Death Becomes Her. The Intimacies of Death. Death is Healing.
“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.” Artist Katherine Chavez – who prefers Kat – dives into healing, self-care, and what it means to be intimate with death through painting and printmaking. A native of Los Angeles, Kat is in her third year as an undergrad student at Brown University with a focus in Art History (Latin American Art) and Visual Art (Printmaking). In LA, Kat jumped into the art world working as an intern at The Box Gallery, Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, and NOW Art LA in Los Angeles, California. She spent five weeks as an artist assistant for Soy Artista Youth Arts Program, working with youth ages 5-24 in printmaking and photography during the summer. Soy Artista is a program based at Self-Help Graphics & Art in East LA. “While working with Soy Artista, it was great to be in a space where the community can come in and think about what is meaningful to them through art making; also learning that creating art is not something just for a few people but for everyone.”
As the daughter of artists, her father a sound engineer and mother who studied dance in college, she grew up creating art. She grappled with the idea of what it meant to be an artist and whether she could apply that label to herself. “I think growing up I never really saw myself as an artist because I never thought I was the best drawer or the most incredible painter. It wasn’t until I moved to Rhode Island, when I took an art class which I really enjoyed. But then I would see other people who were much talented than me, and I thought ok, I can be interested in the arts but I don’t think I’m going to be an artist.” While trying on her new label, Kat continued to struggle with finding her place in the community: “I only really found my place there since leaving California, part of that is because I didn’t really discover myself as an artist until I got to Rhode Island; so now when I return to LA I’m finally able to engage with communities that I didn’t think I could.” Growing up, Kat was fascinated by a variety of art disciplines, and was drawn to the possibility of learning how to make the pieces she loved. Her interest in learning went into overdrive when she took a printmaking class taught by Lara Henderson. For Kat, the fascination with printmaking was not only the process, but linked to this history of printmaking in the Chicano community. As a Mexican-American, the heritage of this artform is important to her culture and artwork. “Printmaking was something I latched onto – it has my heart. I think it’s because it’s based on this kind of not being focused on just making one object but many. It’s not limited, a multitude of things can be shared.”
Through her printmaking and painting Kat Chavez has used her artwork as an exploration of healing, “the repetitive process of printmaking is therapeutic to me, so is painting but sometimes I feel more drained putting all my energy into a single thing.” One of her professors at Brown suggested she submit her work to an open call for a show at AS220’s resident gallery, ¿Se Aculillo? | Are you scared?, curated by Benjamin Lundberg Torres Sánchez. It was month long multi-discipline show exploring a variety of artist’s reckonings with fear. “This was the first time I ever submitted my artwork, having my first two pieces in a gallery and it was a validating experience for me.”
Hasta Luego (2016), a crafted box and print project, explored her relationship with her grandparents who passed away before she was born. This piece challenged the idea of celebration versus sadness in death, to contemplate what it means to have kinship with family in the wake of their passing, and losing the last generation of family who spoke Spanish fluently. “In making this project it was kind of like; how do I get to know these people [my grandparents] that I never knew and can I know them as being dead – how can I grow to know despite never really knowing them. It made me feel like death is the end of a physical form and not the emotional or spiritual form. Not sure how to describe it, but I definitely feel an emotional presence from my grandparents.”
Kat’s interest with becoming intimate with death and a celebration of those who’ve passed on connects with her culture and heritage, especially Dia de Los Muertos – a Mexican holiday which focuses on the remembrance of family and friends who’ve died and to help support their journey to the afterlife. She believes it’s important to engage with death because it is an inevitable thing, “I’m very interested in flushing out what exactly death is and one of the main things I say is, I want people to be intimate with death. Lots of us are afraid of it and some are not. I’m not at peace with it but I think in creating work around it and asking people to kind of think about it, I am seeking to find a way to be at peace with death. My artwork is an exploration of healing.” Kat will be graduating from Brown University in May of 2019 and her hopes are to work in community-based art practices that look at art more of a healing practice than any business element.
“The focus is healing and art can do that.”