Molly Kaderka's mysterious, emotionally charged figurative paintings stand out in an art scene saturated with abstractions and social practices. Their fleshy figures occupy fantastic wooded landscapes or domestic interiors that resemble midtown Kansas City apartments. The Pitch stopped by Kaderka's Urban Culture Project studio as she prepared for two exhibitions at Spray Booth Gallery, the first of which opens on First Friday. She has made this former office space her own, filling it with props (oriental rugs, cushy comforters, fake flowers) and covering the walls with what seems like an endless supply of her own paintings and drawings.
The Pitch: Why paint the figure — a subject that has been revisited for centuries — in this day and age?
Kaderka: People are always inclined to look at and empathize with images of other people. For this reason, the figure has always been relevant and will continue to be relevant. I want to make work that is relevant to my audience, and I want to engage senses and emotions that are a part of the basic human experience. For me, the figure is the most important, complex and challenging subject to work with. I always want to be functioning on the edge of my own limitations as a painter to ensure that my work is always evolving and is in danger of failing. I reach this place most often when I am working with the figure. It's very exciting.
Is your work autobiographical?
I would say that my work is inspired by my own life, but it is not autobiographical. I paint myself as a part of my search for meaning and reflection in my own life. And I paint the people who are important to me because I want to paint things and people who I love. As for objects, I paint the things that I like, trusting that they will lead me somewhere new and interesting.
Right now you have poinsettias, animal bones and fruit in your studio as props for your paintings. What attracts you to those forms?
My work in general is about taking a look at interior emotions and bringing those emotional states to the surface through painting. Bones are, quite literally, something inside all of us. I like using bones as an object because they are a physical manifestation of something from the inside being shown on the outside.
I like and use poinsettias for the opposite reason. Where bones are rigid, linear objects with little color, poinsettias have a rich saturated color and a soft organic shape. Where bones are often used as a reminder of death, poinsettias, for me, are a bold reminder of life. Used together, these objects create a dynamic tension in the painting.
You have books in your studio open to display works by old masters, and you double majored in painting and art history at the Kansas City Art Institute. Who are some of your favorite artists?
It is my firm belief that if one is going to work within the tradition of painting, you have to know its history. This is an integrity issue for me.
My top favorite painters are Titian, Pontormo, Velasquez, Bonnard and Lucian Freud. They are all masters at creating thrilling and convincing worlds within their paintings. They are all masters of color, form, etc. But mostly, these are my favorite painters because whenever I see one of their works, the paintings speak to me and cause an emotional response.
How do those artists influence your work?
I look at these painters because they show me what can be achieved. They have all created beautiful, perfect paintings, which is a goal I want to accomplish in my lifetime. I admire them for the worlds they create, for their use of color and their ability to be so convincing.
Mannerism, a movement associated with the exaggeration of forms for emotional effect, is one term that applies to your work. Why do you choose to distort figures, objects or spaces in your paintings?
For me, composition is everything. The proportions and perspectives of figures, forms and space can always be distorted to serve a compositional purpose. A distorted figure, whether the viewer recognizes it or not, allows that image to become symbolic or even allegorical because it is not a documentation or study from life. It becomes something beyond reality, which is where meaning and truth lie. I think!
Like writing, if an image is illegible, then it cannot convey anything and is therefore meaningless. Writers have words with inherent meaning assigned to those words. Painters have brushstrokes that gain meaning by the way they are assembled.
Some areas of your paintings are rendered in more detail than others.
This is a way for me to create a compositional hierarchy. The moments in the painting that have more visual information are important moments in the narrative of the work. These moments allow me to lead my viewer's eye around the composition.
In my work, there are multiple narratives: the narrative of the image and the narrative of the surface. The way the paint is applied tells its own story and creates a specific effect that explains and enhances the image it is describing. Ideally, the whole image is constructed under this principle: that every brushstroke has a deliberate relationship to every other brushstroke in the piece. For me, moments of touch between figures are the most important moments in my compositions.