“Observing Observing (a white cup): Kathy Liao”

With each exhibition, we will post interviews with the participating artists along with a photo of said artists in their studios and images of their work. In the future, we will post videos of artist interviews.

“Observing Observing (a white cup)” opens September 12th and continues through October 31, 2015

Curated by Eric Elliott, Michael Howard & Norman Lundin. More than twenty artists (both gallery artists and not) accepted the invitation to submit work.

Reception for the artists, Sept. 12, 2 – 4 pm

Artist Interview #23: Kathy Liao


1. How did you respond to the idea of the white cup?

Charles Hawthrone, on the subject of Still Life, quoted “There is nothing in the world so helpful to a young painter as a study of white, if he will but be honest.” I was very excited when I found out the theme was “the white cup.” One of the assignments I gave to my painting students was to paint a white cup or object. The parameter was to only paint with neutral tones mixed out of primary colors

Kathy Liao Demo for "Color for Painters" class at Gage Academy, Seattle, WA

Kathy Liao Demo for “Color for Painters” class at Gage Academy, Seattle, WA

The exercise was always a challenge for the students, and they either loved it or hated it. However, this assignment was usually an eye opener for the students. It not only demanded the students to discern warm and cool temperatures of color, but also challenged them to really see the infinite colors perceived within a deceivingly simple white object against a white background. Observation is KEY. When I started out to tackle this theme, I was drunk off of an art-viewing high from having visited the In the Studio exhibition, curated by John Elderfield at the Gagosian in New York. The exhibit highlighted works by the pantheon of masters, including Thomas Eakins, Jean-Leon Gerome, Matisse, Braque, Picasso, Giacometti, using their studio as a point of departure for their work. I marveled at the incredible daylight commanding its way into Matisse little attic studio in L’Atelier sous les toits and the colors that were teased out of the shadows of the dark studio. In Diebenkorn’s, Untitled (Studio Interior), with his detached but brutally honest observation of the observed composition in front of him, Diebenkorn painted a folding chair in front of a wall with his own works on paper. I loved the playfulness and the scrutiny in which painters responded to their inspirations and the legacy it implied. In Larry River’s The Wall, the viewers could tease out Vuillard, Picasso, and an upside-down Matisse poster. Braque’s Atelier VIII is a lyrical composite of the cornucopia of objects in his studio. The artists’ works were honest and direct responses to their environment.

Using the white cup as the protagonist, I completed a series of studies and paintings during my residency at the Brushcreek Ranch Art Foundation. The white cup, very much like the artist (myself), was influenced by and altered in response to its surrounding. The nature of the white porcelain picked up and distorted the color, the light and shadow, and the geometry of its surrounding. The name of the game was to record its brilliant mirage and, in turn, how it transformed the space in which it occupied. I had a lot of fun taking the cup for a “walk” around the studio. I was allowed to observe my studio environment from a new perspective, through the scale and the reflection of the little white cup.

2. Are you a full time artist, if not how do you support your art?

I am currently teaching at Missouri Western State University as an Assistant Professor. I am lucky because I absolutely love teaching.

3. When did you consider yourself an artist?

When I realized most of the decisions I make in life, from taking up that first part-time jobs out of school, the teaching gigs, the places I travel and move to, the books and objects I buy, to every whim and curiosity I follow and pursue, are all for that next ten thousand works I’ll be making. Everything I do, I realized, is to allow me to continue to make work, to never stop doing what I’m doing now.

4. What are your influences?

Most recently, see 1. Otherwise countless to name.

5. How big is your studio, what kind of lighting?

I was fortunate to have a studio/office provided by the university. Tall ceiling and a window view. I could always use a bigger studio, but I’m making this home now.

6. What is a typical day in the studio like for you? Do you listen to music, radio or tv in your studio?

Music, audiobooks, NPR. I need background noises to get me going. I teach a lot so time management is key. If I were lucky, I could squeeze in 6-8 hours in the studio on a busy week. Of course, there are the burst of productivity and sleep deprived weeks before a show deadline. But honestly, I am most productive at artist residency, with an uninterrupted period of time to work.

7. What is your preferred medium? Do you work on one project at a time or several?

Yes, I work on several paintings at the same time. I also like to work in different mediums. I would often start with a painting or a drawing, hash out ideas and variations through printmaking, which might branch off to completely new projects.

8. Do you have any special or unique tools, devices or process that you use in your art making?

I love working with and thinking through collage. It allows me to focus on shapes, colors, texture, and the existing but unexpected marks of found and pre-made materials. The process removes me from “painting” the named object, and allow me to simply observe and record what is in front me, one shaped piece at a time.

9. What do you do outside the studio, aside from a job?

I will admit, between teaching and studio practice, this last year (my first year at a full-time teaching position), I had no life whatsoever. I hope this next will be better. I recently moved to Kansas City and I’m hoping to dive into the art scene there. Other than that, I do travel a lot, for work and for pleasure.

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