Kathy Halper Interview

Kathy Halper

Art in 3D

By Jean Cunningham

Kathy Halper is a 30-year professional painter and mixed media artist living in Evanston. Her wide-ranging art is often created within a series, probably is made to hang on a wall, and might include 3D elements created using mixed media and found objects.

Mornings bring Halper good creative energy. She creates art for 3-4 hours, then takes her dog for a walk, and returns to work some more. The evening hours are often spent working on her other passion, embroidery. But her time is not rigid, and occasionally painting, embroidery, and the dog get all mixed together! Her current piece shown here is an example. 

“Mixed media”, for Halper, does not only refer to the physical components of the work where she tries to introduce unusual pairings of materials and techniques, but also to her subject matter. Other than her often used dog images in her series, Halper uses humor when it comes to topics she might visualize. While her work is a culmination of prior work and experiences, there are no rules, and anything fits. 

Halper’s studio is on the basement level of her two-story apartment. A large worktable in the middle of the room is surrounded by an easel, a drafting table, shelving units, and her desktop computer. A sectional sofa is a place of respite when needed. Because her work uses many media and materials, the laundry sink in the next room is an essential convenience to avoid stains from getting distributed around the rest of the apartment.

Each creation in this new series starts with a story. As a narrative artist she tries to answer the question, “What is my life like?” Because of the COVID era, small, repetitive, uneventful walks with her dog, and nesting at home are the current themes in this series. Halper loves walking around Evanston absorbing the architecture of homes large and small, the lake in winter or summer, and the interactions of her dog with others. These join to create stories of trivial moments of COVID life. Blues and purples are the palette of nighttime, not only outdoors but also the technology glows from phones, iPad, etc. inside the home.

To start a piece in the series, Halper sketches an image while playing with perspective (i.e., a bed as a trapezoid to throw the perspective off balance). She might throw the perspective off more later as she adds 3D elements. She pushes herself to move away from perfect and toward primitive art. 

After transferring the sketch to a wood panel, she will put a first layer of paints over the surface. To add 3D elements, she cuts cardboard into shapes and adheres them to the wood panel with an archival paper glue. Next, she adds layers of texture with the paints creating an intersection of painterly style and outsider style while asking herself as she goes, “Can these co-exist?” The 3D components are never complete within themselves but are embellishments to the predominant painting. To create a partial shape, she might shape polymer clay, dry it in the oven to harden the shape, and then adhere to the painted surface. For example, she might create half of a lampshade shape. In addition to paint, she might add sparkles, glitter, and/or gold leaf that she had explored in prior work, and then continue to delve into new textures and elements. 

Typically, Halper works on three different pieces of a series at a time to take advantage of the required drying wait time. She notes, “I am not always sure when I am done and occasionally overwork a piece. But normally I know when it is time to walk away.” 

Currently, Halper has three commissions in her studio: a family portrait, a beach gouache, and an embroidery project. She recently finished an embroidery piece for a textile show in Los Angeles. 

If you would like to see more of Halper’s work, visit her website at www.kathyhalper.com, her site at Shop Evanston Made, or on Instagram at @kathyhalperpainter. If you are interested in commissions, contact her at kathy@halper.com. In addition to her talents as a 3D artist, she also creates a monthly newsletter that you can sign up for at her website.

Jean Cunningham is retired after a career in business management and finance. She has written three books and authored many articles in her field, was a speaker at conferences, and taught at the university level. While traveling for business she began painting and drawing for relaxation and collecting art. She and her husband have lived in Evanston for 11 years and are avid walkers of the town and lakeside. She has a BS from Indiana University and an MBA from Northeastern University. 

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