Femme Visuale: Kim Radatz

Wax on, wax off.

Climbing the stairs to Kim Radatz studio, the first thing you encounter are a group of tiny bathers in swimming rings, floating in a “pool” of large salt crystals. The soft folds of their clothes drape romantically like a Renaissance painting. Except, the bathers are actually MIAonly their encaustic-encased dresses are present, acting as a shell for the body that isn’t there.

Artists turn to encaustic for its unique traits of pliability, thick texture, and a matte, semi-translucent surface quality. As a multi-media artist, it doesn’t matter if her work is made of fabric, thread, paper, antiques or other found objects: Radatz uses whatever it takes to get her message across.

“I’m far more interested in content than the finished product. The work is about relationships and how we interact with each other, I suppose specifically within a family. I’m an identical twin, so my work stems from that. My sister and I were working around problems before we were even born, and I still find myself maneuvering around life and seeing where it goes,” she says.

The current project she’s working on for the Fantastic Ekphrastic show at Soft Water Studios in February is her swarm of swimmers, which sprung out of her residency at Anderson Ranch. She sews each dress and arranges them in a swim ring before dousing them in wax. Using both hard and soft materials, her girls seem both fragile yet strong.

“Being a twin has colored ever aspect of my life. I never see one of anything. My mom had two sets of twins in less than a year, and the solo birth in the family was just a year older,” Radatz explains. ‘The five of us might have well just been one unit, so I’m not just dealing with twins, I have to have groupings in my work because my family was one big entity and we still are.”

With her multiples, she’s not focused on similarities, but individuality and difference between each member of the group. Even though things first appear to look the same, you can start to pick apart unique traits. Compared to her previous sculptures, her newer bodies of work are stripped down to neutral colors and red so the subject is the center of attention.

Radatz deals with memory, loss, and death through the use of found or re-appropriated materials. Using her mother’s old hankies or small baby shirts from her siblings covered with stains from a vibrant youth, it makes you wonder about the histories of these things and their relationship to their previous owner. Because her works deal with memory through ambiguous narrative, they are haunting in their open-ended interpretation.

“I tend to gather collections of things and then depersonalize it because after the person is gone, you have to deal with getting rid of all of their stuff,” she says.

As for choice of materials, Radatz says that they choose her. Though she uses vintage aprons and textiles, her work isn’t concerned with traditional women’s craft or feminism in that particular way.

“The fabric pieces started with the Individual Artist Grant I got from the Arts Council of Hillsborough County. I wanted to talk about my mom, who has dementia, watching her process things, and how my family is processing that by losing my mother—losing her mind, but not her body.

“I started out as a potter, so it’s always been about containment and that concept never left me no matter what material I use. The dresses came out of the idea of a house for our bodies. I wanted to work with a skin-like material,” she says.

Adhering paper on vinyl was her creative problem solving to creating a “skin,” and it is eerie because it really does look flesh-like because of its fragility.

“I know, it’s creepy right? It looks like I skinned someone,” she laughs. “I like to be surprised in my work, and I guess that’s why I allow myself to bounce from one thing to another.”

Text-based pieces are also scattered through her repertoire, reminding of works by Philip Hanson or Barbara Kruger.

“Kruger had a big impact on me with her pictures juxtaposed to words, and how you can change the context and meaning. That goes way back to my undergraduate days, but text means a lot to me because I come from a talking family,” she says.

Years ago at the Morean Arts Center, I remember seeing an encaustic-coated wheelbarrow full of letters that flowed over the edge and pooled at the ground, very blunt with their presence as it repeated, “Little White Lies.” The sculpture now sits in her studio, revamped and filled with paper fortunetellers or “cootie catchers” instead.

“I tore it apart, because the words were never right. It was too easy, and I don’t want my work to be easy. I just put in the toy part and let your memory take you back to whatever it is that’s there,” she explains. “I want my work to be complex, I don’t want it to be a one-liner and to me, this is what is was meant to be all along.

“I see that I’m really simplifying in my work, but that’s really true in my real life too. It’s probably involved with the process of aging, coping with my mom, and eliminating stuff out of my life so that’s probably why the color is going away,” Radatz says.

Going between starting with an idea or starting with an object, her working process is always changing. The best piece of advice she can give to another artist is no matter what you do, do it in your studio.

“I learned that a while back, but in the morning I’ll come in here to have my coffee and walk around. I journal more than I draw, so I talk through ideas. Sometimes, I’ll just jump in and start working, but I never come to the studio with an agenda. Before I wanted to control everything, and now I don’t want control anymore,” She says. “The only requirement I have is to just be in my studio at least once every day. That’s what gets me motivated in the studio: just being in here and seeing things in a new light each day.”

Though her process has changed and relaxed over time, some things never change:

“I will never take the easy road, I will take the hard road every time because I seem to be hardwired that way,” Radatz says.

To keep updated with Kim Radatz’s studio, follow her on Instagram.

Urban Dictionary defines Femme Fatale as “a woman with both intelligence and sex appeal that uses these skills to manipulate poor helpless men into doing what she wants. May cause death.” Keeping in line with this concept, Caitlin Albritton's "Femme Visuale" series aims to highlight local women artists and show off some lesser-known talent that's been hiding in the shadows. In the art world, if it ain't big and loud, it ain't being seen. Art as a grand spectacle leaves little room for modest, sincere, or quiet voices, especially women's voices. And I promise, we won’t bite.

Caitlin Albritton, CL Tampa's visual arts critic, spends her time tracking down art you might not see anywhere else. She's also an artist in her own right. Follow her on Instagram or read her blog.

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