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Katy Horan’s Muses: Spinsters, Victorians and Ghosts

March 17th, 2011 · No Comments

If you’ve ever laid eyes on Austin-based artist Katy Horan‘s work you probably recall the ghostly, lace-laden women and women-creatures that are Horan’s signature. These mysterious and striking figures combine Katy’s interest in Victorian fashion, Renaissance portraiture and historical female archetypes, and I’ve always been curious to learn more about them.


Last summer I had the chance to meet Katy for coffee while she was visiting Brooklyn (where she once lived) and just beginning a new body of work for her recent show at Swarm Gallery in Oakland, CA. I recently interviewed Katy about her new work for New American Painting’s blog… see below!

Spinster 3

What was the starting point or inspiration for this new body of work?

It is usually kind of random, and this time was possibly the most random of all! I use my work to research and combine varied interests that I have. For this work it was ghost stories, Victorian [attire] and photography, spinsters, Renaissance portraiture, and dresses, widows, and ghosts. I ended up with a huge pile of images of these subjects that I printed from the internet and copied from library books. I spent a lot of time in my studio going through them and looking for bits and pieces to use in my images. I like to combine varied references into singular characters, so the more subjects I am working with, the bigger the challenge.

Spinster 3 (detail)

Some artists bounce effortlessly from one body of work to another, yet others experience major growing pains. What was the transition like for you this time around?

It is always difficult for me. Life is pretty complicated and rarely allows the kind of time I need to get through creative blocks. These transitions always take longer than I would like. This time around, I was experimenting a lot with materials and textures, so there were a lot of very unattractive attempts that I had to be accepting of. I was also interested in a lot of different subject matters and had a lot of ideas, so it took some time to get focused and sort it all out.


Your work features women who embody, although in unusual appearance, age-old female archetypes: witches, widows, spinsters, and maids. Does your work carry a political message about how women are typecast?

Not directly, but I am aware that it could be read in that way, and that is fine by me. I definitely take issue with the value our society assigns to feminine youth and beauty, and I find it interesting that, historically, a woman’s station in society was often defined by her lack of a husband (as in the case of Victorian widows and spinsters). I’d rather explore their place in history and folklore in an objective way rather than offering any kind of critique.

I choose these archetypes mainly because there is something mysterious, beautiful, or comforting that draws me to them, so even though I definitely do have strong feelings about the typecasting of women (and it does influence my decisions in my work somewhat), I mainly work with these characters for more personal reasons.


The elaborate lace dresses in your paintings arguably play a larger role than the women themselves. How did your interest in fashion, especially of Victorian fashion, develop?

I spent my entire childhood wanting to be a fashion designer (and a vet). All I ever wanted to draw was women (and sometimes dogs) in dresses, but I never had an interest in actually making the clothes. Later on, I wanted to be a costume designer because I was really into theater and had developed an interest in historical clothing. I even went to college to study costume design, but realized that I was only interested in drawing the clothes, not making them. I then transferred to art school to study illustration.

My work has changed a lot since I graduated, but the clothes thing has remained a huge interest. At this point, historical costume is one of my main sources of reference and inspiration.

I like a lot of eras of dress. For a while, I was mainly looking at Elizabethan and Renaissance clothing, but Victorian garb is my main focus right now (although, I have always found it really beautiful). I am drawn to costuming that is heavily structured and ornamental, and the Victorians did this to an extreme while maintaining a darkness and morbidity that I find haunting. I have tried for a long time with my images to capture that haunted feeling.

Read the full interview over at New American Paintings.


Artist of the day: Katy Horan

October 17th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Today I’m featuring artist Katy Horan whose new work, shown here, is truly sensational! Katy graduated from RISD in 2003 and has since shown on both coasts, including at many of Honestly Art’s favorite galleries: White Walls, Giant Robot, Space 1026, Tinlark Gallery to name a few.


To try to summarize Katy’s work in a few short sentences would be just about impossible, so instead I’ll just say that her work is incredibly imaginative and edgy while still very open to interpretation.  In this series, I sometimes think I see colonial women, other times women from African folk art, other times monsters that would fit in any children’s horror story.

Katy’s work is available through Etsy and the Beholder.