Stephanie Levin: In conversation with Kathryn Dunlevie
SL: Has your background - place of birth and places you lived – influenced your decision to pursue photography/art and possibly influenced your art today?
KD: I was born in Atlanta and spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house in Savannah. From an early age I was fascinated by all the history there: material, anecdotal and architectural.
Later, when I moved to New York and was faced with all its glorious abundance, I had my first brush with real visual overload. Eventually, I discovered that the camera let me edit the plethora of stimuli down to the images that I found meaningful, and that collage and painting provided ways of weaving them into compositions that seemed to make sense.
SL: How did living in various countries and cities influence you personally and your art and evolution as an artist?
KD: I think living in so many different locales had a lot to do with my curiosity about different cultures and their histories, as well as with the sense of place a lot of my work has. I’m also a fan of narrative, or at least a fan of art offering a starting point from which one can create one’s own narrative. Moving so often may also have encouraged my appreciation of change and variety, which might explain why my process varies so much from project to project.
SL: Could you discuss your trajectory or path and its expansion from your college days to your art studio and work today.
KD: After I graduated I spent time in Boston, Madrid, San Francisco and Houston - teaching in bilingual schools, taking the odd course in printmaking, painting or photography, and showing my work occasionally. The big change came when I moved to Silicon Valley and joined a critique group of serious professional artists.
Over time, I’ve been fortunate enough to show throughout the US and internationally and to have my work written about, for which I am immensely grateful. My favorite thing about my ‘trajectory’ is that I’ve felt free to keep trying new things and have continued to come up with ideas that surprise me.
SL: Was there a catalyst from photography, film, painting and collage, all of which you have worked in or studied? And do all these mediums tie into your current work or reflect on the work?
KD: Film has been a huge influence – the magic of it! The way anything can be presented as plausible…
To create a sense of coexisting times, places, and modes of consciousness in a two dimensional medium, I’ve turned to photography to capture the images, then to collage to organize them. Finally, to pull it all together and create a coherent composition, I’ve used painting, layering, and ironically, ‘fracturing’ the photographic elements.
SL: On your website, I noticed the themes of disconcerting spaces, and spatial and temporal inconsistencies appear to be a thread throughout your archives. Could you talk a little about these themes, and what influenced them or how they evolved?
KD: The idea of temporal anomalies had their beginning in my childhood obsession with history. The spatial weirdness grew out of conversations with my husband about contemporary physics, string theory and alternative dimensions. The ideas make so much sense to me. Having them with me on a conscious level, as well as on an unconscious level, always ends up influencing my work.
SL: Much of your work appears to touch on themes of either the individual’s sense or reality, our fractured landscape, and of course, space and time. Each piece appears so different at first glance, yet are they? How did you come up with the themes, compositions, as well as your creative technique and eye for what we may not always see?
KD: Though all my work deals with our relative sense of reality and apparent anomalies in space and time, each body of work is different from the others. The genesis of each new series is either a tangential off-shoot of the previous one or a completely muse-driven surprise to me. As to the things that we may not see in our reality, they emerge unpredictably as I work on a piece.
SL: Why Palo Alto and not New York or Paris in today’s artistic and photographic world?
KD: I came to Palo Alto because my husband got a job in tech and it’s been an amazing time to be here. There are brilliant, creative people from all over the world doing all sorts of things. And it’s been fun – plus easier all the time – to keep up with what’s going on in other places.
SL: What were some of the bumps or setbacks you have encountered in your career and how did you persevere through those bumps or setbacks?
KD: It’s often tough, after a big show that has taken years to produce, to get back into the studio and come up with something new. I’ve found that if I give myself permission to take a ‘mini-sabbatical’ and the pressure is off, an unexpected inspiration will show up.
SL: I’m a firm believer that art reflects culture and community and often has a historical value. Could you talk a bit about this within your photography and collage work?
KD: In the spirit of the moment, I’m treating imagery from everywhere as raw material. I mix my photographs with elements from popular as well as historical sources and come up with illogical spaces, bizarre entities and strange scenarios. Combining relics from our communal pictorial archive with my contemporary images, I’m hoping to echo the dazzling juxtapositions we encounter every day.
SL: I found the beautiful photo on the homepage, of your website “Our Lady of the Harbor”. My eye was immediately drawn to the woman floating above a large swath of water and a cityscape, rather than the landscape. Could you talk about this visual, and are women a common theme or thread through your camera lens?
KD: Thanks so much! In my series “Women of Wonder”, women feature as strange, inspiring beings in enigmatic situations. Visitors from other realities, they remind me of archaic goddesses or the Muses of Greek mythology. I’m excited to be showing this work at Hooks-Epstein Galleries in Houston for FotoFest 2020.