describe Kate Wagner as a mixed-media action painter would, well, fall short on

the particulars.


my form of exercise," Wagner says. "If it's not in arms' reach then I won't use

it.... I hate paying bills so I've used IPL bills... I'll shred it and get the

joy of shredding it and repurpose it into a painting, so it goes from shitty to


You may have seen Wagner's work in the Recycled & Reclaimed show at the Jazz Kitchen in March 2011. Or

you may have seen her the following month at Luxe 218, in the Murphy Art

Center, where she had her first solo show the following month. She also had a

booth at the Oranje art and music expo for her fourth year running this past

Sept. 17.


only does Wagner paint, but she makes jewelry — and just about anything

else that occurs to her — while staying up way after most everybody else

in Indy has gone to bed. "I'm lucky to be asleep between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.,"

she says.


my jewelry is made of junk mail and phonebook pages. Phone books are ideal for

many ladies accessories — bracelets, headbands etcetera," she says.


she also uses more conventional mediums, such as acrylic, on her canvases. And

then she uses Mod Podge (a combination glue, seal and finish) for attaching

paper to her canvases. The paper that she uses is no ordinary paper.


love the odd look of surprise when I tell people I've used toilet paper to

create a dress of a person on the canvas."


there's more than clever decoupage going on in her work. A number of her

paintings of female figures are completely engulfed by the patterns of color

that flow from the background into the portraiture itself. And the colors do

flow all around as if in a kaleidoscope that you're turning while in a state of

reverie. A state of reverie is where the female figure in profile in her

painting "Infinite" seems to be, with her eyes closed, as blues and purples and

white bubbles swirl all around her.


paintings are pretty, sure. But when you see a red bird perched on a branch in

front of a circular blue river sort of thing swirling in a florescent sky

— as in a painting in her "April Series," — you might reach for

other adjectives to describe her work.


make a nest, surrounded by materials and canvas," says Wagner, about her

art-making at home. You may wonder if the bird in her painting is a representation

of Wagner herself. And it seems that she might have been on some sort of trip

(a flight of the imagination, as it were) when composing these works. There is,

after all, a certain hypnotic power that many of her paintings possess.


then, when you think of her frenetic nighttime activity, combined with her

equally active day job as the Studio Development Coordinator at Outside the Box

— where she works on art projects with developmentally-disabled adults

— you may wonder about her wellspring of creativity, her source of






grew up running around in her grandmother's retail shop. "It was this three

storey old building and it just was a junk paradise," she says. "And she was

always making just random jewelry and painting on clothes and just doing her

own Outside the Box style creativity."


grandmother would sometimes paint old leisure suits. "She would do all sorts of

random things to them," she says. "I just thought that was so wild. She always

wanted to be a designer in New York. Still to this day she'll share different

ideas with me and I'll see if I can make that happen."


up in Valparaiso, Ind., Wagner also volunteered in an organization called

Opportunity Enterprises.


for people with disabilities and they had an art program there and I loved it,"

she says. "I did my internship for art therapy there. I did art with kids with

disabilities, pre-K and so that was kind of my foundation."


it on


the 30-year-old Wagner is sharing ideas just like her grandmother did with her.

(They still share ideas to this day, but Wagner has yet to paint a leisure

suit.) At Outside the Box, she's constantly sharing ideas with her co-workers

and artists in Studio OTB that she's come up with at home.


make stuff at home because I'm always trying to figure out how to adapt stuff

to make it so anyone could make it," she says. "Art for anyone from anything...

There's stuff that I want that doesn't exist in the stores so I started making

it. I just can't sit still. My hands are always trying to figure out something

new. I taught my artists how to make junk mail jewelry and those kind of things

so I share all my projects with them and I always pick their brains and say

'come up with the craziest thing you can think of that you think would be fun

and I'll see if I can make this happen.' So that's kind of being an art

engineer of sorts."


parents are inspired by her work — and her art — these days. (There

doesn't seem to be any fine line dividing the two.)


mom and dad and my grandma came down from Valpo to the Jazz Kitchen show," she

says. "They're getting more and more into art. My dad is now starting to paint

and he does walking sticks and he'll carve them... really ornate, fun, earthy

walking sticks. He's gotten into canvas and watercolor. It's funny because she

gets really inspired by the ideas that Lauren [Church] and I have in the studio

or stuff that I'm doing... she'll find different ways to do it with fabric. And

it's carried over to her friends and now her friends are in painting classes...

It's contagious. I love it."


more info on Wagner's art.


Dan Grossman is NUVO's arts editor.

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