Wk 5- Artist Conversation- Katherine McRaven

Exhibition Information

Artist: Katherine McRaven

Exhibition: Insolitum

Media: Mixed Media; metal, 3-D printer, wood, etc.

Gallery: Dennis W. Dutzi Gallery

Website: None given, see Instagram

Instagram: Personal-@ravenoftheisle, For business-@spirit_rose_a_metre

About the Artist

Katherine McRaven is an artist as fascinating as her art pieces. Her sculptures range from delicate necklaces to sturdy metal bowls that may have taken hours to hammer into shape. Her interests are nothing expected of a hard-working metal smith, however. She most enjoys Mycology, or the study of various fungi. One can often find her on the campus of CSULB hunting in various dark, humid corners for unique mushrooms or cup fungi to inspire her artwork. Katherine currently is an undergraduate at CSULB hoping to gain a BA in sculpture. Though her major is in an art field, her hobbies go beyond. Katherine is a lover of science. She spends much of her free time diving into the world of marine biology and anatomy. These often inspire her work, as is the case with her favorite piece, an unnamed necklace with blue-green enamel hexagons. Katherine says the speckled pattern from over-firing the glass reminds her of bacteria. Katherine works on her science-inspired pieces late at night, between 12 am and 6 am, when she can have her work space free of most other people. In these long, dark hours she works while listening to one of her favorite musicians: David Bowie. Katherine especially enjoys his album Black Star for its jazzy, experimental sound. To give her the energy to stay up late, Katherine has become an expert in all types of tea. It is her drink of choice above coffee.

As for her latest exhibit, Katherine was very eager to explain every facet of what goes into the metal working and enameling that are heavily featured there. She described each detail of how the metal is heated, what tools are required, what metals are the most malleable, and how each piece must be carefully finished and sealed to prevent staining of clothing or skin. She was especially informative about a few pieces that resembled opaque crystals. For these she first started on a computer, using some basic programming to design the unique angles and shapes. Then the design was put into a 3-D printer which resulted in the final sculpture. Katherine’s pieces seem straightforward enough, but there is a more complex, conflicting message behind them. Katherine was exploring a number of ideas in her work, which I will elaborate on more fully in another section. But I will give what is to be taken away from her art. Katherine said it is all about opposing ideas. That her art tries to blend the seemingly uncombinable. Things like ancient and contemporary art, inorganic and organic forms, and science and artwork. She wanted to show how these are not as separate as one might think.

Formal Analysis

Katherine’s works are incredibly varied in materials used. Most are made with either pure metal or a foundation of metal. They vary in type of metal, thickness, and patina. To one of her works, the necklace resembling bacteria, she added a blue-green enamel. This color, normally found in living organisms, gave the necklace an organic quality. This color jarred somewhat with the shapes present in it; ordered hexagons with straight, precise lines.  To another piece with silhouetted mushrooms she added a thick, dark patina. This gave the piece a quiet, twilight feel. I found this one of the more organic works. The cut-outs were rough and looked imperfectly forged by human hands. The surface of the metal was covered in large indents from hammering, and made the surface look like shallow water. Another work was not so rough. It was a series of triangles arranged on the wall in no particular order. The pattern could be described as birds loosely flocking.  The effect was much less pleasant though. The angles seemed to compete with one another for space. They didn’t flow well together, giving the work a feeling of disharmony. Also, many of the triangles used intensely acute angles. This, combined with the surgical sharpness most displayed, gave a disquieting feel to the piece. It was like looking at a wall of small scalpels that could fly out at any moment towards the viewer. One of my personal favorites was a small metal piece that had a fascinating story behind it’s creation. Katherine told me that it was formed using a cuttlefish bone as a mold. This gave the small, delicate piece a heavily ridged surface. I thought it looked much like a bismuth crystal. It was an interesting combination of organic and inorganic. With metal being mined from the earth and cuttlefish bone being grown in a living organism.

Content Analysis

Science and art, ancient and contemporary, organic and inorganic. Conflicting ideas welded into one simple piece of art. This is the heart of Katherine’s work. In each piece she strives to bring two themes together that should clash, but don’t. In her enameled necklace, Katherine juxtaposed the soft natural green glass with harsher, geometric forms. But the overall effect was pleasing. She also combined the natural with the artificial. She used computer programs sent to a 3-D printer to print plastic crystals, structures usually formed only in the depths of the earth.This also brings ancient and modern themes into her work. Crystals of precious stones can take thousands of years to develop, while 3-D printers are one of the most modern art tools we have. Few even call them such since they are so new. Katherine’s goal in bringing together conflicting art styles is to show how harmony can still be attained, and perhaps the styles are not so separate as most would believe.

Part of the essence of Katherine’s work is that many of her pieces are difficult to craft by hand. Some require a computer, as in the 3-D printed crystal. Katherine hand codes her structures with a mathematical base, but the final work is brought into reality by the printer. She brings up an old question; where is the line for art drawn? If art is crafted by human hands, then is her work art since it uses so many things that are not human hands? To her, her work is art. Her rationalization is that none of her creations could have come into being without one key factor: her. Katherine is the one who controls the objects to make her final sculpture, making it her art.

Synthesis/ My Experience

Of the three artists I have had the pleasure of meeting, Katherine is by far the one I developed the fastest connection with. Not to say that her art is in any way better, it is just that I felt the greatest attraction to this art personally.  I have always had a deep passion for both science and art. As a child I was fed a constant diet of facts about the deep space, rare diseases, spineless organisms, and everything in between by my dedicated grandfather. He fostered my love for the world around me, and this is what I see in Katherine’s work. I see a passion for the strange and the unexplored. As a young girl I was so often alone in my love for the stranger sides of the world; insects that only live a single day as an adult, organisms that feed on the chemicals spewing from deep ocean vents, black holes larger than the sun. These were things I found my greatest joy in, and they inspired much of my artwork. I continue to base many of my works heavily on science, which is why I was so intrigued by Katherine’s exhibit, Insolitum. It was like seeing an exhibit that I could have made, if I had been a bit more artistic and more interested in sculpture as a medium. Many see art and science as having little or no connection. Insolitum means unusual, strange, or uncommon, which I think many would find this exhibit is. But I have to disagree. I think science and art are deeply connected. They inspire each other, and I was glad to find an artist capable of showing my unique position in such an impressive and complimenting medium.




One thought on “Wk 5- Artist Conversation- Katherine McRaven

  1. Fantastic writing Hannah!

    So great that you found such a powerful connection to Katherine and her work.

    I too think Art & Science are connected. For me, “The Artist” and “The Scientist” are some of the few in our culture whose job it is to Ask Questions. Their methodology may differ, but they both look at things as ask “why?”

    There are so many other roles in our culture, Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, Social Worker, Public Policy Analyst, and more, whose job is not really “to ask questions”, rather it is “to find answers”. That’s a pretty huge responsibility! But too often, both as a nation and as individuals, we rush off to solve things, to find answers, without spending enough time asking questions first.

    I love that Al Gore named his film on Climate Change “An Inconvenient Truth.” Often the questions that Artists & Scientists ask are “Inconvenient.” It would be so much easier if they just didn’t ask those questions. But you can’t keep your head in the sand forever. And shooting the messenger doesn’t solve the problem.

    Thanks for the great insights and beautiful writing Hannah!


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