Cathleen Klibanoff is a modern sculpture and mixed media artist based out of Asheville, North Carolina. Her sculpture “Othello” is featured on the cover of the 15th issue of Mithila Review.
Ishita Singh: Tell us a little about your creative development of an idea. What is your thought process from ideating to creating a particular piece?
Cathleen Klibanoff: It’s like waking up mid dream and not really knowing how you got there but knowing it made no sense even if you could remember. An idea for a collection is always associated with a strong feeling. I usually can connect that feeling to something I’ve been thinking about or that I’m currently experiencing. But it doesn’t work in reverse — thinking to creating, always feeling to creating. There isn’t a linear path from mustard seed to masterpiece! I don’t do any initial drawings… it just isn’t the way I come to terms with the vision. I’m fairly headstrong and like to jump into the deep end as soon as I get to the pool. I collect reference photos and then begin sculpting in clay. After reaching a point where I feel exhausted by that process, I make a silicone mold followed by a resin casting. I attach the resin cast to a wood panel using a fiberglass material.
IS: You’re a self-taught artist. How does this inform your practice?
CK: Being a self-taught artist pre-disposes me to suffer with self-doubt without credentials as defense, but it is also very liberating thanks to the absence of “rules”. As Robert Frost says in “The Road Not Taken,” I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but it was the only way I knew to find my unique voice.
IS: Your art brings together an assemblage of genres and materials, of varying registers and colours. You blend romance, science-fiction, mystery and comedy. How do you choose the medium to express your artistic vision?
CK: My artistic visions, as you referred to them, are like Trojan Horses. When they arrive on the shore of consciousness, there is a breaking open of the walnut and out spills the intention. Sometimes that intention is fraught with frustration and anger and other times with great sadness and compassion. Rarely does the “horse” deliver whimsy, but when it does, it is a welcome respite. Regardless, it changes the landscape of my studio. I don’t resist the revolution. I do attempt to stay grounded and organize the chaos. I become the conduit drawing from the ocean of the subconscious mind and distilling the water so that it is suitable for human consumption. Portraits are both messenger and message.
IS: How do you balance your love for textures and imperfection with your vision as an artist? Is there a process to achieving this imperfection?
CK: The tipping point is where imperfection meets your absolute yes. In order to recognize what your “yes” looks like, you must trust the value of “good enough”. Wabi Sabi is the celebration of that juncture, appreciating beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.
IS: Sculpting is such a physical and intimate art form. Has your practice changed during these touchless times? Has your understanding of touch and intimacy changed?
CK: Sculpting is extremely intimate. I describe it as composing a love letter with sign language. I am grateful for my Italian heritage which encouraged me to talk with my hands. During these touchless times I have not changed my definition of intimacy as I feel touching another person is actually less intimate than being voluntarily vulnerable. Social distancing actually challenges us to dig deeper and tap into the richness of intimacy wherein vulnerability is a strength not a weakness.
IS: In your artist statement, you mention that you are fascinated with the chemistry of humankind and nature. Could you tell us a little more about this chemistry and how it reveals itself in your work?
CK: I am fascinated by the dance between man and nature as they strive to strike a symbiotic relationship that serves them both equally. Bacteria in the gut, when in balance, equates to great health. But when it is out of balance, due to lack of conscious food choices and environmental toxins, the bacteria behave parasitically. Of course, there are many examples of man overriding nature and harming the planet in the process. My desire in creating art is to plant flags in the spirit of mutualism where man and nature are in partnership. I represent that balance by incorporating found objects into my sculptures. My wildlife sculptural portraits pay tribute to Mother Earth’s stewards.
IS: In your Auspicious Beasts series, the organic and the mythical co-exist to help man change and transform; their “magic working in unison”. Could you tell us more about these auspicious beasts and why is their work important?
CK: The Auspicious Beast Collection tells of a mermaid who enlists her superhero-legendary-creature-friends in her mission to save man from self-destruction. I was using this story to share the spiritual significance that animals possess and how they can serve as teachers. For example, elephants represent strength and wisdom and are referenced in sacred texts both religious and secular. Elephants are champions of family and solidarity of herd. The people of the United States are divided. Recently there has been a spate of hate crimes with crippling fall-out. We would do well to call upon the elephant in these upcoming months as we heal our nation.
IS: Ancients Unearthed is the retrospective of your life with theatrical circus-like overtones. Why does the circus hold such mystique for you? And could you tell us more about your pieces “S. Punk and Queen” and “Othello”?
CK: I am not unique in my artistic fascination with the circus. The red tent is a vast envelope filled with phantasmagoric visions. Many artists including the greats like Chagall (Le Cirque) and Picasso (Rose Period) captured the mystique of the circus. The circus is a great study of light and darkness.
S. Punk and Queen were Siamese twins. They were the circus’ featured sideshow until Punk fell in love with the bearded lady and needed more privacy. Their inner magic propelled them in opposite directions upon separation. Queen ascended her throne of power and prestige while S.Punk nestled into the shadows of counterculture.
Othello plays the part of the circus magic act but in truth is an ordained shaman. He is my representation of yin and yang -that state of mutualism where man and nature are in harmony. He personifies Nirvana. He does succumb to earthly temptations when he becomes mesmerized by Mable The Lion Tamer. Just goes to demonstrate, nobody’s perfect… even in the Greatest Show on Earth!