I think I am Katie Dutch's biggest fan. This probably isn't true but as I happily scroll through her Instagram feed, double-tapping every image and grabbing screenshots, I can't help but feel that some of this work was made with my sensibilities in mind. Favorites include a topless cat-headed woman serving wine, a lingerie-clad woman lounging in a room full of skulls and Rihanna in space, posing in front of a colorful nebula, surrounded by crystal-like flowers.
If you are an Instagram user, odds are you've encountered the delightfully disturbing work of Katie Dutch. Better known through her online monikers Kitscheart and For_ever_free, Dutch is an Australian collage artist who uses vintage and modern paper to create artwork combining ethereal imagery with pop culture references.
Born in Hobart, Tasmania, Katie Dutch spent the first twenty-four years of her life on Australia's southernmost island. The eldest of four children, she grew up in a caravan in the country before inhabiting a mud hut in the bush with her family and living off the land. Her family then spent several years living in a small community while Dutch's parents worked as caretakers for disadvantaged children. Soon thereafter, they all took off on another adventure, traveling in a double decker bus that her father painted bright blue, red & yellow.
When I ask Katie about her onset into artistic expression, she tells me that she's always been creative and cites childhood memories of her father's collage art and thinking it was cool and edgy. She says she also used art as a way to cope with mental illness, a struggle spurred by her parents' separation, teenage angst and several traumatic relationships, all of which trigged an eating disorder that lasted more than twenty years. Anxiety-ridden, Katie turned to therapy and burrowed deeper into her artistic pursuits.
"Art soothes me, allows me to express dark emotions as well as happy & humorous feelings. Throughout all my struggles and dark days, I've always had a sense of humor. I think being able to laugh at myself and life has been my saving grace, that and being creative."
Though she left school as a teenager, Dutch decided to resume her studies alongside her father Maurice and sister Pippa who enrolled in a three year course pursuing fine arts degrees. They majored in painting while Katie majored in sculpture & printmaking, focusing on copper plate etchings and found object sculptures. These were her main forms of artistic expression until about five years ago when she joined Instagram. Although she enjoys both etching and sculptures, Dutch says these processes are just too slow for her to be able to express herself daily online. Single etches take months to complete and whole sculptures sometimes take years to finish whereas collage is quick and the style works well on a screen. Katie says she flirted with collage art over the years, often cutting up her etching prints and adding to them in collage styles.
I ask her about her process and she says an idea will turn up in her head. "For example, I may get an idea of a lady with a plant coming out of her back. This may happen when I'm feeling emotional or anxious and the image will relate to my mood or intense feeling." If Dutch feels relaxed, she'll peruse the hundreds of images she's collected over the years and eventually an image will jump out at her-- "It will almost talk to me and say, 'pick me'." This image reminds her of another she can use to express her idea or tell a story. If not, she'll scan her library until she sees another image she wants to use.
Images are collected, the edges outlined in pen, and carefully cut out using small scissors and a scalpel-- a task Katie finds relaxing and therapeutic. Once she's compiled three to six images that are cut out, she gets to work arranging them and figuring out how they work together. She says this part of her process can take a surprisingly long time. But once she has the pieces where she wants them, she uses Blu Tak to join the layers. Dutch prefers this brand of sticky putty as the pieces can be removed and replaced without damage. She adds paint highlights and then scans the final image to share online. Each collage takes between two and six hours. On average, most take about four hours from start to finish.
I ask Katie about her animated collages and she tells me about Plotagraph, an app that allows her to upload a scan of a paper collage and then add movement: falling rain, shooting stars, rainbows, floating clouds. Dutch will also animate her collages by hand, executing small movements with multiple cut out images. Citing a piece she made of Frida Kahlo with blinking eyes as an example, Dutch explains that she cut out open eyes, scanned the image, replaced the open eyes with closed eyes and re-scanned the image. Within that same image, stars can move, hands wave and flowers grow by moving them slightly for each scan and then placing all the scans into a slide-creating app to animate them. The whole process is time-consuming, so Dutch says she only does these occasionally. She also uses a number of applications to add highlights to the final collage scan, as well as stickers, special effects, different colors or glitches.
"This part of the creative process is always fun and often experimental, you get results just by doing. Many times, the final product is a surprise. You can't plan everything and sometimes magic happens just by doing, experimenting & going with the flow."
Looking at Dutch's work, it's obvious she's obsessed with pop culture, which she readily admits. She also says she has strong opinions about current events, religion, people's behavior and the environment, so collage is the perfect medium to express all these interests. She says she loves looking at beautiful objects and people and often those who are famous are very appealing to the eye. "The main figures in my collage are what I consider to be beautiful or unique in an appealing way." Consuming media is also a key element in fueling Katie's creativity. She says she looks at a ridiculous amount of art, online and off, loves images of all kinds and is always searching for the holy grail of pictures. She is obsessed with knowing what makes a magic image. Dutch also stalks celebrity Instagram pages, watches too many movies and TV shows-- all of which influence and inspires her. Pop culture is her biggest influence and passion.
When I ask her about music, Katie says she is sentimental, so she enjoys anything that reminds her of her youth. Her dad played guitar and sang a lot of Neil Young while her mom loved Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon so listening to those produces a mixture of sound and memories. As a teenager, Dutch loved Nirvana, Live, REM, some Metallica, Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson, Guns N' Roses, Nick Cave, Chris Isaak, Suzanne Vega, Ben Lee, Tori Amos, Tracy Chapman, Cat Stevens and Prince. She mainly enjoys popular music that's easy on the ears, triggers positive emotions and paints pictures in her mind while she listens.
She mentions that her favorite artists are Salvador Dali, Hieronymus Bosch, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Frida Kahlo, Joseph Cornell, Vincent Van Gogh, Brett Whiteley, Arthur Boyd, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Francis Bacon, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, David Lachapelle, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, among others.
When the subject of idolatry comes up, Katie says she admires people throughout history who overcome their circumstances to achieve greatness or who make a change for the better; activists who stand-up against corrupt leaders; people who self-sacrifice to help others, animals and the environment; doctors and teachers who work to help educate and heal; people who are kind and generous without reward; artists who keep going when no one understands or supports them; fighters who pick themselves up after a loss and keep going; talented people who share their gifts. Generally, "people who believe in themselves and the greater good [and] who are prepared to work hard inspire me. I believe in equality, justice, a healthy environment, education, peace and a good future for everyone. Anyone who works towards this, I value and admire greatly."
Since she has such a big platform (a combined 80,000 followers between her two Instagram accounts), I'm curious to know if Dutch has any message she is trying to articulate to her audience through her work. Katie says she believes in equality for females and them being represented respectfully in art, as strong figures. She's passionate about being honest and about good prevailing. She's also a big believer in the spiritual side of life, in God, heaven, angels, spirits, good and evil -- and in caring and respecting others' beliefs. "This impacts and inspires my art most days - a mixture of the supernatural and my desire to make a statement about being a strong, truthful female who's able to voice my ideas, concerns, passions and perspective."
With a post of new or remixed collage art nearly every day, there's no denying Kitscheart's prolificness. I want to know if she has any favorites among her vast body of work. She tells me that she likes her older detailed etches, which took months of work to complete and include many fine details. She's also proud of a mannequin sculpture covered in thousands of antique glass beads, which took several years to complete. Katie does have a few favorite collages, even though she's made hundreds, but only a few of them really age well, according to her. "I also enjoyed making my selfie videos and I admit to liking the shower one when I make diet coke/ice cream spiders and the one I eat roses in a bathtub..."