Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Kat Gibbons’ Virginia Woolf preparing for her death in the River Ouse

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art to music and more!

Today, Kat Gibbons shares her piece Virginia Woolf preparing for her death in the River Ouse.

Kat Gibbons is a self-taught artist and Educational Therapist working with exceptional and at-risk youth through the arts. Kat works with multiple mediums and is constantly accessing new creative parts of herself as well as supporting others in accessing their own self-expression in a manner that supports healing, a positive self-concept and tools they can use in their own lives to stay connected to themselves.

Virginia Woolf prepares for her death. Art and mental health.

Kat Gibbons, Virginia Woolf preparing for her death in the River Ouse. Oil paint, April 2022.

Kat also took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion:

How would you introduce this piece to folks viewing it?

I suppose this is a piece about water and the power of water to draw us in, literally, to the spaces in between, where we might find peace.  It’s also about water in ritual and specifically death rituals. 

What inspired you to paint Virginia Woolf? 

I am English, in part, and am drawn towards the waterways of England and Ireland.  I find a lot of calm and relief from grief in those landscapes.  I was interested in showing what might be going through her mind, as she prepared for her own death in the river nearest her home in Sussex. I am always wondering about these brilliant women coping during times when they felt boxed in by societal norms and expectations and how art sustains them for a period of time.  I also spend time exploring this idea of “Madness”, how it is crafted and cultivated by society and systems, and how divergent individuals of that time turned to taking their own lives.  I often think the sanest people are those living between these worlds of the living and the dead and I think the water holds those in between spaces. 

She looks so resigned and the background atmosphere with her. Her eyes are tired and her mouth is set. It conveys a lot of emotion as she holds up the rocks that will symbolically and literally hold her down. How did you approach starting and creating it? 

For me, the river was the central starting point of creating the piece, as it had to reflect the darkness and beauty of her own mind and she stands in contrast with her white skin and hand. I know that she was wearing her beloved fur coat when she drowned and that very much represents the vehicle for her death, in conjunction with the rocks she collected.  I think about the ritual she created by slipping on her wellies and coat to collect stones to drag her further away from her own “madness” towards some kind of peace. 

Anything else you would want to share about the work or your engagement with it? 

I’ve been working with death and dying in art as well as “Mad Studies”, which I describe as an area of study that attempts to carve out new spaces for the voiceless who experience mental health challenges by moving away from labels provided by psychology and psychiatry.  The intersection of “madness”, death and dying through my art has led me back to the water and land of my birth place and thus is helping prepare me for my inevitable death at some point.  I feel that our relationships to death can really shift how we honor ourselves and others, especially when we experience suffering and we can express this in complex ways through art. 

You can check out more of Kat’s work on her website and her Instagram – @kgibbonscreativeaid.

Thanks, Kat, for sharing this thought provoking historical piece. It really makes me think about how far the world has come in understanding mental and emotional health. Progress is power.

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Kat Gibbons’ The Dying Seed

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, the Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art to music and more!

Today, Kat Gibbons (she/her/hers) will be sharing her piece The Dying Seed. Here’s a sneak peak of what Kat has to say about this piece: “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about this piece which is what I want from this series. If people can associate beauty with taboo female experiences, I have achieved something in my mind.”

But before we jump into the Q+A about this particular piece, let’s learn a little more about Kat!

Kat Gibbons, The Dying Seed, Multimedia tapestry hung from reclaimed driftwood

Kat Gibbons is a self-taught artist and Educational Therapist working with exceptional and at-risk youth through the arts. Her current obsession is tapestry weaving, which she developed during the pandemic.  This was a response to the need for sensory experiences that were calming. She is currently working on a series of tapestries about menopause and a series of portraits about children’s mental health.  Her past work includes portrait painting, illustration, sculpture, photography and other textile pieces. Katherine joined The Layered Onion because art has saved her life from a Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety and Trauma. In an effort to continue supporting the children with whom she creates, Katherine wants to expand her connections and understanding of working artists who have also struggled with mental well-being and be a supportive participant in the lives of other artists. She has a strong desire to bring light to the undeniable need for the arts in the lives of all children but especially children who have exceptional needs and gifts.

Knowing a little more about Kat, let’s jump into the Q+A about The Dying Seed

What are the mediums you used for this piece?

On this piece I used yarn, cotton string, dyed roving, a feather and the white hair in the middle is still a mystery.  I almost always hang the pieces from driftwood and this piece I got on the shores of Lake Michigan. 

What was your inspiration to begin work on this piece? 

My inspiration for this piece was initiated by the use of bright colors but I always have to balance them with muted tones.  I am always inspired by wool and am trying to work mostly with wool and wool blends. I can speak more to the theme in the next question. 

In your description of the piece, you mention that it is part of a series. Would you be willing to speak a little more about the series this work belongs to?

I had been thinking for some time about doing a series of tapestries about menopause because those of us experiencing it are often living in a space of mystery and anger about how little people still know or how to discuss it, as it is still very taboo. So, I began a series and am currently working on the third piece, which is quite large. 

I think I see roving towards the center of the piece, which really adds a lot of texture and movement, especially when placed against the spun yarn. How did you choose your yarn colors and thicknesses?

There is this wonderful recycled art supplies store in Boulder, Colorado called Art Parts and often I like to just wander and see what is available.  Often they will have raw sheep’s wool or odd bits of fur or hair for sale and I always go for that.  However, I began felting years ago and yarn stores are addictive with all the colors and textures.  I try to choose yarn from farms and small places in the UK, Ireland or New Zealand.  I am a forager by nature so I always incorporate bits of wood, bone or feathers into my pieces.  I tend to love muted, natural colors in contrast with bright colors, which have specific meaning for me.  My last series was Landsape Tapestries, so lots of blues and browns and greens.  I don’t really know where each piece will take me but I do like to have a lot of texture and encourage people to feel the tapestries with their hands. 

Were there any specific challenges you ran into while creating the piece? How did you work through them?

I am always challenged by how tight I can make the piece with all the different things going on and hanging is always a challenge because driftwood is curvy and bent but eventually it becomes its own special piece. I just work with it and let it hang for some time, watching it to see how it is becoming.  

Is there a website or any social media pages you’d like me to share if folks are interested in seeing more of your work?

I am on Instagram @kgibbonscreativeaid and you can see more of my other mediums on the My Work page on my website.  This is the textiles page but I am also a painter, illustrator and photographer.

Thank you so much for sharing your work, Kat!