Meet

Keiko Kamata

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I was born in Japan and grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and California. I now reside in South Carolina.
Is there anything you miss from the other places you’ve lived?
When I first moved to South Carolina the adjustment was extremely difficult because I had only lived in large cities up until then. But now, I appreciate having less distractions to work, and being able to feel the seasonal changes in nature. I do, however, always miss authentic Japanese food and Dim Sum!
When did you begin your current practice?
I began screen printing twenty years ago. I still remember my very first class and how I was instantly drawn to the medium.
Have you always worked with print?
I do love to paint and draw, but I also find the psychological distance felt in printmaking very interesting. I think it is the absence of the direct touch in prints that, for me, create a sense of removal, coolness, and calm. Printmaking is also a heavily process-oriented medium. I enjoy the repetition and the rhythm of it, as well as the challenge of creating something unexpected and unique to the medium.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I have come to work more fluidly with larger images in a series or variations. My interest has developed from depicting something to simply seeing ink as is on paper.
How did you arrive at your current printing process?
Screen printing was love at first sight. My process is reflective of my need to work efficiently, saying more with less, with only what is necessary. In my creative process I try to eliminate clutter and simplify, and that has led me to work with fewer screens with fewer shapes.
What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?
Colors and patterns found in nature. A positive engagement with ambiguity and uncertainty.
With your Ovals series, is there a specific inspiration for the colors?
I wanted the Ovals series to feel somewhat mysterious and welcoming. The layering of oval shapes began to create a tunnel-like pattern or rings of light, and I felt the colors should evoke a grand landscape, like the sky in all its tonal variations.
How do the different elements of color come together in your works?
I usually begin with a color that I feel would best express the mood or quality of the work and build and alter them as I go. Most of the time I realize the initial color choices were too harsh or direct and begin toning them down. As a result, many layers of overlapping transparent inks create a far more complex and interesting tonal range.
Can you talk more about the idea of directness as it relates to your work?
By “direct” I mean something that can be easily dissected or understood. I want to create images that cannot be quickly dismissed, that trouble the eye a little bit so as to prolong the seeing. I marvel at how layers of colors interact and mix on paper. When a color is achieved through layering, it has depth and can even evoke, at least for me, a sense of wonder.
Slant
The layering of oval shapes began to create a tunnel-like pattern or rings of light, and I felt the colors should evoke a grand landscape, like the sky in all its tonal variations. — Keiko Kamata
Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?
I am no musician, but Bach has had a great influence on me. My favorite artists are Anish Kapoor and James Turrell. The scale and intangibility of their work fascinate me.
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
Challenging myself to pursue something different with each body of work, without falling into the comfort zone. Also, knowing when to stop is crucial.
What would you describe as your comfort zone?
I feel that I have fallen into my comfort zone when the work feels too easy or when I am merely trying to repeat what I have done before. I enjoy working with a degree of uncertainty, and I should feel like I am holding my breath from start to finish.

Slant
I want to create images that cannot be quickly dismissed, that trouble the eye a little bit so as to prolong the seeing. — Keiko Kamata
Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?
I am interested in creating monoprints rather than large editions and have been experimenting with gestural ways of screen printing. Although I do control the amount of ink and the degree of a blend, the way colors flow as I pull the ink across the screen is mostly left to chance. I have found not being in total control of my process engages me and always fascinates me.
How does your choice of shape inform the final piece?
I choose simple geometric shapes to repeat with various transparent colors. I am interested in building colors through layering and finding a system of patterns elegant and unique to each shape. I find that simpler shapes do not visually interfere with the colors, and when repeated, tend to create order.
How important is spontaneity in your art?
Very important. I’ve learned to sensitively respond to whatever happens during the creative process, changing course if needed, and seeing unexpected possibilities rather than presumed outcome.

What necessities do you require when making your art?
Comfortable shoes and music. Screen printing is a good workout and when I generally know the direction of my work, I put on some instrumental music to avoid overthinking. But when I am uncertain, I need quiet.
What’s a typical studio day like?
I bring plenty of fluids to the studio, and work an hour at a time, taking breaks in between while the ink dries. The image progression is slow, but the slowness also gives me time to ponder the next step.
By fluids, do you mean drinks or materials for your work?
I meant drinks, like coffee, tea, water. But now that you have mentioned it, screen printing requires gallons of water, so yes, water as work material as well. There is so much cleaning involved with screen printing, my studio must be cleaner than my kitchen.
Do you find that environment relates to your work?
Nature, wherever the location, influences me. As I travel, I see colors unique to that landscape. When I return to my studio, those colors find a way of seeping into the work. My strongest work is created not during my travels, but in the routine rhythm of the day to day.
How do you choose your materials?
I have experimented with different printing surfaces but am always drawn back to paper. Since a lot of my work is about careful observation of overlapping colors and shapes, I feel that it requires the smoothness and warmth of a good printmaking paper. In my recent works, I try to involve the unprinted area of paper as positive space, so paper is very important.
What qualities are you looking for in the ink you use?
Transparency and fluidity. My screen printing inks are very loose compared to what would be used for fabric printing or industrial settings.
Are you formally trained?
I have an MFA in Printmaking from University of Hawaii at Manoa. Allyn Bromley and Charles Cohan, incredible printmakers and professors there, taught me and influenced me greatly. I consider my first formal art and screen printing instructor, Debra Rumer, my mentor. Her love for art was contagious. Judy Tuwaletstiwa, a dear friend and mentor, believed in my work long before I ever did, and continues to inspire me through her art.
What’s next for you?
Currently I am involved with design projects creating original textiles and objects for home. I will continue to make screen prints because the studio is where I feel most inspired.

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