Kate Hush is an OG nasty woman. The Brooklyn based artist bends neon tubes into violent sexy images of women behaving badly. Kate deploys the femme-fatale motif as a way to call bullshit on the legions of alt-righters and basement-dwelling misogynists who populate the armpits of the Internet. Rife with beachy noir vibes, Kate’s formulations are both playful and haunting. Imagine the arch-villainess from Miami Vice wrote her autobiography in neon sculpture, and you’d have a picture of Kate Hush’s style.
Kate spends most of her time in the small neon-shop where she works a 9-5, creates after hours, and teaches courses. CONVICTS caught up with Kate at her studio to get her word on internet trolls, the alchemy of bending neon tubes and of course, wicked women.
Hey Kate. To start can you talk about your most recent exhibition?
I always appreciate being in shows like that. The curator said she was putting on this great show from women all around the world who make all different types of art. There was video art, there was photography, there was painting, there was neon, there was almost everything. I was very flattered that she wanted me to be a part of it. Going to Boston and meeting all of the other artists to do a group photo was really great.
It’s a great show and it’s still happening right now, up until July. The proceeds are going to the Mali foundation. This is my first show where the proceeds are going to a good cause.
Talk us through your piece “Palinopsia.” What does the title mean?
Palinopsia is a term for when you shut your eyes and you still see an image burned into your retinas. I was trying to find the term for ‘screen burn.’ You remember back in the day, if you had a television or a computer on for a really long time with the same still image sitting on the screen, when you shut the computer off the image would be burned into the screen? My whole thing was this woman who is haunting someone, so you shut the screen off but her face is still just there.
How did you come up with the concept?
It originated when this guy was opening up a gallery in Bushwick and said he wanted an all women neon show and I had to be in. At that point, I hadn’t made a thing other than a couple of words. It was a really tight deadline, so I came up with all these pieces and made the layouts of all these stupid block letters of snarky words. I was like ‘Why am I doing this? Oh, because that’s all that I’ve seen.’ That’s what I thought you were suppose to do with neon.
What changed in your thought process?
Well, I found these really tiny diameter tubes at the neon shop I happen to work in. I thought if my piece is big enough, then I don’t have to do words. I wanted to see if I could make this woman burn into the TV screen but in neon, so I used these tiny six meter glass tubes. It was possible because of the scale and that’s how this whole style of mine started: when I realized I could make these illustrations in glass with tiny little tubes.
How delicate is the process?
It’s scary delicate. I haven’t had to ship one yet. I’m not looking forward to that but it’s something that I’m going to have to do someday. Just picking it up you can see how fragile it is.
Do the pieces get damaged often?
The only time in the studio that something got damaged was when someone who worked there actually dropped a piece of wood on some glass and it just shattered. Leaving work one day, my husband met me and I had piece that I had bent. I was stupid and didn’t tape it to cardboard. I just put it in a bag and my husband sat on it.
Can you explain the process from start to finish?
First thing you need is a drawing and an idea. I sketch the drawing out on the computer. I do it digitally so I can make the linewidth of my drawings the same exact width as the glass tube. If I’m using the millimeter glass tube, I start drawing on the computer and can actually see if bending the glass will work. If it does work, I print it on this printer called the plotter, then take a pen and draw my pattern on to the actual bending cloth. Then I take that and mark it out how I’m going to bend it. Then I take the actual glass tubes-you heat them with a torch until they turn into a not-quite-honey consistency-then I bend it into the shape that I need. I equate it to tracing, only you’re tracing the image in glass.
How long does the physical process take?
It really depends. Some stuff can take weeks, some stuff can take a afternoon. Beyond building the glass, you have to paint out the parts you don’t want to see, then you have to mount it and wire up the electrical portions. It’s a lofty process.
What about the abstract creative process before that? How do you come up with your designs?
I’m really inspired by television. I’ll watch that and see a women doing something, then I’ll come up with an idea from that. I’ll get a snapshot in my head. Then I go onto the computer and start toying around with it to see if I can create something out of that idea.
What are you watching these days?
Right now I’m watching Fargo and the new Twin Peaks that just came out.
Could you talk a bit more about your motivation for these pieces. Why this overall aesthetic?
I love wicked women. There’s a subset of people who think all women are wicked and that we all want money and that we just use sex to get ahead and all this other terrible stuff, but I don’t see that in day to day life. So if these guys want to see a wicked woman, I’m going to show them what a wicked woman is. So I create these exaggerated, bombastic characters who are doing all the things this subset claims women do. Maybe they’ll look at my work and think ‘Women probably aren’t as bad as we claim,’ because women aren’t running around with knives and they’re not murdering men and they’re not always cheating and stealing.
We heard you you read all the awful comments online.
Reading the awful comments that groups of men leave about women is the gasoline to my fire.
Where are they posting?
It’s Facebook comments, it’s Twitter, it’s Instagram comments. Especially now since Donald Trump, it’s everywhere.
How important does this work feel in light of Donald Trump?
I think it’s very important. The first thing he did during that debate was call Hilary a nasty woman. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.
Are you working on anything right now?
I was invited to be at the Museum of Neon Art in LA this fall, so I’m trying to make a couple pieces for this show. Still in the works though.
Have you gotten in any fights over your artwork?
It’s funny, I haven’t had anyone come at me yet but that’s my dream. That’s what I’m waiting for. The only time someone tried to come after me was when I posted a picture of my Iranian-born husband on Instagram and wrote something about how bullshit the Muslim ban is. Some man from Russia was like ‘You need to respect your president and everything he does.’ That’s the only fight i got in so far.
How do you switch you time between neon shop and commercial work?
Day-to-day in the neon shop I’m doing all commercial work for clients. So that’s where I spend my 9-5, then on the weekends and at night I’m trying to do my own stuff.
Tell us a little bit about the neon industry.
It’s a pretty small, specialized industry. People say that it’s dying out, but I don’t think that. I’m seeing neon more than ever now, in fashion, and in film. I took a class in this space about four or five years ago, a neo bending course and just basically never left. I just came in here and now we make artwork for artist, signs for restaurants, signs for boutiques. We do a lot.
Can you tell us what you were doing prior to working with neon?
Well, I moved to New York about 10 years ago and my background is in graphic design. I was trying to freelance but if you know anything about New York, you it’s all connection based. I was doing from time-to-time these freelance jobs that weren’t really cutting it. Then I was given as a gift the neon class. In my graphic designer career I would make my phone digitally neon so I kinda knew what it should look like. When I took the class and I brought a picture I drew with illustrator in and the shop owner was just like “OMG how did you know how to do this?!”
At that point he was really old school he was taking a projector and still blowing stuff up on the wall and taping the piece of paper and drawing them that way, and I taught him how to do it digitally. So my graphic design background really helped me ease into this. Then slowly I started coming in here more and more and did stuff beyond the layouts.
Right on Kate, we love your work. Thanks for the chat.