A Dozen : Kathleen Letts

This week for the A Dozen feature, we touch base with Kathleen Letts, Aa very talented artist from Chicago. Be on the lookout here on the internets for her art in the near future, as MNP is working with her on a new and amazing art project that should be ready around late April. The artist and outstanding community would be grateful if you left a comment, so please do so!

I Dream of Spring

How did you get your start in the visual arts?

It all started with mud pies…my earliest memories are of making little pots from the mud in a wooded clearing near our house in rural Kansas.A I must have been 4 or 5.A Later I branched out to figures that I made out of cloth and wood scraps from my mother’s sewing basket and my father’s wood shop, which I sold to family and friends.A I remember that my most expensive art work at the time was priced at $ .50.A Mom thought it was a little overpriced!

I think that artists are born, not made, and the most critical component of the artistic temperament is the patience -or the compulsion-to work a piece through to completion.

Where and from whom did you get your technical base?

I have an MFA from Yale Drama School in set and costume design, so my skill set is slightly different from what the graduate of a visual arts school would have. Ming Cho Lee, a reknowned set designerA who has designed numerous sets for the Metropolitan Opera and other internationally know theaters as well asA the Chinese Courtyard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was an important mentor of mine.A He is famous for his very beautiful drafting, and is responsible for my love of the pencil drawing.A I have worked as a set designer for the Juilliard School, Yale Repertory Theater and the Alaska Repertory Theater among others.A Over time, I found the intensively collaborative nature of working in the theater difficult and discovered more scope for personal expression in the solitary practice of fine art.


What styles do you incorporate into your art?

I consider myself an expressionist; I’m more concerned with conveying the feeling of being alive rather than with rendering a pictorial likeness of someone or something.A I want to convey something direct and visceral to the viewer that transcends cognitive thought.

Some people have described my style as "cubist" butA the resemblance is more apparent than real.A I am an interested student of art history and have been influenced by"outsider art", australian aboriginal art, the Chicago "who" and Brazilian street art among others—I am alwaysA looking!

When do you feel that a piece is finished?

I think it was Robert Louis Stevenson who said "editing is the only art."

Knowing when a piece is complete is at the foundation of every artist’s unique art practice and is different with each artist.A I usually find I am finished with an art work when I manage to surprise myself.

Great Lakes Cormorant

Who if anyone would you like to collaborate with?

If I wanted to collaborate regularly I would have stayed in theater.A Having said that, I have collaborated with other artists-and non-artists-on public art works and would consider doing it again, depending on the project.

How do you view technology being integrated with art?

I’m in favor of it, when it’s well done, which it often isn’t. A A couple of successful practitioners are William Kentridge (animation) and Bill Viola (video).A I sometimes think artists feel they "should" incorporate the latest technological bells and whistles in an effort to be "modern".A But, toA paraphrase Laurie Anderson (no slouch in the area of technological innovation herself) it’s possible to be very "modern" with a paper and pencil.

Great Lakes Cormorant

What makes visual art different from other forms of expression?

Great visual art has the capacity to contact the viewer on a level deeper than cognition and beyond speech.A It waits quietly for human attention, then rewards it over time by altering our experience of the real world.

If you were reviewing your work from afar, how would you critique it?

I critique my work every day in the studio in my effort to make the best work I can with the talent and materials I have.A I don’t think it’s possible for an artist to be completely objective about his/her work before a "cooling off" period after the work is completed.A Usually after that I am surprised at how much I like it.


How have you seen your work evolve over the years?

I find I’m able to get to the essence of the work more quickly and directly than when I first began to make art.

How would you position yourself in the art world if you had to do it again?

I would definitely choose to be a man.A And I’d marry an art critic.


Which audiences do you want to connect with?

I’m not picky.A Ideally I’d like to be universally loved and admired.

What is your opinion on the arts within the education system?

In the visual arts I think that on the elementary level schools do reasonably well, but the quality of instruction and the commitment of the students seems to fall steadily thereafter.A It would be great if schools could teach aesthetics- that is, visual literacy-not just how to make art, but how to look at it.

:: All images courtesy of the artist, Kathleen Letts ::


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Posted: March 12th, 2010
at 6:41pm by Koookiecrumbles

Categories: contemporary,a dozen

Comments: 16 comments


16 Responses to 'A Dozen : Kathleen Letts'

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  1. Thanks for giving me the opportunity talk about my work online! I’m forwarding the link to all my artist and gallery friends

    K.A. Letts

    15 Mar 10 at 12:18 pm


  2. Kathleen–this work is fabulous. There is always space on my walls for your work. It’s been too long–I’d love to come by and see you and your work. I posted this link to my FB profile (I think and hope!!)

    Bonnie Brickett

    15 Mar 10 at 1:15 pm


  3. I’ve know Kathleen for many years. I check in periodically and am always surprised and amazed at her work.
    Congratulations to MNP for finding her and creating a project for her. I am anxious to see the results.

    Jack Swan

    15 Mar 10 at 1:21 pm


  4. These are fabulous drawings. You could just look at them for a long time and tell yourself stories.

    Helene Brandt

    15 Mar 10 at 2:24 pm


  5. Kathleen,
    Love yoiur new stuff!

    Richard Shipps

    15 Mar 10 at 3:34 pm


  6. Kathleen,

    I love the new work. I’m especially drawn to the bolder colors and values. The figure seems to have almost disappeared, which is also interesting. The fluid lines keep my eye moving through the pieces. Great job!

    Julie Herwitt

    15 Mar 10 at 3:38 pm


  7. Very interesting new work Kathleen. I see influences of the original Chicago Imagists group along with a touch of Miro , yet uniquely all your own. Thanks for keeping me on your list.

    Loren Robare

    15 Mar 10 at 4:27 pm


  8. I am very glad to see this art on your site- visually pleasing as well as engrossing. I keep coming back to look again. I agree with the person that said she told stories as she looked. Cool!

    Susan Goldsmith

    15 Mar 10 at 10:49 pm


  9. Wow Kathleen…great interview…I learned so much about you I didn’t know. I am honored to know you and to have seen you in your studio at work and at play. You are so prolific and really have pushed yourself so far in your career. I am glad to see it paying off. Bravo!!

    Looking forward to seeing more.

    Brenda Oelbaum

    15 Mar 10 at 11:28 pm


  10. I agree that elementary art education is doing the right thing with kids. As for middle and high school art, the decline in quality of instruction and commitment of students runs across all curricula, not just art. In the broader context of the education of our children in our country, beginning with middle-school, there is an emphasis on careers, technology, standardized testing, and accountability; hardly the environment for creativity and experimentation.

    David Letts

    16 Mar 10 at 5:08 pm


  11. “I think that artists are born, not made, and the most critical component of the artistic temperament is the patience –or the compulsion–to work a piece through to completion.”

    …moreover, our educational system has no room for patience and seeing things through. This is a great tragedy. Although we think we are doing right for our kids by “preparing them for the competitive workforce”, we are, in fact, creating worker bees whose only incentive for completing anything is not to be fired. There is no hope for any meaningful arts education in our present system. TEAR IT DOWN!!

    David Letts

    16 Mar 10 at 5:19 pm


  12. Nice work – great interview. I’m looking forward to seeing it soon in person.

    Jeff Stevenson

    16 Mar 10 at 7:46 pm


  13. Your new work is an interesting turn from what I know of your work the past few years. I find it more appealing …great designs. Am rereading the interview as like the reader above, am intrigued by the influences and its relevance to your new work. …very interesting website.

    Judith Bemis

    17 Mar 10 at 7:13 am


  14. Fascinating story to go with the art. Thanks to MNP for showcasing it. Even though the pieces are 2 dimensional I think I can see many dimensions, groupings, and larger patterns in them. Such depth is something I appreciate in art.


    19 Mar 10 at 7:06 pm


  15. Thank you MNP for providing a look at some of Kathleen’s newest pieces along with such an insightful interview. The art is mesmerizing and her words are inspiring!

    Lynn Boyer

    20 Mar 10 at 12:17 pm


  16. we’re so happy to have kathleen on here. we’ve been poring over her art for months!

    Black Ock

    20 Mar 10 at 4:01 pm



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