Pam Kravetz is a visual artist and arts educator, a mom, teacher, maker, do-er, and connector. She is a problem solver, supporter and lover of Cincinnati. She's ultimately a story teller. Her work changes media in order to tell stories that she needs to tell. She was a ceramicist, and eventually left it because it wasn't telling the story that she wanted to tell.
Pam is most noted for her hand stitched larger than life puppets, and her ability to make mobile many different media. Her involvement in the Cincinnati arts community (on any given day she is working with ArtWorks, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Carnegie, and others, as well as collaborating with other artists) as well as a plethora of donated pieces has won her great honor among the art patrons.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Pam Kravetz: We moved in here 10 years ago, I’ve never (other than during undergraduate school when I thought I was super cool) had a studio outside of the house. I’ve always worked full time, sometimes two or three jobs, and have been a mom, and I was never able financially to have a second space. I also just wanted to be home, but I wanted to make my art, so I’ve always had to figure out how to make the two work together.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
PK: So, for eleven years it was just my son Max and I living alone in a smaller house. His father and I got a divorce early on and when Max was really little; we had bedrooms that were across the hall from one another. We'd have these really intense conversations with each other back and forth across the hall all night. When I got remarried and it became Max, myself and my new husband, we set up this really cool space for Max on the third floor of this house. But it wasn’t working. We then moved Max's bedroom back down to the second floor with us and so my designated studio became Max’s bedroom. And it was great! It worked because that was the way that it always was. And so, when Max loved it in there I just moved my studio down here on to the main floor. That’s the thing about us artists: we always make it work out. We find a way. But I work up here on the main floor and then my storage is in the basement. That is where all of my wigs are and all of my sequins and fabric and other stuff. It’s like a Michaels, a Goodwill, and a garage sale all in my basement. I’ll tell Craig, my husband (he knows where everything is down there, I don’t), that I need this or that and he’ll go grab it. So. . . it works out great because I can sit in here and be a part of everything and also get stuff done.
Interestingly enough though, we have been discussing that I need a true studio because my work is getting bigger. Again, I don’t really want it away from my home. I just want to be able to make my mess and leave it-- but then that also concerns me because of the possibility of it becoming, like, a hoarder, crazy town of crap. I haven’t had the opportunity to have a studio to make a mess in, so I don’t really know what will happen. Yea, I was telling Craig, you know, “I feel bad because I don’t have, like, a real studio”. But you know, my situation is the situation of a lot of artists. Also, my car is an important part of my workspace-- I half considered doing a car karaoke sort of thing because my car is where I lug everything and haul all of my stuff. It’s funny, right now in the trunk of my car, there are a bunch of used costumes from the [Cincinnati] opera. I’m doing a lot of performance right now, and so I went and bought up a bunch of opera costumes. But it’s been sitting in the trunk of my car for two months now.
F-D: A lot of artists work out of their home. But even the ‘home studio’ that artists provide themselves vary from location to location.
PK: People are a product of the limitations that they put on themselves. But, if you have to, you will make it happen.
F-D: Exactly, it’s all about how uncomfortable or flexible you are willing to be.
F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your work in any way?
PK: Yea it has. Cincinnati completely influences me. I never left, I went to undergrad here, I went to graduate school at Miami [University]. My work is about my life and family, and the fact that my family is constantly in the mix with me is a huge influence. Size too-- I can lay my largest pieces out all the way down through the middle of the house. I have to have some big open space in order to spread out.
F-D: So what is your ideal size for working within? What size puppets do you really enjoy making and creating?
PK: So my newest thing is buying large, [pre-made] stuffed animals and then stitching into, onto, and embellishing them. But this lady over here was a game changer for me. I had received a teaching grant to go to Prague, where I was able to learn traditional puppet making. We also got the opportunity to learn how to use them and manipulate them. She is named after my stripper name, (which is the name of your first pet and the name of the first street that you lived on) this is Jinglebell Yosemite. She’s shown up at a bunch of stuff. She was apart of the performance piece I did at the CAC* [in 2014]. I’m actually looking into beginning a piece that is about (and I don’t do personal serious work) but with the way the world is right now. . . how can you not? It’s just so oppressive. I'm also Jewish, and it's bringing up a lot of things that aren't in so distant memory. But anyway, when I was over in Prague, my host family told me this story from the Holocaust: Czechoslovakian puppeteers used to hold puppet shows that would tell (at this moment I haven’t completed my research) but as I recall, they would tell stories. . . like espionage type of stuff. So if anyone came in, it wouldn’t look like anything was going on. So I’m currently in the beginning of working on some grant proposals for that. But it would be in my way, and hiding in plain sight. Which is interesting because my work is so in your face.
F-D: Your looking for some subversive quality that you can integrate into protest pieces. . .
PK: Yes, and I think it’s time to bridge that gap for me. It’s always been a part of who I am. But at the same time, I don’t want to do serious stuff like that. I want to do fun stuff! But at the same time, I want to make something that says, you know, this is what is going on.
F-D: Now, are you are you using, like scrap fabric, or. . .
PK: No, that would be too nice. No, a lot of the time I have to go to the fabric store in order to get moving. It’s almost like when you wanna work out again and you have to go get a new pair of gym shoes.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the studio?
PK: I teach, I’m always up and at school. Then usually right after school I’ll have a meeting with someone. I do a lot of collaboration, I think that’s one of my gifts that I have to share. I love working with other people, I love hearing what they have to contribute and add. It’s almost everyday that I leave school and go to a collaborative meeting of some kind. Then I usually go to a dance class. It’s called Dance Fix with Heather Britt. I mean, I’m a terrible dancer, I just hang out in the back and I dance, laugh, and sweat. But I’m around other creative people. And then I’ll come home and work on my stuff. I’m a late night person and so that is helpful. But, a lot of times, and I’m not kidding, if I know I’m going to be running around a lot and potentially stuck in traffic, I will take whatever I am working on and work on it in the car when I’m stuck in a traffic jam somewhere. What will then happen, is chaos. Everything will pile up and pile up and pile up, and then I’ll be thinking, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. And then I just shut down and I tell everyone I’m not available. And then there is just stuff everywhere. I’m always out at openings. Last Friday, even though I was feeling crappy, I went to three different shows. I love going to openings, it really, it feeds my soul.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
PK: The joke is that it’s all about me, but it’s not all about me. It’s about creating collaborations and creating a voice that’s bigger. Self portrait, storytelling. My mother says my work is cheaper than therapy. The funny thing is that it’s not. It’s probably more expensive than therapy. My work is about me, and what I need to talk about. I didn’t really get a voice in my work until I was about 40. And I’m 55. So, it’s pretty recent that I’ve had a reason to be making work, other than just liking the process, and I was kind of good at it. When I was around 40, I took an encaustic workshop with Suzanne Fisher. In encaustic painting, you know, it’s this time honored thing. Everybody was making these sort of thoughtful works. Which is something I’ve always struggled with, even when I was in undergrad. I just never fit in in that way. I was the mascot, I was in a sorority, I was all of this other stuff that didn’t fit in with the ‘art student’ thing. At the time I had this wonderful, amazing three year old who wasn’t potty trained. I felt like everyone was on my back. And I have all this other shit in my head. And so I made this encaustic dialogue about Max getting potty trained. And then I thought this wasn’t important, and blah blah. And Suzanne was great, you know, and she told me that I was funny. And that was a way to communicate. She pointed out that what I was dealing with, a lot of other people were dealing with and I discuss it in a way that’s funny and relatable. So I started with Max's potty training and then it grew to. . . bad relationships, bad blind dates, all this stuff that I just dealt with on a day to day basis. And just surviving and trying to make fun of it and realize the reality in my own head.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
PK: Ceramics, fibers (narrative quilting, it’s called), I paint, I draw, I do whatever I need to do to get the point across. So whatever media works the best. I do the performance pieces and dress up-- I become part of my own work, which is the most recent thing.
F-D: Can you tell us about your process and how it has evolved?
PK: (laughs) Ugh. . . I don’t sketch. I’ve never had a sketchbook. I think they’re gorgeous, they’re absolutely beautiful. I just don’t. . . they’re hard to keep up with. And then I feel like, the mistakes that I like about my work wouldn’t happen if I sketched them out and thought about them too much. I did a lot of pieces for Children’s Hospital, I have 45 quilts in Children’s Hospital. And when they asked for them I had to submit a lot of sketches. I had to have all of these layers and layers of shown process. It was very hard for me. I love the spontaneity and energy of my work. So my process is make it, and do it, and if it doesn’t work; add to it. Don’t take away. If it doesn’t look good then keep adding shit to it and it will look better. It has to be on the fly. I’m not a thoughtful process person.
F-D: Do you have narratives in mind for each piece?
PK: Collectively yes, and some individual pieces it’s an absolute yes. Sometimes the piece just talks to me, I’ll have to make something or I’ll want to make something and then the work will communicate to me what it is.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your art?
PK: 100% yes. It’s funny, a collector once asked me when I got married what I was going to make work about now that I was happy, you know, because my work used to be funny but it was about me being angry and mad. . . and I mean, it didn’t stop me from making work, I just made work about being happy. This election has kind of, given me some fuel and a new direction, and something new to be mad about.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
PK: Conversations, situations, sometimes food.
F-D: Interesting, why food?
PK: I’ve always struggled with my weight my entire life. I actually don’t love food, I love why we eat food. Or the occasion around eating food. I love being out, and being with people. I waited tables for fourteen years and I loved it. I love everything around it. Funny story, when I was first dating Craig, I had my first really big show, and I had known about it for a year and the show was three months away and I had absolutely nothing ready. And then one day; Craig, Max and I were driving to Chicago and we stopped at a Starbucks, and I went in and they had these beautiful cupcaks. They were just beautiful. And I bought a bunch of them. Came out to the car and was all excited and said, “Look! Look at these cupcakes!” and of course they were both, like, “who cares?”. And I realized, that’s my show. And I did a whole show that was called, Beautiful Cupcakes. It was about me and food and being a closet eater. And now it’s funny because I’m an integral part of the Art of Food at the Carnegie. I hate to cook, I’m more than happy if someone else wants to. I almost feel like I am less influenced by visual art than everything else and the world.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
PK: It is comfortable. There is a big table in the other room so that I can meet with other artists and talk. This space has become more than my making space, it’s also my meeting space and collaborative space and living space. I think the fact that it’s long and spacious and open really helps too.
F-D: Earlier you made mention of moving your furniture and altering the space during different times of your process; can you go into a little bit more detail?
PK: Yea, so all of the non essential furniture will move, we have several storage spaces around the house as well as an actual storage space. When I was designing this room with a designer I had them make sure that everything was collapsable. For example, when I made my quilt for the CAC (which was 30 ftx 30ft) I was able to move everything out of the way and I had my friends come on over and we all sat on the floor and stitched. Then one week before we installed we got the black box and started stitching all of the squares together. If it’s clay, I will throw outside in my back yard. I think bins and baskets are my salvation as far as keeping everything together and accessible. It just is what it is when it needs to be. My process becomes whatever I need it to be in the moment.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? (At the time of this interview, the Women’s March on Washington was a few weeks away).
PK: I’m working on a donated piece for Indigo Hippo, and a cranky piece about the ‘78 blizzard for Thunder-Sky, and the political piece that I told you about earlier. I’m also a part of the Bombshells, which is a yarn bombing group based out of Cincinnati, we just met up to discuss finding a location for the creation of Pussycat Hats for [the Women’s March on Washington]. I mean, that’s what I can bring to the table. You know? A “Hey! Come play with me!” sort of event. We have a bigger voice together and it’s more fun together. Protest art is new to me. I’ve never done this before. But the way that it has awakened me, I’ve never been affected before-- and so I feel like I need to do something. I can’t say I’ve ever worked for anything. I mean, I’ve worked my ass off for work, but never. . . something bigger than me. I also have the Art of Food coming up. I’m going to do a cooking show in the space. It’s kind of funny, the person who can’t stand cooking will be doing a cooking show. I’m also working on Blink for ArtWorks, but that's in the very beginning stages.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?
PK: I think, philosophically right now for sure. With politics the way they are. And the Craft Movement. I also think that my work is so anti-craft that it doesn’t really fit in there. So it’s kind of the anti-craft craft. I’ve never really thought of myself as a feminist. But then I realized, you know, I kind of am and I’m super proud of it. I never thought of myself as a performance artist, but I am. I’ve always thought, you know, this is just how I’m living my life. Does that put you in a movement if that’s just what you are and that’s the way that your living your life? I guess. . .
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
PK: I can’t think of anything. I don’t think I really have anything.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
PK: I’m an artist. I’m an artist that teaches. I’m an artist in every facet of my life. It’s all part of the art form that I want to live.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
PK: Jeesh, I think. . .making it about me is a risk.
F-D: If you don't mind me asking, what was it like being a single mom and an artist?
PK: For me it was about the compulsion and need. Max was also just really cool and would just entertain himself. And I had a hugely supportive family. But as far as risks that I take; I think that anytime I put anything out into the world it’s a risk. For years I couldn’t stand near anyone that was standing and discussing my work. I had to get away.
F-D: Words of wisdom?… a motto, favorite quote?
PK: It sounds cliche but, do what you love. That isn’t always easy, but you’ll be happy. Take people’s advice, take half of it, take a third of it, but listen. Collaborate, learn, take classes. Do shit that scares you.
F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
* Persistence of Memory: Pam Kravetz pieces together moments of CAC's past. Maria Seda-Reeder. 2014