Scheduled to open at the Duluth Art Institute, but postponed to a date to be determined later, is the work of Kari Halker-Saathoff. She combines methods such as ceramics and graphite drawings to reinterpret stories from the point of view of lesser-known characters. In the DAI show, she explores Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, her situation in The Odyssey, and connections to modern-day events.
KHS: I am a multidisciplinary artist and educator. My teaching role requires me to be well versed in all of the core artistic mediums so I will often combine drawing with ceramics, drawing with sculpture, metalwork with ceramics and so forth.
I’m very inspired by stories, although reading was always a struggle for me. I have dyslexia that went undiagnosed until I was in college. After being diagnosed, the literary world opened up to me. Stories became my drug and — as an artist — my mind went wild illustrating the stories in my head. I soon discovered that the heroes of narratives were not always the most interesting characters and that I was more interested in “minor” characters — often female ones. Those were the characters who spoke to me and to my struggles.
I find that reinterpreting a story through art is a powerful way to view the past. Works of historical significance don’t need to linger in the time period in which they were written — they can be viewed through the eyes of today.
My most recent work utilizes these ideas in ceramics and illustration. Though I teach ceramics, I don’t consider myself a potter, but I have mastered a difficult technique for illustrating on pots. These functional ceramic pieces serve both as the canvas for the illustrations and as a metaphor for women’s bodies. Women are often seen as curvaceous vessels of male dominance, yet in my work, they appear as vessels for their own intelligence and anger.
On a recent trip to NYC, I spent hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art studying the forms and illustrations of ancient Greek pottery. My research on the ways these works tell a story helped inform and devise the next phase of my artistic career. I wanted to tackle Homer’s Odyssey.
In the Odyssey, I focused on Penelope, Odysseus’s wife. Throughout the twenty years that Odysseus was gone, Penelope underwent years of harassment by potential suitors — powerful warrior-elites who tried to get her to believe that her husband was dead, each hoping that he could marry Penelope and gain access to Odysseus’s kingdom. The suitors invaded her home, ate her food, threatened her son, assaulted her servants, and pressured her to remarry. In resisting the suitors Penelope had to use all of her resources, showing herself to be as courageous, wily, and brilliant a figure as Odysseus. In so doing she had to hide her anger from powerful men who controlled her future. The courage of her resistance is the inspiration for my interpretation.
I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t drawing. I really didn’t get to know clay until early in my teaching career. Illustration on pots is relatively new. I love clay and I love to draw and it’s a way to marry my skills together.
As an art teacher, I have little time to create during the workweek and I give a lot of my ideas away to students. I love to see students explore and discover their skills. But this leaves little time for me to actually work. I do most of my work during the summer and a little on the weekends. It is my calling to be an art teacher who happens to be an artist too.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put many difficulties on all of us. I have not been feeling very creative lately. But I am encouraging my students to be. We all need to take this difficult situation and find the good. This show will be at the Duluth Art Institute and then will be traveling to Artistry (formerly the Bloomington Art Center) next spring and after that who knows!
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