An artist sits at one of those checkered tables at Cool Beans and sips on a Red Bull while sketching waifish silhouettes. At first glance, this Lexington native seems to be focusing on her drawings carefully with reading glasses. But sitting across from her, you notice the absence of lenses and that in fact you are looking directly into the framed eyes of Katherine Elliott. Without any lenses, and without a filter, this graduate of NYC's Fashion Institute of Technology is a control freak when it comes to aesthetics, likes to use the word 'vomit' in various contexts, and is not afraid of cockroaches, well at least not anymore.
"I use to be completely terrified of cockroaches and of any other creature like them,” she explains “until I was hypnotized. And it really worked!"
Elliott describes her first confrontation with a cockroach after the hypnosis as calm and easy: "I stared at it and said to myself, that is a huge flying cockroach."
But while her fear has transformed into fascination, the thought of finding a roach in her boudoir still disquiets Elliot: "I still don't think I would want to touch a cockroach, but at least now I'm painting them."
Since the hypnosis last May, insects have been appearing in Elliott's art. And while beetles and roaches have become a motif in several of her works, Elliot does not let them take on lives of their own. She is still very much in control of what the insects are allowed to do and how. What dictates the tone of her painting are Elliott's moods, two of which can be distinguished in her oil paintings "Happiness" and "Demeter."
Inspired by the devastated divine mother, "Demeter" is painted in muddy greens and browns. In it, insects act passively as filthy wallpaper in the background while desperation and loneliness are personified in the expression of Demeter.
But in "Happiness," beetles are welcomed to the spotlight as they crawl all over a woman’s body. Judging by her serene brow, the pretty subject is quite alright with it. "Happiness" showcases the twisted and delicate of Elliot's art, a psychology of hers that pushes spectators to the (rose-colored) edge.
Elliott is edgy and not just in her art. She is loud, funny, and makes voices when telling stories that will engage the crap out of you. For some reason, though, she did not fit in with the other kids growing up. But there are no sob stories here. There is always comedic relief with Elliott, such as when she describes her dim schoolgirl years. "Some days I would wear a bright pink wig to class," she says. "It was really cute, with side-swept bangs and layers. And it also had a built-in scalp so that it looked real. People would tell me ‘take off that wig, Katherine,’ and I would reply, ‘No, it's my real hair,’ and then I would point to the scalp."
Elliott's best school memories spurt from the two years she spent at the Governor's School for the Arts. There, she focused on painting and graphic design, honing skills she had first developed years before at the Tri-District Arts Consortium at Columbia College.
At the Governor's School, the young artist was particularly inspired by her art history teacher, Dana Howard. It was in Howard's class that Elliot was first exposed to one of her favorite artists, Edvard Munch."I have a soft spot for Munch's work, especially for his etchings and drawings," she says.
Elliott uses "creepy" and "elegant" to describe the etchings and drawings by Munch that she loves so much. This vocabulary is not surprising with the young artist, as anyone might find Elliott's own paintings to be eerie and chic.
Perhaps because of her FIT background, Elliott's waifish figures and subjects are mostly inspired by fashion. Model-like and almost skeletal, her subjects maintain an exaggerated modern beauty. Elliott's leading ladies evoke an angular and nymph-like aura similar to that of unhealthily thin fashion models. "I have always felt that curvy women are the most beautiful," Elliott explains, "but in my paintings, I choose this aesthetic. She’s not supposed to look pretty in the real way."
When asked why fashion and not art, Elliott's answer is simple: "Well when I was in high school, I got this crazy notion that I would never make money doing fine art." And so Elliott decided to devise a career in which she would make clothing that was "artful and fun." It was a practical decision and, while the young artist thought she would be able to take advantage of her background in art, Elliott soon realized that her time behind the drawing board would be minimal and that sending e-mails, fitting models, and the long hours would in fact be the bulk of that career.
"I think if I was living in the ‘70s right now, I would have enjoyed myself in the fashion industry because there was a lot of freehand drawing involved," she says. "But nowadays everything is done by computer, and there isn't a real need for fashion illustrators, something that I would have been interested in."
Six years in New York City led to a bachelor's degree in fashion design, unforgettable rooftop photo shoots, summertime internships with Derek Lam and Bill Blass Group, as well as a position with Calvin Klein's women's collection. But it wasn't for her. Elliott ran out of money and returned, reluctantly, to her roots in Lexington. It's the best move she has ever made: "Well now that I've moved to Columbia, I really love it down here even though I thought I was going to hate it and vomit and cry everyday!"
Though she is still a baby in her career, it is exciting to watch Elliott's first steps. Her debut gallery showing took place during August's First Thursday, where she showed a ceramic slab piece, meant to look like a castle, for the “Vessels” show at the Anastasia and Friends gallery on Main Street.
When asked what other avenues of artistic expression she is involved with, Elliott responds with a litany of projects and ideas. She embroiders, plays with clay, designs a line of women's pastel-colored accessories and purses under her line of Rive Gauche Craft, and she orchestrates fashion photo shoots, too.
"I've been known to throw together a tripod," she says as she takes my car keys and gently places them underneath her Nikon camera, which sits atop books at a Cool Beans table. On the day of this conversation, I was told to "dress up." Elliott would take pictures of me, herself, and of us together.
"There is something wonderful about directing and appearing at the same time!” she says. “It puts me in ultimate control."
While her photo shoots are casual, friendly, and spontaneous, Elliott takes them quite seriously. Except for a few photographs with her handmade lambskin clutches, the shoots are not done for marketing. Most of the time, they are simply manifestations of creativity: "It’s sort of like an excess vomit of creativity that I have to channel somehow, and so I'll just grab a camera and go.”
-- Karina Salehi
Director of Advertising