Artist: Kathyrn McTaggart
Kathryn Frances McTaggart [they/she] is an interdisciplinary artist based in Montreal. Their practice is concerned with the intersections of sublimity and abjection, especially that invoked by the perceived feminine body. They explore this through materiality, playing with painting and drawing alongside abstract textile and fibres work.
The recent work of hers is an exploration of the potential of the canvas, investigating notions of nostalgia through manipulations of the surface, symbolism and atmosphere.
Her practice also engages with representations of flesh through soft sculpture, using materiality to invoke physical presence. There is an element of inherent playfulness across their interaction with the materia, where the intuitive nature of their process informs both the conceptual and figurative elements of their practice.
Kathryn is currently attending Concordia University’s Studio Art program.
Below is an interview with our artist of the month.
Abby: So thanks so much for being with me here today. We have our second Artist of the Month interview. Do you want to introduce yourself and maybe say, pronouns name and any website or Instagram stuff where we can take a look at your work?
Kathryn: Yeah, for sure. My name is Kathryn McTaggart. I'm an interdisciplinary artist, art student at Concordia University in Montreal. And you can find me on Instagram @kathrynfmct. Kathryn with a K and a Y. And no website as of yet, but it's in the works.
Rennie Taylor, Kathryn and Abby, 2023.
A: Awesome. So let's just jump right into it, I guess. I guess we'll start kind of at the beginning of your art journey, or whatever you want to call it. So how did that kind of come about for you? How did you realize that this is kind of what you wanted to pursue? And were your parents supportive? Or what was the kind of dynamic there?
K: I will say, I mean, as any child, I think we're very much encouraged to create art at a young age. And it's just a lot of people don't continue that. And I was lucky enough where I think I was supported by a lot of my teachers, even from kindergarten, I have a very clear memory of a drawing, I did have two dinosaurs. My teacher told me to go to the principal's office to show it to the principal. And he gave me a bunch of stickers. And I will say that was the first time I realized maybe I'm good at it. And I think that just kind of carried with me, it was the only thing that really made sense to me, throughout youth growing up with that, and my mom was always very supportive. I applied to a lot of visual arts high schools that I never got into, gave up art for a year out to protest, and then realize that there was nothing else I really cared about more.
A: That's great. And so kind of leading off of that point. Was there ever like a moment in time or, or a kind of point where you were like, officially, like labeling yourself as an artist where you start considering yourself like; This is who I am, this is at the core, like a moment where you're like, introducing yourself to people who like, yeah, I'm an artist, you know.
K: I think that's it's really hard to self identify as an artist, I think we all have a certain amount of like impostor syndrome, for sure. And especially as a student, or as a student who took a lot of time, not in visual arts courses over COVID, and everything. It was very hard for me to feel like I deserved the title of artist, and it kind of was something that other people would use to label me. And then when I realized that other people saw me that way, it kind of gave me the confidence to refer to myself in that manner. I think in high school, especially there is a very small group of people that were very concentrated on art and visual art and contemporary art practices. And I was definitely one of them. So maybe then I had a bit of the reputation as an artist. And it's only I think, in the past year and a half that I would confidently go up and be like, okay, yes, I am a visual artist, conceptual artist, life artist, you know, you see the art and everything kind of thing. Yeah.
Kathryn McTaggart, The Twins, acrylic on canvas, 2022.
A: Cool. And I guess maybe we can reframe this as necessary. But like, maybe we can go into your kind of ways of working, or what does a work day look for you as an artist or as someone who's, you know, producing work?
K: Oh, it's very much just getting out of my room and going to the studio and working, even when it's not on a greater project that has some kind of end goal, or a very purposeful act of working in the studio, I think my way of working is very much as being there. And kind of using that space to think. I think a lot of my time spent working is just spent thinking. And a usual day for me in the studio is a lot of staring at what I'm doing. And then taking pictures of what I'm doing so that when I go home, I can continue staring at what I'm doing. It's a bit of, on and off between me and the work, I think.
A: And do you kind of stick with one project and see it all the way through? Or are you working on many things?
K: Oh I think I get distracted very easily. Or I like the opportunity to switch between projects and works because you c
A: Yeah. And do you find that the pieces that you're working on congruently? Like they influence each other? Or they kind of relate to one another? Or kind of converse with one another in a way? How would you think that happens?
K: Well, I think because I work. Not intentionally thematically, but because I'm interested in the same concepts and themes, they come up recurringly, across whatever I'm working on. So there's that kind of tie, that keeps everything cohesive, in a sense, even if not, in the visual sense. And the conceptual sensors, kind of a common thread.
A: And is that something that you kind of think about actively? Or is it something that just kind of happens more on a subconscious level?
K: I think I used to think about it more actively, especially once, last time I was building a portfolio, I think there was a lot of intentional, like tying things together and connecting and really just drawing the lines between things. And as I've continued to work, in practice, it's a lot more natural. And it's not something that I'm consciously doing. It's more the fact that I am concerned with the same themes and symbols. And it just they find their way into everything that I do. And that includes like the artistic practice.
A: Well, also, because that common thread is you.
K: It's me! I'm the one making the work. So in that sense, they're all connected.
A: And yeah, I'm really interested in the, I feel like you have a really strong sense of materiality in your practice, which I think is really interesting. And I guess maybe you could break it down and talk about your relationship to these materials? How did you find interest in them? And then maybe how you started to blend them together? And also like, how does your interest in materiality, impact your work and your practice at large.
Kathryn McTaggart, Eighteen Stitches (in the Future), acrylic on canvas, human hair, nylon stockings, acrylic yarn, wool roving, polyester batting, soy beans, ceramic figure charm, 2023.
K: So I definitely became more concerned with the material. Over the past three years, I think, branching out beyond the flat surface was big for me, you start to feel limited, in a sense, and I just felt like the traditional surface could really be expanded on it. So I was worried I was concerned a lot with the body and the surface as a kind of body. And by altering the surface through different material practices. I've done like quilting work, and a lot of crossing fiber arts with traditional painting practices, and drawing practices, where I am, I guess, I'm just interested in involving my body in the process of the work as much as possible. And so when you are concerned with the materiality of the piece, you are involving your body in building that materiality. Like, if I'm pleading a canvas, I am very much so intimately involved, even before I start painting the canvas. Like the surface itself is kind of an art piece of its own. And that's a really good question. And I think there's so much to talk about there were I'm not even sure where to start.
A: I know you also have some kind of more sculptural fiber pieces with the, you know, a lot of soft sculptures or, or things within them. And maybe you could talk about how that came about. The...
K: Vessels? Yeah, yeah, I think that started a while ago, maybe in high school, we did a ceramics project, and the project was just create a vessel. And I think I got caught up in that word, vessel and what that really meant to me as like, someone who believes that we kind of hold so much inside of us. And once I started exploring fibers and textiles, and again, I've always just been so concerned with the body and flesh and even like the abject flesh, and really these ideas of ejection and sublimity as materialized within the human body as well as like any conceptual body. That's where these kind of polyester nylon, soft sculptures kind of emerged from there was really trying to bring, like the physical innards of the human to, like a physical space. And I think there's a push and pull there with those kinds of works because a lot of people find it a little unnerving to look at. Especially once you put all the beans in there, it's, it's very, there's a physicality to it that I'm very attracted to.
Kathryn McTaggart, Solar Fever, acrylic on canvas, 2022.
A: Is that something that you've always kind of been attracted to or into or kind of being really tactile? Was that something you kind of experienced a lot?
K: Very much, I think a lot of the process is just like involving myself in it as much as possible. And I'm a very fidgety person naturally and to, I don't know, to involve, like the hands, the body, in anything that I can is what I'm trying to do and a lot of my work and specifically with the flesh vessels, it was really expanding upon this idea of like the grotesque and the feminine that I was very interested in, like back in high school, and we're continuing to explore that. Maybe a lesser gendered lens now. And more just the idea of the grotesque and the idea of the sublime and those kind of holding hands together.
A: Yeah. Is there any specific like references that you draw from in that? Like the anatomical venus? Do you have any references like that, or specific like things that you draw from?
K: There are a couple, I do have some artistic influences that I think have informed those practices like Ambera Wellman's work, oh, I should have done my research. Trying to think of names off the top of my head, there's a lot of like, interdisciplinary textile artists that I follow online that kind of do these tapestry works, and soft sculpture works, where it's kind of an involvement of all these different materials and this kind of fleshiness. I think it's the flesh that is the common thread there. Other than that, well... A great influence, actually, towards that work for me is I suffered a very traumatic hand injury in high school, that resulted in me not only seeing the inside of my hands and the fatty tissue, but touching it. And I think maybe that is where a lot of this is coming from, because that is the very tactile sensation of seeing and touching something that you're not really meant to. But that is also innately a part of you. And everyone I remember I was walking in, I'm holding my hand together, I'm touching the fatty tissue, and everyone is repulsed. And I'm repulsed. But there was something kind of beautiful about that, like holding the self together and seeing what makes up the self in the body. So definitely, I think that fleshiness is definitely translates to my work.
A: Yeah. Well, it's like, it's almost this, this intimacy that shouldn't be that shouldn't ever exist, but it that it is kind of precious to you because it's something that is so rare.
K: And then again, like the healing process of the wounds and the stitching together of the skin, and the scabbing process and the puss and the leakiness of the body, and it's like if you think like Donna Haraway. Cyborg is a lot about like this leakiness and subversion of like, what is the body and what's not the body and the monstrous feminine? And I, there's a connection there. Yeah, so I'll show you the pictures sometime, they're pretty gnarly.
A: Yeah, totally. And just to kind of leave it on, kind of where you're going and looking back on the past. You know, since you are kind of closing up your undergraduate experience.
K: Hopefully someday.
A: Well, you're on the end side of your undergraduate experience. So I guess maybe taking you imagining yourself outside of the university as an institution, how do you see your practice progressing? And and what are your kind of thoughts, looking back on the experience and the years that you've had at Concordia?
Kathryn McTaggart, Eighteen Stitches (in the Future) (detail), acrylic on canvas, human hair, nylon stockings, acrylic yarn, wool roving, polyester batting, soy beans, ceramic figure charm, 2023.
K: Let me collect my thoughts. Moving forward, is something that I don't think about in very concrete terms. I see myself continuing to practice and engage in my artistic practice because it's so innately a part of my way of living, and my way of thinking and even when I'm not when I'm taking time off from actively creating, there's this innate sense of art and seeing art and that kind of sensibility and everything. So moving forward, there's no way that my practice is not going to be with me in the future. But I don't see it in a very concrete sense of pursuing a specific career at this point, right. I think that's also probably a product of me just being stuck in the university setting for the prolonged amount of time that I have been. And it's almost like I've been incubating for these five to six years. And once the incubation is done, I'm not sure what will come of that... left to cry myself to death, something I don't know, I see myself working forwards. I just don't have a goal currently, I think, I think the goal was always just to be close to art, and ideally, make a living off of it somehow, or, or ideally, really just have my art touch people and communicate with people and engage with people. And I think my time at Concordia is really, let me see how much that's possible. Yeah. And I've been able to make amazing connections with people, and just the community. And to kind of see the way that art can continue in the future or in the future of art. I'm definitely interested in like artists run spaces, and really community based work and less the institutional art market. I think, entering university, the goal was to be a part of that greater art market. And as I've grown up and learned, that's really not a space that I really want to be a part of as it is now. And I understand that things aren't going to change unless people enter the space and change it. But it's, it's an extension of capitalism, there's not a lot of heart behind it anymore. It's a lot of investment. So I think, from the future of my practice, I think is community based and about that kind of innate human connection through art.
A: And I think that's, that's really lovely to hear because that's, you know, what we're trying to do here at [Un]promptu as well as just to be like, really just like, community based and, and sharing resources and knowledge and being very open and honest and direct about, like, kind of the realities of being an artist. And kind of what it takes.
K: Yeah, and supporting each other through that. Yeah. Because I don't think there's there isn't art world without that relationship between artists.
A: And even, you know, you don't have to get into the art world and be like, I'm going to dismantle it from the inside out. A lot of times, it's not that simple. But you know, like, getting involved in community based practices. And you know, there's some great artists run spaces in Montreal, you know, tons of them and different collectives doing really awesome work. So I'm very happy that you could come and and share some thoughts and hear about your practice more, really a pleasure.
K: I'm very happy to be to be invited. So pleasure of mine.
A: Well, we'll go gotta check out any new work on your Instagram, @kathrynfmct
A: And we're excited to see what you do next. Thank you so much.