The Heroine’s Journey of Kate Kretz

What is the best thing that I love about my work? The process of making my work involves a tremendous amount of research, allowing me to spend time learning about subject matter that interests me. While this research helps me understand and process the more difficult aspects of being in the world, it also connects me to mysterious and powerful forces that guide me from one reference to the next. Although I understand that it is actually my subconscious helping me follow threads to solve creative problems, it feels as if The Universe is telling me exactly what to make, and often while in process, The Universe validates that I made the right choice. There are forces much greater than I working through me to help the art materialize, and this process is endlessly fascinating to me.

What is my idea of perfect happiness? First, to live in a world where bullies of all kinds are ridiculed, instead of celebrated. After that… time to do my work, time to be with family & friends, to be intellectually challenged by the people around me, to travel, to give dinner parties, to live my aesthetics through my home… in a quiet place, surrounded by lots of green.

What is my greatest fear? To have my daughter experience the cruelty of this world.

What is the trait that I most deplore in myself? I can be terribly judgmental.

Which living persons in my profession do I most admire? 
Kiki Smith, Jenny Saville, Tracey Emin, Lynn Foulkes, Chris Verene, Don Demauro, Ida Applebroog, Vik Muniz

What is my greatest extravagance? I have absolutely no interest in “following fashion”, which I consider a capitalist, misogynistic con job, but I love beautiful clothes and shoes. I often buy them second hand, or embellish them myself. My living space is also important to me, and, like my clothes, it is color saturated, lush, eccentric and often involves some DIY elements.

On what occasion would I lie? It is hard to think of a situation when I would lie. I am a person who will not answer, or change the subject, in order to avoid lying. It sometimes takes me an hour to pick out a birthday card, because I cannot bear to buy one that misrepresents my feelings in any way.

What is the thing that I dislike the most in my work? I dislike that much of my work takes a long time to make: the large oil paintings can take years, as I use an oil glazing technique requiring that each layer dries before the next can be put down. I would never give up this technique, as it makes them look like they glow in person. It’s problematic for me, because my work often predicts things that happen in our culture, but, by the time they are finished to my standards, they are less prophetic and more reactionary. Once, in a moment of despair, I asked a prominent curator friend (outside my discipline) why I was not further along in the Art World, and she literally said, “Your work is too good”. When I rolled my eyes, she explained, “You do not fit into the system, because if a gallerist loved your work, they could not say, “Make 20 more of these, and I will give you a show.” I have tried to make my peace with that, and I now do drawings, wood burnings, and (relatively) “faster” work that does not compromise vision, in addition to the longer work.

When and where was I the happiest, in my work? I feel good about almost everything I have done, and I think that even early paintings “hold up well”, but I am happiest now. My work has always been intense and well executed, but now I am using the strongest qualities of my work (lurid palette, excessive detail) in service of content that is in great dialog with my techniques, and more importantly, that I am extremely passionate about. There is an urgency to my current work that I have never experienced before. I keep telling my husband, “I have to finish this monumental series before I die.”, and he looks at me as if I am crazy.

If I could, what would I change about myself? I wish that I knew how to relax and “do nothing” for more than 10 minutes. I’m sure that my life would be longer and happier if I could.

What is my greatest achievement in work? The integrity of my work. Once or twice, when I was showing at art fairs and had a deadline, I made the mistake of letting things go before I should have, but, other than that, I have made what I wanted to make my whole life and do not release work until there is not one more thing I could do to make it stronger. I have never compromised my vision, not to make money, or satisfy anyone else’s criteria for what I should be doing. If you think about it, in almost every aspect of one’s life, one has to make accommodations or lower one’s standards to get things done, but, when creating my work, I have this absolute freedom that cannot be found anywhere else. Deciding early on that I would teach art to make money freed me up to take this stance.

Where would I most like to live? In the countryside in England, France, Ireland, or Italy, but close enough to a city that I could drive in to lap up a little culture.

What is my most treasured possession? She’s not a possession, but my daughter. If we’re talking objects, probably my photo albums.

What is my most marked characteristic? Intensity.

What is my most inspirational location, in my city? When I lived in Hollywood, FL, my greatest inspiration was rollerblading on the boardwalk every morning, and sitting to look at the ocean afterwards.
In my current location, it would be tree bathing in my backyard, staring at our huge tupelo tree, with my Boxer draped across my lap.

What is my favourite place to eat and drink, in my city? I do not go out as much as I used to, since my daughter was born. When we go in to D.C for special occasions, it would be Restaurant Nora, Joe’s Stone Crab, or Obelisk. Much more often, I go to the foreign film theater in Bethesda and Mon Ami Gabi next door.

What books influenced my life and how? When I was young, early Richard Bach books were highly influential, in terms of life philosophy, as well as my love of flying. It’s corny, but perhaps the most influential book was Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, by James Joyce. We read it in AP English in high school, and I had an out of body experience while reading it at home, I identified so strongly with the character, and the following day, Ms. Dwyer gave a lecture on artistic temperament. It was like being struck by lightening. I found my place in the world, and realized that I was an artist on that day, not just a freak.

Who are my favorite writers? To be honest, I do not have much time for fiction any more, but in the past I have enjoyed John Irving, Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo, Richard Russo, Miranda July, or Alan De Botton. I always pick up Leonard Cohen periodically for poetic inspiration. Lately, I am reading Rebecca Solnit, Chris Hedges, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, and Michael Kimmel, because reality right now is so problematic.

You Only Die Once. What music would I listen to on my last day? I don’t know that I would listen to music, but I enjoy the singular vision of singer/songwriters best. If I wanted to reminisce on my last day, it would be Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Patti Griffin, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Ani Defranco, Neil Young, Randy Newman, Kate Bush, Graham Nash, REM, Dar Williams.

Who is my hero or heroine in fiction? As I said, I have not had time for much fiction, but I do make time for film, so I am going to refer to movies: the protagonist in the films Iris, Norma Rae, Anais Nin in Henry & June, April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road. And, of course, the iconic Atticus Finch.

Who are my heroes and heroines in real life? Jane Goodall, Bell Hooks, Amelia Earhart, Goya, Leon Golub, Kathe Kollwitz, Eve Ensler, Aaron Sorkin, Ralph Nader, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders AND Hillary Clinton (for different reasons)

Which movie would i recommend to see once in a lifetime? Wings of Desire

What role art plays in my life and work? My life and work are inseparable. I make work as a way to process what is happening in my life: personally, as a woman, as a citizen of this earth. As an ambitious artist and a mother, one of my secrets of success is to avoid multitasking on the important stuff. When I am with my daughter, I am with her 100%, and when I am in the studio, I am completely there. But my brain is always solving studio problems, 24/7… I can’t help it. I am always making notes on my phone or scribbling in a tiny sketchbook.

Who is my greatest fan, sponsor, partner in crime? I owe gratitude to so many people: as a young artist, curator/writer/Art Papers editor Jerry Cullum and South Florida Arts writer Candice Russell really believed in my work and championed me. My dear friends/collectors, Jim and Scott, have been buying my work for 20 years, and the occasional extra money has allowed me to take leaps in my work. I don’t know if they are my biggest fans, but my brother supported me a great deal in my early career, and my husband has for the past ten years. My husband is especially amazing: as my work has gotten more intense, and sometimes scary, although I am sure he does not care for some of it, he has seen me pull off unbelievable things firsthand, and, therefore, has an unflappable belief in my vision, and the battle I am fighting.

Whom would I like to work with in 2017? The next Whitney Biennial curators.  ; )

Which people in my profession would I love to meet in 2017? Oh, Catherine J. Morris, Elena Filipovic, Fatos Ustek, Heidi Ballet, Defne Ayas, Krist Gruijthuijsen, Jochen Volz. I am also looking forward to an actual first scheduled meeting with Christopher Stout, who has recently renamed his gallery ADO, for “Art During The Occupation”, a stance I can really get behind.

What project, in 2017, am I looking forward to working on? I have been working on a monumental series for the past three years…. it will probably occupy me for the next few years, but I will complete the bulk of it in time for a solo show in January 2018.

Where can you see me or my work in 2017? 
I have had 2 solo shows already this year: Difficult Truths at The Granary Art Center in Ephraim, UT, and “#bullyculture”, at the Gateway Arts Center in Brentwood, MD. I will have a solo show this Fall at Hobart and Williams Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. In early 2018, I will have a large solo show with a catalog at York College in Pennsylvania, and later in the year, another solo exhibition at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC.

What do the words “Passion Never Retires” mean to me? 
I need to work to stay sane: I will be in the studio painting long after I have no energy left to do those things of less consequence.
Which creative heroines should Peter invite to tell their story? Kate Lydon, Rebecca Trawick, Maria Elena Buszek, PE Sharpe, Mimi Smith, Betsy Packard, Amy BroderickReni GowerViolet Overn, Carol Prusa, Leisa Rich
How can you contact me?
I am on Facebook, Instagram, my website is, and my email is (don’t laugh… my students always do!)

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