Kayla Mohammadi: Interview
Kayla Mohammadi is a painter based in Boston, MA. An exhibition of her work was recently on display at Caldbeck Gallery, Rockland ME and she will be part of a three person exhibtion at Aucocisco Gallery, Portland, ME opening September 14 and continuing through October 18, 2011 and a group show titled Beyond Measure at C2 Fine Art, St. Petersburg, FL from September 9 – November 1, 2011.
PT: What is your background and how did you come to be a painter?
KM: I grew up in San Leandro, California in the 1970s. In the 80s my family moved to Olympia, Washington. My parents immigrated to the United States from two very different parts of the world. My mom is from Finland and my father is from Iran. It made for an interesting mix of cultures and ideas.
We didn't have a lot of things, but there was definitely an appreciation for Scandinavian design as well as Persian rugs and artifacts. Our house had an interesting mix of these two different countries. As a family we travelled to Iran and to Finland. This opened my eyes to so much at such a young age. I was very lucky.
As a child I loved art. Especially color. My mom once said I could pick out a Marimekko bedspread for my room. It took me a week to decide what color I wanted. I still have that bedspread!
However, we didn't have any paintings. If someone told me when I was younger that I would be a painter when I grew up, I would have thought they were joking. When I was young, the idea of becoming an artist was a distant one and the life of an artist seemed unattainable.
My interest as a child was to become an independent and happy person. For me this meant studying business in college. The idea of studying art didn't seem plausible. I received a business degree from University of Washington in Seattle. However, as soon as I got out of college and found a job, I began taking art classes in the evening or in the weekend. At first they were at someone’s studio, then I eventually got another degree in painting from the University of Washington and then an MFA in painting from Boston University. The degrees gave me the confidence and the ambition to become a painter.
PT: In a recent review Britta Konau described your work in terms of "representational suggestiveness" noting that "individual forms in the paintings themselves intimate that Mohammadi works from observation. However, these allusions to the three-dimensional world of objects and spaces feel more like afterimages of the observed." Can you describe your painting process? Do you work from life - abstracting from observation, from memory, or both?
KM: My paintings start from observation. I use seeing as a way to structure my painting. I can always go back to observation in my work if the paintings aren’t working.
I have numerous ways of making a painting. Some come out of drawings that I have done from a landscape or a still life setup. I also create collages and these often serve as models for paintings. Photographs are a great source for imagery as well.
PT: Mark making seems more prominent in your recent work. Discrete marks often register simultaneously as pattern, as location, as description, as air. Can you discuss how mark functions in your work?
KM: Over the last couple of years, I've started to use other materials besides the paintbrush to make marks. These include a brayer and packaging materials. I find that this has opened up my work in new and surprising ways.
PT: You have referenced paintings from the past in your work from Velasquez to Persian Miniatures, in particular numerous studies after Las Meninas. What interests you about that painting, do you see it differently over time, and what other works or artists serve as touchstones in your work?
KM: I've been to the Prado in Madrid many times. The painting Las Meninas by Velasquez has always been a painting that has stopped me in my tracks. It's a beautiful painting and it is so complex. Not only is Velasquez's technique amazing, there is the psychology of the people in the room as well. You feel like you are there in real time and can sense what each person in the painting is thinking, even the dog. But of course, I'm not a princess, nor am I a court painter, so I can’t really take Velasquez's models and make it my own. I can take his space, which I have painted about 20 times. Another painting that has been equally informative is Matisse's Red Studio. Both paintings are a continuous source of inspiration.
In 1994, I travelled on my own to Europe. In Paris I went to the Matisse exhibition at the Pompidou. I found his work so exciting. It was the first time I had seen so many of his paintings in person. They were large and not what I expected. The colors were bold and his brush marks were deliberate and confident. I remember thinking that I wanted to have a conversation with Matisse through my own painting. I have found this to be a worthwhile venture, and I still continue with this conversation today.
Of course there are other artists that I have looked to a few to note are: Picasso, James Castle, Gees Bends Quilts, African and Aboriginal artists. I have started to look more at modern architecture that includes: Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaus.
My peers are a great source of inspiration as well. I love going to gallery shows and visiting artist’s studios. It's wonderful to find a common interest with other artists.
PT: Certain places, real or imagined, seem to reappear in your work. Are they real places or imagined? What draws you back to painting them?
KM: Most places are filtered from events, looking at art and from my travels.
PT: Several of your paintings have political titles or titles that note political events. Does politics influence your painting in any way, either in your process or choice of subject matter?
KM: I have a real concern for the political situation that I exist in. I like to listen to NPR in my studio and I enjoy it when what is happening in the world has a conversation with my painting.
The "Thank you Obama" painting was created not long after Barak Obama was elected to be our president and I felt proud once again to be an American. This painting is 7' x 5 1/2' and it is Red, White and Blue.
I was lucky to have been able to go to his inauguration. It was a day I will never forget.
More information about Kayla's work is available at her website http://kaylamohammadi.com/