When I got into both Mass Art and UMass Boston, I think my parents were both a little nervous. I think that they are concerned with me making money, and at the same time, because I come from white middle-class suburbia, its not as much of a concern that their daughter be an artist as for someone who comes from a lower economic status. Still, it is a privilege that I am allowed to be an art major.

Evan: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Kate: Hopefully, doing something where I can paint and get paid. And also, owning a motorcycle. Those are really my only two requirements.

Evan: Do you find beauty in the smallest of things?

Kate: Yes. One of my paintings was inspired by decaying concrete walls. I like things like that, which aren’t over-processed, which have just been left to age.

Evan: What was the first painting you ever did?

Kate: I’m the biggest Beatles fan of all time, and in high school I did a portrait of John Lennon, who is my favorite Beatle. Recently, when George Harrison died, I painted a portrait of him as well. So I guess you could say I paint them as they die (raises an eyebrow).

Evan:(pretending I didn’t just ask her to say that) Interesting. If you were strapped in a chair for the rest of your life, in front of one painting, which painting would you choose to be stuck in front of?

Kate: Maybe a Jackson Pollock painting. Or Max Beckmann’s “Man In A Tuxedo: A Self-Portrait.” But I know I’m going to think of something better later.