We had the good fortune of connecting with Katie Pumphrey and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Katie, why did you pursue a creative career?
Art has a wild power to record and talk about the things happening around us- but one of the biggest powers in art, is it serves as a way to connect. It’s the connection I am particular drawn to. I am an artist because I want to, in a way, have a conversation with as many people as I can, and I think painting does that. It’s one of the many reasons I fell in love with painting. I don’t speak every language or know about every topic- but a painting can be that open door that invites a viewer to think and talk about whatever they want. That’s a big reason my work has moved more and more towards abstraction- it gives room for more connections. It’s more about the feeling it gives you and it takes you where ever you want. All reactions welcome, no wrong or right answers. I want my work to be an invitation for you to feel something, and whatever that thing might be is perfect.
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.
My work consists mostly of large scale abstract paintings, but I do adventure into installation, and most recently have been diving into sculpture. Painting is my first and forever love, but it has been so fun to explore a three dimensional world. In all of my work, I am constantly exploring the tension between calm and chaos. I want crisp edges and quiet shapes to teeter-totter against playful movement and vibrating color. I want my work to be approachable and relatable, inviting any and all viewers to connect- which is major reason my work has moved deeper into abstraction.
Chaos and calm are certainly the leading ladies in the directions in my work, but that rivalry has led a lot of my work to explore a sense of control. Much of my work dives into the familiar struggle we all face, again and again, to find control and ease the tension. Whether it is a big struggle or not, it’s something we go through all the time- we feel steady, level-headed, comfortable — and then something shifts. You lose control, the lights go out, a wave comes — the moment forces the meter to reset, and yet again, you have to start from the beginning. You find yourself in a dark room or an overwhelming space, and you scramble to find your footing and move forward. We ping-pong between these moments time and time again, and eventually we rearrange the room, find the comfort, and harness the chaos.
I think about these moments a lot- pulling from my own experiences often. That battle between chaos and calm can be stressful, and invite anxiety, but it can also be exciting and playful. I often use bright colors and playful shapes in hopes that my work can examine these experiences with a hint of humor, play, and lightheartedness. Like how we laugh when thinking about our giant to-do list or makes jokes about our stress. I want my work to put you on that rollercoaster- it’s powerful, stressful, but also a ton of fun, holding you there, and inviting you to ride again.
How did I get where I am today, professionally? Great question, complicated answer. The simplest way to answer is with patience and a hell of a lot of hard work. I fell in love with painting in my teens, and was fortunate enough to study with some of the greatest painters and teachers at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from MICA in 2009. From there, I knew I wanted my career as an artist to be a major part of my life, but wasn’t entirely sure how to make it work as a full time job, and to be honest, I didn’t think being a full-time artist was even possible. If I could tell teenage Katie anything, it would be keep going, be patient, and keep working at it all.
I applied for residencies and exhibitions, started selling work, and little by little, the leap to full-time didn’t feel so crazy. I absolutely love being in the studio so much, and I work hard to make it possible. Selling work is of course, how I continue to pay the bills, and that has been a wild learning process. I truly think the work and the business of selling it is very separate. I always describe the relationship as driving two cars. One car is the work, exhibitions, career goals. The other car is the business of being an artist. Sales, social media, marketing, collectors, etc etc etc. Both cars are important, and it’s okay for them to drive at different speeds sometimes. Just make sure they never merge. Don’t let the pressure of needing or wanting to sell work, or the failure that comes along change the work your making. Make the work, and then figure out how to sell it. The two are very different skill sets, and you have to nurture them both. Demand will be there if you work at growing that audience. It’s not the work that sells itself, it’s the artist (and the network you’ve created around your work) that makes it happen. This job certainly has ups and downs, but I always want to keep pushing my work to new heights, and hopefully viewers and collectors will come along on the adventure.
What do I want the world to know about me or my story? Well, I’ve shared a lot about my work, and I hope you, dear reader, will take a look. Feel free to reach out to me on IG (@katiepumphreyart) or via my website or email with questions, inquiries, or just to say hello.
A little more about me- I live in the great city of Baltimore with my husband, Joe, and I truly love it here. We have two adorable dogs, Monty and Adja (feel free to follow them of IG: @bmoremonty_and_adja). When I’m not in the studio, or snuggling a pup, I am often swimming. I am an ultra marathon open water swimmer. My biggest open water swims include the English Channel in 2015, around the island of Manhattan in 2017, and the Catalina Channel in 2018. Those three swims make up the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, making me the 194th person (73rd woman) in the world to achieve that honor, yay! I am currently training to swim all three again, starting with the English Channel in July 2022. I am often asked how I spend so much time training or why I do swim I do, the answer is honestly, because I love it. There is absolutely a major connection between my swimming experiences and my artwork. I have been working in the studio to make more direct connections between the two, which is definitely pushing my work to new places. I am so excited to explore it all more, and I invite you to follow along as my work and career continues to evolve and grow.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Welcome to Baltimore! First up, we are grabbing coffee at OneDo Coffee Roasters (@onedocoffeeroasters). It’s one of my favorite spots. From there we will head to Fells Point, one of my favorite neighborhoods. Walking around Fells, especially with a tasty coffee in hand, is by far the best sights to see in Baltimore. Fells Point sits right on the Patapsco River, and offers the best views of the water and this bustling port city. Walking or sitting by the water in Fells, you can see giant ships, boats, as well as Domino Sugar in full swing, as well as visit lots of shops, and local watering holes. Take a trip on the water taxi for a panoramic view of the whole harbor- it’s pretty spectacular. Another favorite outdoor spot is Patterson Park, which has lots of paths to walk, and of course, a visit to BmoreLicks for ice cream. For dinner, my two favorite spots are Sally O’s in Highlandtown (@sallyosmd), and Of Love & Regret (@olar_bmore) in Brewer’s Hill. Both feature amazing cocktails, mind blowing food, and magical ambiance. One of my large paintings even hangs in Sally O’s, so be sure to take a look. For art and events, my favorite place is the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown. In addition to two galleries, they also have a theatre with lots of amazing shows. There’s always lots to see, and they sure know how to throw a party. Another must visit, is the Baltimore Museum of Art. Walk through the sculpture garden, and then head inside to see an amazing collection of art.
Baltimore is one of those cities that get’s bashed on a lot in reputation- but it’s called Charm City for a reason. It’s seriously charming AF. It grows on you, quickly, and before you know it, you’re in love. I have been smitten since I moved here in 2005. This city is full of beautiful places, amazing people, and so much life. It’s a must visit, for sure. You’ll be glad you did.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Oh boy, the list of my shoutouts is long, and full of so many wonderful people I know and love. I think if this past year has taught us anything, it’s that our connections to people are so important. I would often be lost without my wonderful family and friends, and certainly, celebrating the wins wouldn’t be nearly as fun. Big shoutouts to many of my artist friends, including Emma Childs (@emmechilds), Lee Nowell-Wilson (@leenowellwilson), Alessandra Torres (@play_pretend), Sarah Jamison (@sarahjanejamison), Rebecca Ward (@rebeccawarddraws), and Amanda Adams (@closecallstudio). I am beyond thankful for the times they have sat with me in person, on Facetime, or an endless string of texts to chat, problem solve, vent, joke, talk out ideas, critique work, tell me to stop painting, or to keep going. I am wildly thankful for their wisdom, support, and encouragement.
A giant shoutout to my husband, Joe Mahach. He is cheering me on day in and day out, through the rollercoaster of this job. Being a full-time artist comes with it’s ups and downs for sure, but he is always there when I need a push of encouragement or hand to hold. He’s also always there with excitement when I’m jazzed about a painting idea or sculpture adventure, and is always ready to pop some champagne when I meet big deadlines and fulfill those crazy ideas. Joe is also the champion of introducing himself first when I can’t remember people names at events- a skill that is beyond amazing.
Another shoutout goes to my sister, Laura, and my brother-in-law, Brent. They have supported me in more ways than I can count over the years. They are the first in the door at any art opening, and the last to leave any celebration after. They always make me feel extra proud of the big milestones I reach, as well as the little wins along the way. They are truly amazing. An A+ gold star shoutout also to my sister, Laura, who has been the MVP of titles. Laura has been helping me brainstorm and word play to find the best titles for my work for over 15 years now. Titles have always been important to my work, and Laura always helps get them to the next level.
I would also like to shoutout the Creative Alliance, here in Baltimore (@creativealliancebaltimore). I was a resident artist at the CA for three years from 2011-2014, and my time there was absolutely amazing. I truly think that residency helped me through some of the toughest leaps in the beginning of my career. I connected with so many incredible artists and pushed my work to new places. The CA is truly an amazing organization that supports artists and the community of Baltimore. I am honored to have been a part of it, and look forward to more adventures together.
And a million shoutouts and thank yous to the city of Baltimore. I am proud to call this city home.
Other: TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@katiepumphreyart
Images provided by artist, Katie Pumphrey Photographer, Anna Reynal Photographer, Rachel Payne