We had the good fortune of connecting with Katelynn Mills and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Katelynn, how do you think about risk?
In the always brilliant words of Dave Hickey, “there are pirates and there are farmers.” I am, unmistakably, a pirate. And even though being classified as a woman-anything (i.e. woman-artist, woman-auto technician) typically pisses me right-the-fuck-off, I cherish and acknowledge the Wild Woman (or lady pirate) archetype I manifest. Taking risks means something different for everyone; pirates and farmers don’t think about it the same way. A farmer might make a calculated investment while a pirate may sacrifice a comfortable situation and move to a foreign place with nothing but a backpack and a feeling that she’s doing the right thing. Generally speaking, risk is something women are socialized/ trained to avoid. Personally, I have a lifetime’s worth of examples to point to. When I was thirteen, my parents gave me a “promise ring” and made me promise that I would “remain pure” until I met my husband — and was later demonized for exploring sexuality. When I entered the workforce at fifteen, I was told to offer my services for minimum wage otherwise “no one would hire me.” It took many years for me to realize my worth. When I was asked what my passion in life is and what I intended to do with my future, I was told that being an artist was a mere hobby and that I ought to figure out what I’m really passionate about. I think women often have to take risks which are disproportionate to the desired goal; we’re supposed to be objects of desire, not desirous. Transgressing that line comes at a cost, but as far as I’m concerned, there is nothing more valuable than honoring one’s vocation.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I treat all the chapters of my life as a series of artist residencies. Between 2017 and Spring 2020 I had the privilege of commandeering the Art program of a private elementary school. I knew from my many years of being a student that the best teachers were the ones lit by the subject they were teaching — and that there was no way in hell I would be able to sustain interest in my job by doing it regular style. I quickly found a way to make working with children and teens interesting for me; which, in turn created a magical feedback loop of interest. I was stoked on their output – they were stoked by their accomplishments and my excitement. Art class was lit. What we spent the majority of our time doing was collaborating on large scale transcriptions from both historical and original sources. I was like a renaissance master in command of a workshop. But instead of highly skilled artists, I was directing children who were just learning fine motor skills and beautifully awkward teenagers. We made some pretty incredible work which went on to be exhibited at The Painter’s Room in Santa Ana, CA in Spring 2019. Risk isn’t always something I do with a sense of clarity the way I used it when I was working with children. When I lost that job due to COVID, I had to reevaluate what being an artist meant for the next chapter. I was really inspired by my friends who took the opportunity to dive deep into themselves and relish their time in the studio. But I felt myself being pulled elsewhere. To be completely honest, I have struggles with addiction, and being at home without something like a job to keep me busy and people expecting me to show up and get things done puts me at a major disadvantage. So I looked at what work was available and an oil change station was hiring. I had no previous experience, or even an interest in cars, but I wound up getting the job and quickly learned how to be an automotive technician. I really enjoyed the work: getting dirty, taking things apart and reassembling them, working with my hands, but the most valuable thing I got out of the experience was intensely practicing what zen buddhists call shoshin, or “beginner’s mind.” It was a heavy experience. It required humility and confidence in equal measure and, as one would assume, a lot of nerve. It’s no secret that the automotive industry is unilaterally dominated by men. I’m not even going to begin unpacking the sexism I experienced working in the field. But after my time spent there, I really can’t provide a single reason as to why men rule this world and why women have been made to feel so intimidated by basic motor maintenance. Why do women have to suffer so much in order to do the same basic shit as men? It’s a question that has spurn a lot os spite-success for me (haha). Presently, I find myself in another new life chapter building and installing visual displays for a major department store. It’s too soon to really reflect how it’s shaping me/ how I’m influencing this environment. Maybe it’s a part of my life I can put on autopilot as my studio work makes a transformation — because that is definitely happening. The past few years I’ve gone from mostly feeding off collaborative work as a teacher, to not working and just absorbing as a technician, to drawing from a deeply internal and cryptic place for my painting. I have a new habit of waking up at 5:30 every morning, sitting by the fire, and writing down my dream from the previous night. I’ve started painting the images from my dreams and cannot deny how powerful and consuming the pictures are to me.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
What keeps me in SoCal is the natural landscape. When people come out to visit (preferably in the summer) I take them to my favorite spots outside. I love hiking and climbing in Malibu State Park. I know all the best beaches and love taking friends down to the emerald waters of Laguna to snorkel with the garibaldi fish. When I’m in the city I enjoy walking around the Arts District, grabbing some tacos from a taco truck, and gallery hopping (and of course visiting the chickens at the Hauser and Wirth’s chicken coop/ outdoor patio).
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Authors have often been by best and most consistent friends. I’d like to thank Philip K. Dick, Cesar Aira, Charlotte Joko Beth, Robert M. Pirsing, Maggie Nelson, Susan Sontag, Cormac McCarthy, De Beauvoir, Sartre, Kerouac, and the countless angels who have saved me from loneliness and despair at every turn.
courtesy of the artist