i first saw kayla guthrie's work at nada art fair this past may. there, her drawings with colored frames caught my eye. we recently met up to chat more about her work; kayla operates in several modes as a singer, visual artist and a writer. in her mind, these forms are not connected in a conceptual way but are all equally a part of who she is as a creative person. she tries to master her craft in all mediums and engage in a dialogue with different communities. kayla aligns her music with the art world and she performs her songs in art galleries/spaces, most recently while on tour in europe this summer. kayla previously released an ep titled blue with mixed media recordings. the inside cover features colored text detailing the history of the project, reminiscent of her visual art style (see below). in all that she does, kayla is both candid and confident. she recommends, "don't be afraid to spend money on your art. it will help you be who you are." wise words.
more about kayla below:
cultureisland: tell us more about you.
kayla guthrie: i grew up on vancouver island in canada, in a suburban area surrounded by wilderness. i spent a lot of time playing in the forest, reading, and hanging out in the studio with my mom who is an artist. as i got older, music became a way of connecting with the outside world: going to shows in the city, buying vinyl, and making pen pals on the internet to exchange mix tapes with. i moved to the city of vancouver in 2003 to attend art school where i also sang in some local bands. improvisation, psychedelia and noise music were a deep influence on me, a surreal poetics that spoke to the contrasts of my surroundings: the natural beauty of the ocean, mountains, and trees combined with a sleazy drug-saturated underbelly and the dark urge to escape or disappear. by the time i graduated from school i felt hemmed in by the conservative image and expectations of being an artist in vancouver/canada. i always had a longing to be in new york, which seemed way more artistically and culturally diverse, somewhere you could make a living as an artist and be any kind of person you wanted to be. when i moved here 7+ years ago, i got a day job in the art world which brought me to performing in art settings, from galleries to dinners and after-parties. my music developed slowly, from a year-long collaboration with a friend to the solo project it is today, through years of performances and home recording experiments. during this time i also began publishing my writing, and more recently i’ve started showing visual art.
cultureisland: tell us more about your music and art.
kayla guthrie: my music is really centered around my personality as a singer, and i create musical structures and lyrics to explore the different qualities and textures of my physical and written voice. i love the connection between poetry and music, and i feel like singing lyrics is a unique expressive opportunity that is super effective at bringing words alive. i see music less in terms of style and more as an abstract playground for morphing the self, similar to being in a dream where your identity is more malleable and fluid. the medium of visual art, for me, is somehow more directly linked to a relationship with an audience. so it becomes about how to present these internalized states i’m dealing with in my writing or drawing in a reflexive manner.
cultureisland: what is your artistic process?
kayla guthrie: my approach is constantly changing, but in general i keep up practice in various techniques, like crafting lyrics and singing, or writing poetry, and from this regular habit i generate material for songs, writing or artwork. and when opportunities arise, i figure out how to present these materials so they can have the most impact in the particular space where they will be shown, whether it be a concert, art show, or publication. when i’m performing or showing art, i pay attention to environmental cues like lighting, placement, color choices. it’s a way of speaking to the subconscious level rather than making a direct statement.
cultureisland: how is your work as a singer and visual artist related? why do you perform in gallery scene vs. the music world?
kayla guthrie: to answer the first part of your question, the two activities are related in that they are both things that i do, however, there isn’t a clear link or conceptual reasoning behind doing both. i am just highly invested in each activity, to the point where they both feel like part of who i am, and the most authentic way to be is just to own that, even if it’s inconvenient on a practical level or doesn’t line up with the image of what an artist or a musician should be. i’m interested to see what happens when i don’t try to manage the overall outcome of my creative efforts. regarding why galleries vs. music venues: at the time i started playing music in new york, i was more socially enmeshed in the art world rather than the music scene, and was reading the same books, going to the same exhibitions, and having conversations with the people that frequented art galleries. so naturally i wanted to take part in what was going on by performing my music in those settings and being involved in that community. later, i began wanting to develop as a musician and that has drawn me toward the music scene in recent years. i find pleasure in being able to flow between the art and music realms, like speaking two different languages, each with their own set of untranslatable expressions known only to themselves.
cultureisland: tell us more about your drawings. how did they come about?
kayla guthrie: mostly as a response to the challenge of showing writing in art galleries. drawing cartoons and trippy shit was something i did when i was in art school that my teachers always hated: it’s because they want you to learn to think through what you’re doing and not just obsessive-compulsively produce, which tends to become a habit for people who are good at drawing. writing became my way of continuing to chronicle the recesses of my mind like i did through drawing, and after i mastered some technical things it turned out to be a much more flexible tool, effective at depicting (mental) images while still feeling inherently personal. i brought the drawings back as a visual aid to the writing; it’s hard to feel enticed to read a block of text while standing in a gallery, but an illustrative motif can break the ice.
cultureisland: where do you find inspiration? what motivates you to create?
kayla guthrie: as mentioned earlier, i feel inspired by the different artistic worlds that i am a part of or privy to in new york, and the challenge of making art to present to different communities that i may be more or less comfortable with. i like the feeling that i am communing with something, whether that be the energy of this place and time, the people who live around me or find themselves at my shows, or my own emotions and abilities, allies and enemies. i want to overcome sadness and fear, to make people feel they are not alone and remind them of their own inner dignity.
cultureisland: who are some of your favorite artists?
kayla guthrie: jutta koether, leslie winer, maggie lee, ida no, meredith monk.
cultureisland: have you watched anything interesting lately?
kayla guthrie: the light in my backyard before the sun went down today; dark gold, with no shadows.