WORDS Sara Lee Burd
Biography, spirituality, feminism, and synchronicity describe much of Kate Krebs’s art making. Taking a surreal bend on reality, the artist combines the sacred and the profane into compositions that present bits and pieces of narratives. Fueled by her belief that life is connected and unfolds in ways we can’t predict, the symbols and interactions she presents in her work are open to interpretation. The inclusion of popular imagery allows viewers to easily connect with her art but require contemplation to unravel. The artist imbues her collage-based artworks with the mystery, absurdity, pain, and pleasure that define human experience. Krebs explains her personal motivations: “A lot of my work is about God, morality, my mortality, meeting people, and finding God in nature, when I maybe didn’t feel it before. This journey is nuts.”
Krebs paints exclusively on wood for the series she has been working on since moving to Nashville. The medium inspires the way in which the artist approaches the artwork. She studies the unique grain of the wood and visualizes what she wants it to become. Tracing the sinuous lines with her paint brush, she creates patterns and colors that serve as the basis for the collage. Sometimes she surprises herself realizing the artwork she had embarked upon cannot work with the natural landscape made during the perceptive flow of painting.
The artist avidly collects imagery from thrift stores, antique malls, yard sales, and anywhere she finds it. She saves images that speak to her in a vast array of folders in her studio. “It took me six years to use an image I found in a psychology book. I cut it out and kept it because I knew I would need it one day.” By using cutouts, Krebs can play with the work—revising, adding ideas and symbolisms as they come to her. Explaining her use of found images she says, “I don’t feel like I’m using someone’s art. I am making something different. Maybe I use a torso from one image and legs from another. Some images I make myself.”
A recurring theme throughout Krebs’s art is a focus on the idea of the divine feminine. Usually presented as a sacred mother, these symbolize the nurturing, generative role ascribed to women in society. She’s not interested in constructing binary definitions of gender; rather the artist celebrates the traits often ascribed as weak because they are feminine. In Mother’s Love she illustrates the power of domestic work, elevating it to an act of bountiful love. Krebs does so by arranging a feast set before a 1950s mother-figure. The woman’s gaze extends out of the artwork and invites onlookers to behold the power she has as a provider of nourishment. Her arms hug toward her heart which emanates dynamic pink and yellow light, creating a sense of love made visible. Krebs interprets the positive effects of this woman’s work and suggests that it extends beyond the setting of the dining room.
Her worldview that everything has meaning becomes apparent in the clever ways she connects various arrangements within a single composition. In Awakening of Cosmic Consciousness Krebs divides the scene into realms. The feminine section occupied by deities, farmers, children, flowers, and water presents an ideal place. The masculine influence along the bottom-left diagonal portion contains horrors such as rape, police brutality, pedophilia, greed, religious corruption, and warfare. The inspiration for the dystopian world comes from news stories coming out while the work was made and Krebs’s own encounters. The imagery of peace and abundance above comes from sacred figures and historical nurturing roles of women. The artist asserts judgement as the beings presented in the feminine space point with beams of light to injustices they view in the masculine realm. In this work it becomes clear that the negative aspects of power are associated with male rule. The artist explains, “I didn’t realize that I had made a world of men and one of women at first. I knew I wanted to make a place of love and light and a place of evil.” Here Krebs asks the viewers to wonder what society could be if the dutifulness and softness of the feminine were celebrated as strengths instead of weaknesses.
Pulling from the very personal experience with gendered expectations, Krebs created Sea of Change. The figures whose heads appear above water are a painting by the artist based on a photograph of her mother and grandfather. Krebs explains the significance of her family photograph: “My grandmother would do anything for my grandfather, but I don’t know that he was deserving of it. At least part of the time. Not all the time.” For better or for worse, in rejection or in acceptance of those role models, decisions to love and how to love are affected by our familial experiences. Below the surface of the water, radiant beams shine down onto a couple intertwined in a romantic embrace. Krebs describes the scene: “I had change in mind. This is me with my future man. I illuminated my relationship as a place of change.” In this work the artist provides a space to consider what it means when society has encouraged women to stand by husbands regardless of behavior, temperament, and respect.
Krebs’s approach to feminism is not a complete rejection of societal norms that shape our culture as much as it is a celebration of the feminine as powerful and divine. As an artist and self-described visionary, Krebs allows her work and ideas to appear before her eyes. She explains, “Sometimes things come to me that I don’t understand. Images and ideas that are not mine enter my mind whether it be for paintings or for everyday life. Something may lead to something else that you never could have imagined.”