Murals that Act like Portals to a Techy New World
Katy Ann Gilmore brings simple linework to life
With nothing but marker, Katy Ann Gilmore can step up to a flat wall and bring it to life with depth and texture. Her line work has a very techy, designer feel to it, like a wireframe model of a mountain or an anamorphic portal to a world of sharp, angular edges. Her 3D sculptures do the same, using thin materials to create a new dimension; wire mesh floating like smoke, or hundreds of hanging skinny chains adding extra depth to a long, empty room.
Perhaps the best example of how far Gilmore can take her work is the mural Facebook’s Los Angeles headquarters, which she just finished this week. The piece has multiple sections, with the centerpiece being a tunnel that erases the corner of a wall when viewed by the entrance leading to it.
We caught up with Gilmore to find out what it takes to create these often exacting and always laborious works, what it’s like working on them, the way necessity has driven her style over time, and how she ended up getting all these installation gigs.
How do you describe your art?
I think of it as, I’m just being curious about the world and then that’s what happens with these ideas. A lot of it is so geometric and simple. Little parts, like little lines, little grids, all these things kind of come together. So I think of it as just thinking about things in the world. I do a lot of reading, a lot of research, and then ideas that come about. They usually have to do with things about dimensions, things that we can see, can’t see; lately, a lot of things about perspective. So, a lot of exploration that has to do with the way we see and experience the world.
How long have you been making art?
For as long as I can remember! My parents are both pretty creative. Like, my mom was really into woodworking and my dad is a really talented illustrator so growing up we were always making things. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing something or working on some project. I didn’t really think about pursuing art seriously until I finished undergrad. About six years ago I moved out to LA. I’m from the rural Midwest so although I was really encouraged to make things growing up, being an artist professionally wasn’t really on my radar because I didn’t know how that works. I didn’t know anyone who did that and it seemed pretty lofty and impossible but once I kept making things then kind of paving my own way I began realizing that it was possible.
You work in a lot of different mediums – canvas, murals, sculpture, and installation. How do they all relate to each other and do you prefer one over another?
I come up with a concept or an idea first and then I’m like okay what’s the best way to represent this. Sometimes it might be a smaller drawing. Sometimes it’s on canvas, or one of the cut out pieces or maybe it’s a mural or maybe it’s 3D. I feel like they all connect in that way. They all start from the concept. And the concept is usually all in the same vein, dimensions, or the way that we see the world, or something made up of all these simple parts. So, even the installations that I’ve done, the 3D ones, I feel like they mimic what I’m making in 2D, that it’s always made up of simple parts coming together. Like, I did one recently that was black rubber cord that I hung in this curved shape that happens to gravity and I’ve been drawing it for the past four years so it was fun to explore it that way. I feel like ideas kind of circle and come back to me as I learn more and get more sophisticated in what I’m making so I can approach it in a new way.
Did you begin by drawing?
When I finished undergrad I was doing very different stuff. I was painting on canvas and cutting it up and sewing it back together. When I moved out to LA I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have a permanent place to live, so I was super limited by funds and transportation so I started drawing because it was something I could carry around with me and make my studio wherever I was. As my life here got more settled I started focusing more on 3D stuff. I was doing more installation art because I had the space and I had a gallery space that someone was giving me to show in so it was much easier to do that. When I finished grad school in 2014 I kind of had to go back to drawing again because I didn’t have a studio space to work in, nobody knew who I was, so I was just drawing again. I started using social media, a lot of Instagram. Drawings are super easy to post, people can get the idea, and then maybe purchase them. I feel like all of that has really been dictated buy resources and space, which I think happens to a lot of artists. I’m glad to be back in a mode where I can make bigger things and I’m getting commissions to do other projects and things that aren’t just confined to a small sheet of paper.
Do your murals start as smaller drawings and if so, how did you learn to scale them up?
I’ll draw them all on paper based on what the scale of the walls are and then I actually do a coordinate system and I’ll map it out and tape it out. This last one in particular was crazy. I initially thought that I was going to project it but because of the space that it was in I realized that wasn’t going to be possible. I just kind of measured out where all the lines needed to start and end and I used a laser to get the line straight. So basically I do a lot of calculations beforehand. A lot of my process is knowing where each of the points need to go, especially for this last one because I had to keep everything right because it was all about perspective.
Do you map things out on a computer or do you do everything by hand?
I do some stuff on the computer. Like for these shapes that I’ve been cutting out I’ve been drawing those in Illustrator because they have to get cut out by a safety router. For a mural I like drawing it by hand beforehand and then I’ll start working with it on the computer where I’ll may be alter it a little bit or Photoshop it onto the wall where it’s going to be so I can get a better idea of it. So, I do all the drawing for those by hand but then the second stage is working on it on the computer.
How do you decide what patterns you’re going to use? Whether it’s lines or little triangles?
When I first started I was working more with the little triangles because I was thinking more about undulating three-dimensional surfaces and now I feel like I’ve been simplifying it in a way by using just these lines. It’s interesting because I feel like it looks pretty complex but it’s made up of simple parts and I really, really like that it’s just lines. So I think it depends on what I’m trying to get across but I’ll probably be sticking with these lines for a while because I found a way to make them still represent 3D ideas like I was doing with the triangle grids before. I like using a mix of them both because I feel like the triangular grid is a little more organic. It’s a little more fluid and easier for me to do because it’s not as particular. It’s much more forgiving with mistakes. Things don’t have to be exact. I kind of like that mix of using the lines as well so it depends whether I’m trying to represent a flat surface or something that looks a little bit more bumpy.
It seems like a very repetitive process but also maybe a bit Zen?
Yes, it really is. This happens a lot when I’m working. I’ll just be working and doing my thing and then I realize, like I’ll see the part that I just did and I’ll realize I don’t even remember doing that. That happens quite a bit, where I’m working and I get in the zone because it is so repetitive and I guess I’ve got a lot of muscle memory going on because it’s been six years of intense drawing so I definitely get into a meditative state. I typically listen to music when I’m working, like a lot of repetitive music, not really songs but SoundCloud mixes that are like an hour or two hours long.
What kind of materials do you use?
For the walls, I’m using acrylic ink. I usually use acrylic markers and it’s really cool because they have replaceable little nibs on the end and they are refillable as well so it’s really nice because you don’t feel like you are wasting a lot of materials or creating a lot of trash. I use those as well on paintings too because you can find so many different nib sizes that create different sizes of lines. I’m not really much of a painter. It’s really nice to use paint but still feel like I’m drawing with these markers. If I’m ever working on paper it’s just pen and ink. And then for 3D stuff I’ve used aluminum screens, rubber cord, steel ball chains, a bunch of random stuff for that.
The Shape of the Air is really stunning.
That is my favorite thing I’ve ever made! It was like 5 years ago. I was in the middle of grad school but honestly, I think it’s one of the most sophisticated things I’ve made. I think I just really… I don’t want to say I got lucky but the materials were right, the space was right, everything was right. I’m really hoping as time goes on that I will be doing more 3D things like that. That gave me a lot of life and murals do too and as I move forward I’ve been thinking of ways to combine 3D things with murals and creating more environments for people to enter. I love that so much more than just a painting or a drawing.
You’ve done a Facebook residency and an Uber commission. How did you get hooked up with that?
Sometimes I get a commission through a gallery, like Uber. Other times people contact me directly. So like the Facebook one is awesome because they like working directly with artists and that was a really good experience. They found me. Someone who’s in charge of getting artists happened to know my work so I got lucky in that way, that someone knew my work and thought I’d be a good fit. I just love that a company that is so big is spending money and time and energy and realizes the importance of art in their workspace.
Sometimes it comes through an interior design company. They’re working on the interior of a space and they know my work so they reach out.
Are those types of murals site-specific?
Facebook was pretty site-specific because I knew where I wanted the different portals to go based upon the stairs you have to walk down and the corner and then this other part that had a gap in the wall between the column and the wall. I don’t want to ever make a mural that looks like it’s just thrown up on the wall arbitrarily. I really like taking into account the existing architecture and that was something that I liked about the Uber mural. It spans two floors and there’s this large staircase to the right of it that goes up to the second floor and so I kind of tried to parallel that. I wanted to kind of mimic the architecture a little bit. I like taking into account the space and making sure it looks right for the particular space.
You also did a project with Red Bull in Detroit?
It was an artist residency. Like Facebook, it’s so awesome that big companies recognize the importance of art. I was in Detroit for three months at the beginning of last year. Similarly they reached out to me because Matt Eaton, who curates and brings in the artists, knew of my work. It’s a great opportunity. They give you living space, they give you work space, and then at the end there’s a show. They do a good job of picking three artists whose aesthetic or concepts are similar so that the show looks good. It’s really nice because you learn from other artists. Detroit is a really cool city. So that was really nice to be there and see what’s going on. How it’s changing.