Conversations with the Makers

An array of questions to fibre/textile artists and their answers.

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Conversation with Kay Khan, USA

Kay Khan is a studio artist who has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico since 1991. She is currently exploring textiles in the form of vessels and armour. She sees her work as a  "mosaic of fragments, collected experiences, information, and images."

Her work is in the permanent collections of The Museum of Art and Design in New York and the De Young Museum in San Francisco. It's also, most recently, included in the books Textiles: The Art of Mankind by Mary Schoeser and Fiber Art Today by Carol K. Russell.

As well as teaching for Fibre Arts Australia and in Hobart, Tasmania, Kay will also be teaching for the Victorian Embroidery Guild in April 2014 Click on group to email for more information.


Conversation with the Maker (CWTM) Did you always envision a life as an artist?

Kay Khan (KK) I believe the desire to be an artist is there from the beginning even before one understands the word "artist".

When I was a child, the woods behind my house were old. The dense treetops filtered light and prevented undergrowth. Thus, the worn floor of the forest was a network of mature paths that were, in my mind, rooms and roads, cities and castles through which I could wander. Compositions are, simply put, the imaginary organization of space into ideas.

Making art is, for me, the strong impulse to put what I see or feel into a more palpable expression.

As a girl, I organized rocks & buttons into patterns & I drew; in university, I constructed big hand-built ceramic vessels; afterward, I created large layered abstract paintings; and now, I work primarily in textiles combining the techniques learned before from the other media.


CWTM What was your first experience with making art?

KK I drew all the time when I was a child. Then, in the first grade, I remember the girl sitting at the desk in front of mine was drawing tables and chairs (simple linear representations of them) in perspective. I overcame my shyness to ask her to show me how to do that. It was a revelation.


CWTM Do you have a dedicated studio?

KK Yes, I do, and I am grateful.


CWTM Can you describe a typical day?

KK I don't have a typical day. My hours of working in the studio are long but vary in their timing.


CWTM Would you consider your art making to be more about the process than the outcome?

KK Oh, I think it's about both. The process of building art is fascinating, but the outcome is the ultimate expression that I'm working toward.


CWTM Do you agree that a small element of uncertainty about the finished look is what makes the process of creating so enticing?

KK Yes, I never plan the piece in its entirety. For me, planning takes away the surprise. Through the process, I discover things that I couldn't have originally planned.

 CWTM Any indispensable tools or equipment?

KK My hands and eyes are primary of course. In textile work, I need needles, wonderful fabrics and threads, and usually a sewing machine.


CWTM Do your pieces start with a planned course of action or are they more spontaneous?

KK My pieces begin with a basic plan but, after that, spontaneity is key. I believe that each piece takes on its own life, and that too much planning will hinder its development.

 CWTM How do you know when to “stop” – when do you consider a piece actually finished?

KK I just know when to stop. That's a type of mystery, isn't it? And if a piece doesn't feel finished or seems to need something, well... it clearly requires more work.

 CWTM Your greatest source of inspiration is….

KK I believe that, as visual artists, we hold a sort of internal mental library of images that are collected and maintained over a lifetime. The visual language is different from the written and verbal one, and requires its own vocabulary. When a new image or idea appears from outside of us (from absolutely anywhere!), it combines with these other already stored memories and then bam, there's a new spark, a connection, and inspiration seems to come unabated and is thus (because it is a coalescence of our individual experiences and thoughts) unique. 


CWTM Favourite quote?

KK Oh, there are so many. Here's one from Marguerite Yourcenar: "When two texts, or two assertions, perhaps two ideas, are in contradiction, be ready to reconcile them rather than cancel one by the other, regard them as two different facets, or two successive stages, of the same reality, a reality convincingly human just because it is complex."


CWTM When do you do your best creative thinking?

KK My mind is always there on some level so ideas come at various times.

 CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?

KK I enjoy the actual inspiration and then the completion of a piece.


CWTM Best advice you’ve ever received?

KK Ha, "don't think so much". But I do, regardless, always. However, I "think" it's good advice.

 CWTM Worst advice you’ve ever received?

KK "Don't think so much." None of us can really escape our core personality.


CWTM Best part of your day?

KK That varies. The best part of my day is never predictable.


CWTM Who would be 6 people that you would invite to dinner?

KK My friends would be welcome, of course, but I'd invite anyone who loves conversation and laughter.


 CWTM What inspires your creativity?

KK I think creativity inspires itself. The more we create and play and imagine, the more creative we become.

 CWTM What are you excited about right now in the world of textile art?

KK Ah, there's so much to see! I'm always excited to see new work that pushes the limits and can stand on its own right alongside any other art medium.

 CWTM You’d be lost without…

KK I'd be lost without words, music, dance, food, friends, laughter, and, most importantly,  love.


CWTM What would you do with a few extra hours each day? 

KK I'd play more or I'd sleep more. I imagine I'd alternate the two!

 CWTM Your favourite luxury in life? 

KK Friends, food, and dance. 


CWTM Has the advancement of computers and technology impacted your work?

KK I love communication; it's inspiring. Technology allows me to talk with people all over the world and to see what is going on outside of my own life.  In my artwork (other than using my lovely sewing machine), I don't yet work with a lot of computerization or technology - but, having said that, I could see how it would be exciting to do so and I don't rule it out of my future projects.


CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?

KK I like the challenge of expression.

 CWTM Is it important for us to be recognized by the art world and if so, how can we help affect that change?

KK Yes, it is important that textile art be recognized by the art world. All of us as artists need to push ourselves to make certain that our work is the strongest possible statement of intent.


CWTM What is next for you?

KK First I complete the last vessels in the series I'm working on now, and then, I've two other series of work to begin. I've the idea of what they'll be but, for now, the outcome is really a secret, even for me.