We were lucky to catch up with Doris Kapner recently and have shared our conversation below.
Doris, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. We’d love to hear about the things you feel your parents did right and how those things have impacted your career and life.
My parents gave me the gift of time and resources when I was young. I had a lot of unstructured time. I took ballet lessons and was involved in other activities, but I had a lot of time to just explore and create. As a sculptor, I’ve met many others who didn’t really discover it until high school or even college, but I’ve been working three dimensionally for as long as I can remember. My parents made that possible. We had a finished basement that was our playroom, but looking back, I’d call it my studio. I had legos, play-doh, clay, and, of course, paint but we also lived on the side of a mountain so I had dirt, sticks, rocks, and snow. My dad was a plumber and he would give me the huge boxes that water boilers came in and a utility knife when I was maybe 7 or 8, and I would turn it into a house and then paint it. He had a shop and I would take spare bits of wood and nails and build things. I remember building a high chair for my doll out of scraps pretty young. My mother taught me to sew, crochet, and embroider so I would make dolls and clothes for them. I’d also make doll house furniture and rugs and even little fruit out of candle wax. Even when I would draw I would layer the paper, so that if I drew a house I would make the windows and doors open like an advent calendar with a picture behind it or draw jewelry that I’d cut out so you could wear it. Basically, they figured out early on if they gave me things to create with, I was completely happy and out of their hair, lol. My mother took me to the library every week where I was obsessed with books that taught me new things like bookbinding, sculpture, or even Chinese brush painting. I would just keep building my skill set. When I took my first welding class in art school, my professor made everyone do a bunch of drawings before letting anyone make anything. He came over and looked at mine and let me start much sooner than anyone else because he could tell I could easily see things in 3D. That was the first time I realized other people couldn’t. When I first saw the CAD program where they spin an object around so you can see it on all sides, I realized that’s how my brain works. I attribute a lot of this to my childhood though maybe I did those things because that’s the way my brain is wired. I guess it’s a chicken and the egg question. As an artist, I’m just doing what I did when I was little, using all the resources I can find to create. I’m using the fiber crafts my mother taught me as a child, and I’m still obsessed with building things I envision.
Doris, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I’m primarily a figurative artist. My work is representational and is directly tied to my experience as a woman. Most of my work stems from the idea of domesticity; the home and society’s idea of a woman’s place in the home. My parents immigrated from Germany and the women in my family were very proud of being homemakers even if they worked outside the home. Everything had to be clean, beautiful, and orderly. Food had to be homemade and delicious. The home was a reflection of you. Even though my mother dreamed of me having a career and being independent, I still received a very mixed message. It was the time of women being told they could” bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never let [their husband] forget he’s a man.” I create sculptures and paintings that deal with these gender issues. My work references patterns of historical ceramics, wallpapers, and textiles and I incorporate traditional “women’s work” like embroidery and sewing into my ceramic sculptures. I often use sewing patterns to cut my clay slabs and create my sculptures. Garments such as dresses and underwear represent the female subject in my work, though I’ve begun incorporating the figure more in my paintings and prints. I try to balance making art that attracts the viewer aesthetically but also invites a conversation about the status quo, leaning in to the crafts women are “supposed” to pursue while addressing why that idea even exists.
I try to keep pushing my practice, my concepts, and my skills further. I work in several mediums but the work continues to have a conversation with itself, and circle back to the main ideas. I’m driven by my need to see the work come to fruition first and foremost. Having that work resonate with a viewer so much that they purchase it for their home is just an amazing experience, validating that maybe that piece did need to exist.
What do you find most rewarding about being creative?
The most rewarding aspect of being an artist besides the process of making itself, is being part of a community of artists. I don’t think I could have come as far as I have the past few years if I didn’t have the support of other artists. Gaining the respect of my peers both for my work and what I bring to the community has been so empowering. It’s not the art world I remember when I got my B.F.A.. I left that art world jaded and frustrated. When I decided to focus on my practice again after a long break raising my kids, it was a different world. I found artist friends who supported and encouraged me, and I was able to do the same for them. I’m so grateful to be part of a community where there’s collaboration and a feeling of the more opportunity there is, the more there is for everyone. Now everything in my life is built on my love of art and sharing that passion with others. It led me to teaching kids art in a way I wish I had had and being a resource for other artists whenever I can. My life feels rich and full. Picasso said,”The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” That’s what I find most rewarding about being an artist.
How can we best help foster a strong, supportive environment for artists and creatives?
I think the best way society can support artists is to value them and that means paying them a living wage. The starving artist idea needs to go away along with the idea of exposure is payment enough. People need to seek out artists, make connections, and support them directly. I don’t think people realize that instead of buying a poster, or a generic painting at a store, they could buy something directly from an artist. There are so many talented people creating art in every genre and price range imaginable, it pains me to think someone went to TJ Maxx and bought cheap reproduction art for their bedroom. I think the internet has brought art to more people which has been a game changer and we need to keep building on that. Finding an artist on Instagram and being able to buy work directly is less intimidating for most people than walking into an art gallery, but they need to know that they can go to a gallery too, and a museum, and wherever else artists have their work. The second part then is society bringing art to more people. When kids are brought to a museum or gallery, they grow up to be people who appreciate art and hopefully buy and/or make art. Art enriches our lives, as can be seen by every cheap neighborhood artists moved into that then became gentrified. It’s desirable. It makes our communities richer and not just financially but in quality of life. Artists bring innovation and change and can be incorporated in more aspects of building our communities.
- Website: https://www.doriskapner.com/
- Instagram: @DorisKapner
- Facebook: Doris Kapner
- Linkedin: Doris Kapner
These are my own photographs.