26 February 2009

Spotlight on....Kate Cusack

Kate Cusack is a multi-talented artist living in Brooklyn, NY. Part sculptor, part designer, part jeweler--she creates elegant jewelry out of zippers, designs costumes for theater and window displays. Here, she talks a bit about her process, inspirations, and her current project.

(Photo: Kate in her studio)

You wear a couple of different artistic hats, as sculptor/jeweler/costume designer. How has your career unfolded?
My career is constantly unfolding and I constantly trying to make sense of it all. I often think of my career as a braid—different pieces, influences and experiences overlapping and coming together from various directions to form one complex creative career.
These days since my artistic outlets range quite a bit, I am trying to come to terms with the idea that I can be more than just one thing—more than just a costume designer, more than just a window designer, and more than just a jewelry designer—but an artist who does many things. The through-line that ties my work together is the association with the body (as in jewelry or costume) and the love for unusual materials.

(Photo: model wearing zipper necklace & bracelet © 2009 Julia Pogodina, Styling by Dina Yassin, hair by Jamal Hodges, make-up by Aldys Minaya)

Before getting to the point where you are today- Did you have some part-time (or full time) day jobs?
I have been very lucky to have jobs that have always related to what I was creatively interested in at the time. I think the most influential job was working at a costume shop called Parsons-Meares. They build costumes for broadway and a lot of Disney-on-ice costumes as well. That shop is known for incredible craftsmanship as well as creative solutions to complex costume needs—like a lot of the elements from the Lion King, and they also worked very intensely on some of the costumes from Wicked, among many others. When I worked there, it was like I was being paid to learn. There was so much to learn regarding technique, materials, protocol and designer/costume shop relations. I met some very important designers and also realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working in a costume shop creating other people’s ideas.

What outside interests feed you creatively?
This is the toughest question of the group, somehow. I think most of my interests are intertwined with each other and with my creativity, so it’s hard to think of any as “outside.” Interests that feed me creatively are:
-eating good food either at restaurants or at home
-shoe shopping
-going to museums
-going to theatrical events
-riding the subway and seeing all of the different kinds of styles in NY (this is not so much an interest, more of a necessity, but it definitely feeds me creatively)

What inspires you?
I am always inspired by raw materials. Whenever I see one thing repeated, I begin to think about what it could be turned into. When I was in high school and college, I really enjoyed going to 99 cent stores. I ended up with a lot of q-tips and toothbrushes and big plans that never happened. When I see a product or a material is a big quantity, I start to see it in its very basic visual form—as shape, color and texture. I had a teacher at MICA (undergrad) named, Annet Cowenberg (fiber artist) who taught a class in which she told us that any material can be either a line or a plane and from that you can make anything else. For an assignment, we had to make a list as long as we could of materials that fell into the category of a line or a plane—for example a piece of spaghetti can be a line, and a piece of paper can be a plane. It is very freeing when you can let your imagination and your creative eye tell you what to do.

Do you have a daily ritual that gets you ready to go to work in your studio?
My studio is in between my bedroom and the rest of my apartment. So just the act of getting out of bed gets me into my studio. I get ready in the morning, make tea, while the tea steeps, I get dressed and then sit down at my computer. I answer my e-mails, and then figure out the plan for the day. I am a big believer in lists, so if I am confused about where to begin, I either consult an existing list or begin a new one. Just writing everything down in my sketchbook gets it out of my brain and leaves room for other thoughts.

Do you collect source material? If so, what? and how do you use these materials?
I often collect images that are inspirational to me and I put them in my sketchbook. Sometimes those images are from ads, or catalogues, or given to me by friends and family. It’s usually looking back on these images and through the pages of my sketchbook that I realize how I was inspired by them, or following a common thread of design.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on developing a body of Zipper Jewelry to be shown through the Snyderman Works Gallery at a big event called Sculptural Objects Functional Art (SOFA). This is an expo held in NYC around late April/early June and in Chicago in October/November.

(photo: Zipper Necklace)

How do you get through artist's block?
I usually end up doing a lot of writing and some drawing. I spend a lot of time talking with my friends and my family and they are usually able to steer me back on track and remind me that I am moving in a direction that is not typical and that’s OK, and even exciting.

Did you ever have a project that stumped you as to how to do it, make it, fabricate? How do you figure it out?
Most projects present dilemmas or problems throughout the process of creation. I usually have to give it some time and in that time I often talk to my friends who are artists and to my parents. (They are also artists.) Whether or not the solutions they offer are useful, just the act of explaining whatever the problem may be plus the added creative mind usually solves the problem.

What words or philosophy do you live by?
There are a few catch phrases that I live by:

-be hard on the problem, soft on the people (from my mother)

-manage the expectations (from my father)

-if it’s shiny, buy it (personal philosophy)

-spend and god will send (from my grandmother)

-trust your instinct (general rule of thumb)

Kate Cusack earned her BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2001 where she began working with everyday materials and creating unique costumes and head-dresses. She studied theater history, traditions and practices at the Yale school of Drama and received her MFA in 2006.

Currently, Kate lives in Brooklyn where she compliments her collaborative work in the theater with intense independent studio work creating jewelry from zippers. The Zipper Jewelry is sold across the country in galleries and museum shops and has been featured in various publications both online and in print.

Please visit Kate's website, blog, and shop to learn more about her unique work.

Thanks Kate!!