In Conversation: Katie So
In recent years, self care has become an increasingly prominent and commercialized concept alongside growing awareness of mental illness. Katie So has always used her practice to talk about personal topics like depression and anxiety, and during her BAF artist residency, she explored the complex – and not always Instagram-worthy – reality of caring for oneself.
In this interview, we speak to Katie So about moving from tattoo to painting, creating an environment within her exhibition, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected her perspective on the work.
Self-care is a predominant theme in your new exhibition ‘Take Care’. Is there any relationship between painting and self-care for you?KS
I first got into a regular art practice when I started cartooning in college. It was a way for me to maintain habitual art-making, through blogging (Tumblr days, lol) but it quickly, and unintentionally, became a way for me to process my mental health issues. Cartooning allowed me to approach these subjects, often with a sense of humour and putting those feelings on a page was very therapeutic. It was also the first time I was really sharing my work with an audience, and to have people relate to my work and what I was feeling, was very healing and encouraging. Since then, I’ve realized that it is important for me to be honest about my experiences and express them as best I can through my work, both for my own self-care but especially for people that feel they’re alone in their struggles, which is totally how I felt before I started sharing my work.
Can receiving a tattoo be an act of self care?KS
Definitely. It can be a very vulnerable and powerful experience. Besides the physical pain, which is a part of the experience, it can be a chance to reclaim ownership of your body or sense of self by transforming in a way that is in your control.
What led you to choose such a restrained colour palette for this exhibition?KS
Honestly, colour kind of scares me. I’m not comfortable with it, but I’d like to experiment more with it now. I initially tried more varied palettes at the beginning of the residency, but after solidifying the concept, I wanted to keep the palette limited to help create a controlled environment. The colour became a backdrop and a design element to unify the pieces.
Tell us about the inclusion of ready-made items in your exhibition, such as house plants, salt lamps and laundry. What symbolism do these objects hold for you?KS
I wanted to create an environment that reflected the mood of the series. Gallery spaces can be intimidating, so I wanted a level of comfort and familiarity for the viewers to experience the work in. The work itself is very personal, so I wanted the space to reflect that by inhabiting it with items you might find at home. The informal hanging of unframed and unstretched canvas contributed to that atmosphere as well, evoking weight and comfort in the draping and texture of the materials.
You’re primarily known for illustration and tattoo; how much had you worked with painting before this residency?KS
I had never shown work of this scale prior to this residency, and before this my work was primarily on paper. Last year, I wanted to focus more on a painting practice so I shifted gears from how I’d been working for the last five years as a tattooer. That decision ultimately led me to this residency, and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity, I’ve been learning a lot.
Your show was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you look at the works differently now in light of those events?KS
The pandemic did the artwork a favour, in a weird way. Or at least, it showcased how art can be a reflection of the times, which is interesting. I had completed the series just before the city went into isolation back in March. The series started out as an exploration of isolation and self-care in relation to mental health, but suddenly we were all having to cope with these same themes together (apart). The series was able to reach more people in a personal way because we were all having to be alone, and take care of ourselves in ways we maybe hadn’t before. I guess it shows that the themes I aimed to portray in the series aren’t as secluded as I thought. I’m not so alone, in being alone!
What was your experience in the BAF residency like?KS
This was my first opportunity working in a devoted studio space, and it was really positive for me. I’ve freelanced for many years which takes a certain level of focus, but having a separate, designated space for creating was so beneficial to my process. I’m not sure I would have figured that out without this residency, so I’m grateful for that.
Do you have any plans for the next step in your practice?KS
I’d like to keep painting, and try to gain more residency experience. I’d like to be able to work out of a private studio eventually, so the hunt for something affordable in this city continues. I still feel as though creating art this way is very new to me, so I’d like to keep working towards honing in on my voice. I really enjoyed working on larger pieces, so I will continue experimenting with that. And maybe even throw some more colour in there.
See ‘Take Care’ at BAF until Saturday, August 1st.