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Published May 16, 2024

A Car is a Moving Canvas: A Conversation Between Zoe Alameda and Kati Kirsch

By Zoe Alameda & Kati Kirsch

Kati Kirsch and Zoe Alameda, featured artists on Testudo, discuss the overlap in their practices, working with found objects, and the projects they are excited about this year. The pair met for a video call in early April as part of our DIALOGUES series which connects Testudo artists in conversation for an exclusive look into their creative practices. From Kati Kirsch’s studio in New York to Zoe Alameda’s in Los Angeles, both artists talk about collecting and hoarding images for inspiration, and how lifestyle differences have directly influenced their work.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Kati Kirsch: I guess we could start by both loosely describing our practices.

For me, a painting will begin with either something very specific (a reference photo or singular idea) or something very abstract. Depending on what direction or what end of the spectrum the painting starts, it'll sort of go in the opposite direction from there. So if it starts as an abstract painting, then it will get more and more specific. Starting with something super specific will usually get more abstract.

Zoe Alameda: My process starts with image collecting– I'm either screenshotting things I see online or taking photos when I'm driving around. Then it comes down to picking images that have strong associations together or none at all, then trying to figure out why I was attached to those images in the first place. I’ll compose these images together, collaging and layering them without clear intention at first. The meaning that ends up surfacing in a work comes through after I’ve gone through the whole process, [not necessarily beforehand].

Zoe Alameda, "2 Gifts", 2023. Acrylic, toner, & paper on canvas, 40” x 26”. Image courtesy of the artist.

KK: I think objecthood plays a role in both of our work. We are both working from found objects.

ZA: What type of objects are you interested in, and is there a hierarchy for you in terms of what you choose to paint versus things you decide to leave aside?

KK: In terms of object selection, I think often it is just purely aesthetic preference. Lately, I've been very into fashion. A lot of my recent work has depictions of belts, or shoes, or purses. I view these as components that can unify compositions, almost as tools. But a lot of times I will be working either directly using the found object in a piece (often dangling a charm underneath a painting, or using the top of the canvas as a shelf for objects to rest on) or using a found object as a reference image to paint from. In those cases, there's usually some sort of sentimental attachment there. In a recent exhibition, The Secret Life of Doubters at Kaleidoscope I showed a floor sculpture that's underneath one of the paintings. It's composed of all different things that people have gifted me and you can kind of see, “oh, that tiny dog toy is maybe in this painting over here, that fabric scrap made its way into this other thing.” I was thinking about it like how when artists in the Met or something have their sketchbooks in these glass cases alongside the paintings. The sculpture is a reference image on display, almost like preparatory material.

Reference Material (Gifted Objects) from Kati Kirsch's "The Secret Life of Doubters" at Kaleidoscope

ZA: I work in the same way. I don't really like to have objects that I use in my assemblage work to be fixed in just one place. I love being able to activate them across different works, tapping into my own sentimentality being able to keep the objects themselves, instead of them being glued or trapped forever in some sort of resin. I still like to be reminded of the object in its pure found form.

KK: I have been talking about this idea of identity formed through aesthetic proximity with a friend of mine, Jamison Lung, an idea she’s been exploring greatly for a project she’s working on. Do you relate to this idea of forming an identity through what you visually choose to be surrounded by?

ZA: For a long time I couldn't figure out why I was choosing certain images over others. But every time I look at my paintings I notice new things that I didn't even notice before. Like how I frequently reference car parts or hands in every work I make, or how much my paintings end up looking like Instagram ads or street art. Patterns and symbols show themselves more clearly when I stand back. I really do absorb my surroundings, both physical and digital.

KK: I noticed that cars make a lot of appearances in your work, do you have any idea why that is?

ZA: Living in LA, my car is my main mode of transportation. I’m in my car every day. It's this isolating safe space for me where I can feel comfortably alone and not crazy about it. I struggle with being home alone, and feeling generally lonely, but my car is one place where I feel in touch with myself. I kind of see it as a form of armor for myself.

KK: It's interesting because a car is also kind of a canvas. Bumper stickers, decals, and tire covers are all just different methods of decoration and customization. It's similar to how you will use hats with logos on them in your work, a car can just be a backdrop for text or drawings to be inserted on top of.

ZA: Also kind of like a moving billboard.

KK: Yeah, totally.

Photo 1: Zoe Alameda, "Big Bites Don't Work", 2023. Acrylic on panel, cement, silicone, resin, plastisol, spray paint, charcoal, thermal prints, 15.5” x 13.5”. Photo 2: Zoe Alameda, "Meet Me Halfway (Victory Royale), 2024. Acrylic, Xerox prints, resin, wood on canvas, 32” x 26” x 4”. Images courtesy of the artist.

ZA: Some of your paintings feel like I'm looking at cursed images. I wanted to ask more broadly how you see internet culture manifesting in your work?

KK: I feel like a common theme in internet humor is the sense that anything can be a joke and nothing should be seen as sacred or taken entirely seriously. I actually just looked up the definition of “cursed image” on Wikipedia, because I feel like it’s one of those things where I know it when I see it but it is extremely difficult to articulate. From the Wikipedia page: “A cursed image refers to a picture (usually a photograph) that is perceived as mysterious or disturbing due to its content, poor quality, or a combination of the two. A cursed image is intended to make a person question the reason for the image's existence in the first place.”

Honestly, I would use this exact description to talk about my paintings. Wow…that’s a bit revelatory.

Photo 1: Kati Kirsch, "Earth Girl", 2024. Oil on canvas, 30" x 48". Shown as part of "The Secret Life of Doubters" at Kaleidoscope. Photo 2: Kati Kirsch, "Eye Shadow Machine // Ant farm proposal", 2024. Oil on canvas, 48" x 60". Shown at Gern En Regalia in the group show "Angel Tech". Images courtesy of the artist.

ZA: Could you go as far to say you’re addicted to the internet, or is it just something that’s so natural and ingrained in your life?

KK: Yeah, I guess. I feel like the boundary between the internet and real life is getting more and more blurry, and obviously we know it's not good for us to spend too much time on there, but it feels weird to call it an addiction when it's just such a part of daily life.

ZA: I love how you used the word “blurry”. It makes me think about how you abstract images in your paintings. Blurry vision and warped perspectives. Could you talk about how and why you skew the picture plane in that way?

KK: I think a lot of the time it's just imbuing the paintings with a sense of mystery. I was at a show the other day with some friends and we were talking about the value of a slower read on a painting. Sometimes, if it's too quick a read, then it can't necessarily sustain the viewer’s attention or it doesn't really give them enough to think about. I feel like depicting a warped sense of space mirrors my experience of being a person and trying to be a part of the world but kind of just being confused all the time. It also means maybe you can't quite tell what you're looking at. I have always been drawn to that quality in paintings.

ZA: Yeah, I guess for me, it's kind of the opposite. I love to paint things that are very identifiable and very representational. It's difficult for me to paint in an abstract manner. While I'm collaging, though, the mystery aspect comes in ripping through layers. Collaging to me just feels very automatic and intuitive where I can tear something one way, paste something another, and it all comes together without me really thinking about it.

Zoe Alameda, "(Squeeze Your Eyes Shut)", 2022. Collage, clear tar gel, plastisol on canvas with found object frame, 57” x 35”. Image courtesy of the artist.

ZA: I'm curious about the mode of working that you're into right now versus how you've worked in the past.

ZA: In your artist’s statement, I loved reading how you said you had skeletons or layers building up on top of each other. So how do you know when you’ve reached a stopping point on one layer? And when does the next begin?

KK: Yeah, specifically right now, I've been working on this series of three paintings. I've had a bad ear infection for the past couple of weeks and these paintings started out being reference images of 3D rendered inner ear diagrams, which I was spending a lot of time looking at to understand what was wrong. These images feel like something you'd see in a textbook 20 years ago. They are rendered but kind of poorly. The color is really soothing, but some of them are metallic and some of them are just random. I have no idea how they're deciding what color each part of the ear would be. I took those diagrams as starting points and then from there, the paintings are just getting more and more abstract. One turned into a painting of a deer with a belt over it, and another one has the actual ear depicted but then there's a fan and a car headlight and all this different stuff. That was just pretty intuitive decision making.

KK: I feel like I'm not precious with my work because I also work really fast. So I never feel too bad about just entirely covering up a painting that I don't think is working. In most of the paintings there's at least two or three paintings underneath what ends up being the point where I'm satisfied with something. I like to preserve little fossils of old paintings that I thought were successful for the next iteration.

Photo 1: Kati Kirsch, "Inner Ear Diagram with deer and belt", 2024. Oil on linen, 30" x 30". Shown at Gern En Regalia in the group show "Angel Tech". Photo 2: Kati Kirsch, "Hamster World", 2024. Oil on canvas, frame, mini plastic chairs. 48" x 30". Shown as part of "The Secret Life of Doubters" at Kaleidoscope. Images courtesy of the artist.

ZA: I wanted to ask you about your color palettes. I feel like there are such bouncy, vibrant colors that shine through in your work that get muddled into something more soothing. It all feels very nostalgic and dreamlike.

KK: I think I get a color palette stuck in my head and then I just keep using the same colors over and over again, which is actually something I'm trying to combat right now. Lately, it's been pink and green and blue and brown–everything ends up being those four colors if I just allow myself to paint intuitively. I've been trying to work more from specific reference material for color, like with the ear diagrams which gave me a very specific color palette to work with off the bat. Color is a big factor in why I’m drawn to my reference material in the first place so I’m trying to lean into that.

I pick up on a lot of just metal-feeling things in your work, so there's a lot of grays and darker colors.

ZA: Concrete, freeways, warehouses, billboards. LA city life is so ingrained in my work, though I try to refer back to the body and skin and contrast both in my work.

KK: Humans and machines are always both present. Are the brands featured in your work specific to your actual preferences, or does the work speak to the cultural meaning they hold?

ZA: The brands are admittedly specific to my preferences. I think highlighting corporations like Amazon and McDonald's in my work is kind of like a guilty confession. I think about how large of a role they play in America, and how convenient it all is yet how much it perpetuates a culture of waste. It’s kind of poking at the contradictions and irony of it all. It’s strange. Usually when people favorite a brand, it’s something like Balenciaga or–

KK: Something more glamorous.

ZA: Yeah. It’s funny to lean into this identity of being in love with the largest e-commerce company and fast food chain.

I had one last thing to ask-- it's kind of a two-parter. Do you have any exciting projects for this upcoming year? Will you be curating any more shows?

KK: I always have a desire to maintain a curatorial process as sort of a tangential practice to my own art and I think curating and giving other people opportunities is really important. And it feels a lot more rewarding in a lot of ways than showing my own work. I would love for art events to be able to generate a sense of community. Curating can even be friend matchmaking…

Do you have any projects that you're excited about for this year?

ZA: I’m flying out to New York for NADA in May. I'm really excited for that. It’s the first time I’ve ever shipped a work out for a gallery. There's a few other group shows I’m a part of this year too, and I’m thinking of curating a show with friends when I move out of my apartment.

See more of Kati Kirsch's work on Testudo.

See more of Zoe Alameda's work on Testudo.

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