"Drawing is a conversation with yourself; it's where I started and the place I always return to." In Studio 17 at the Foundry Art Centre, artist Caitlin Metz is constantly in the midst of a dialogue, using her pen, printing press, chalkboard wall - and quite often - her social media, to do the talking. Her Instagram is a rose-tinted collection of images from her life, artwork, and studio; it is an outlet for her thoughts and a platform she utilizes to connect with people from all corners of the world.
"I want to make accessible, practical art," she explains, "Art that isn't expensive and connects with people. It's hard to be human, sometimes." This desire for empathy is evident in the zines and publications she makes. Things To Do When You're Anxious is a tiny piece of therapeutic art you can fit in your pocket, filled with suggestions on how to restore calm and peace to your life through simple exercises. Cry, Baby. Cry. is centered around recognizing the power of tears and features fourteen female artists whom contributed original compositions and art just for the publication. Caitlin describes A Book About Feelings as the "perfect way to... document and validate your feelings without reaching for technology." Much of Caitlin's work is characterized by her vulnerability, a descriptor found not only in her textual work, but through her drawings and photographs.
While her illustrations are often coupled with text, her blind contour portraits and drawings often stand alone and are just as strong as her words. During her residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, her mentor encouraged her to begin a daily practice in her artwork.
A 100-day portrait project was the result. "You don't lift your pen or look at the paper. You are studying yourself and completely present with yourself," she explains about the project. "The series of portraits I did is very powerful to me because each one of them is so different from the others, and yet they are all me. I sat and was honest in my lines and honest to my emotions in that moment. It was so incredible to check in daily with my reflection and then see this collection growing and becoming a multi-dimensional portrait of my being. I didn’t have to choose which face was mine. I simply was.
"The thing I’ve come away with from this project," she continues, "is that the multiple parts really aren’t that incongruent. Feelings of multiplicity are amplified by society’s demand that we contain ourselves in boxes. When I stopped thinking of myself as one or the other, the beauty in the connections became apparent. The dimension and depth I found in myself wasn’t frightening; it was the thing that made me, me."
It became a daily meditation and a practice she continues to this day. Her thesis project brought her blind contour exercises out to the public, entitled I See You. Inspired by Marina Abramovic's The Artist Is Present, Caitlin created live blind drawing of whoever sat across from her.
"It was intensely vulnerable - I had no idea what would come out of it. It was powerful and intimate, that amount of eye contact and silence," she remembers with a smile, "and sometimes it was awkward. People's reactions were all over the place; some were laughing and jittery and others were more connected and became emotional."
This drive to create imagery and document feelings and stories has been within Caitlin her entire life, beginning in Kokomo, Indiana where she grew up. "I don't remember a time I wasn't drawing or making something. I was home-schooled and we didn't have a TV. All my free time was spent playing piano, sitting in a tree, or drawing," Caitlin recalls. "I was never far from my sketchbook. I spent hours alone with my thoughts, drawing and writing."
Her first art class was at Maryville University when she began her pursuit of a BFA in Graphic Design. During her time in undergrad, she was introduced to letterpress through an internship at Paper Boat Studios. Under the tutelage of artist Amy Thompson, Caitlin was thoroughly trained in letterpress as she worked in the studio for two years, a gift she greatly appreciates. "Amy poured selflessly into me. It's humbling to be handed knowledge."
Her undergraduate thesis utilized her print and graphic design experience in the form of a three-volume book series. Each of the books documents the seemingly mundane and fleeting daily moments of three very different individuals entitled Be Here Now.
After graduating from Maryville University, Caitlin experienced what she calls a 'post-grad slump.' "After lying on the couch eating Twizzlers and watching too much Grey's Anatomy, I pulled myself up and applied for grad school, student loans be damned," she quips. Her time at Vermont College of Fine Arts was life-changing as her instructors encouraged her to move in and out of different mediums and she began to discover her voice through her work. She learned how to create handmade paper through an apprenticeship with fine artist Jennifer Baker, an experience she recommends to any artist looking to further their skills. "Become an apprentice, find a mentor - it's an intense and intimate thing," she advises, noting how the memory of that experience still fills her with gratitude.
At the conclusion of her first semester at VCFA, Caitlin presented her first collection of graduate work, I Am Not Ruined, a series of self portrait photographs with overlaid digital text responding to themes of oppression, struggle and reformation. The words that mold to the shape of her form articulate a narrative Caitlin grew up hearing. "I realized nearly everyone wants to shove you in a box, wants to contain and confine womanhood. [I realized] that feminism is a dirty word on the street as much as it was in church," she explains. She expounded upon these themes in the following semester's body of work which includes the "Soapbox" award-winning piece Do I Make You Uncomfortable?.
Rather than overlaying text digitally, Caitlin painted her words upon her body and then photographed herself. The words she painted were no longer things that were told to her, but rather what she wish she had said and what she wants to say now.
"I would sit in front of a mirror and paint the words across my body. I was present with myself, letting my thoughts flow as I wrote whatever came to mind. I began viewing my body as a canvas. I was thinking of all the things that been projected, or written on my body, without my permission or realization. I wanted to rewrite myself and to claim my body. There was something so relieving about painting aggressive phrases while wearing lingerie, trying to claim my own sexuality and identity outside of the male gaze.
"The whole process was a spiritual experience," she continues. "From the moment I took off my clothes, until I was drying my body after scrubbing it raw in the shower to remove the paint. The most powerful part was the actual act of photographing myself. It was awkward and slow, working with a self timer and delayed shutter release while covered in wet paint... but going back and forth, curating, directing, and acting for the camera, it was I that had the power. I was in complete control of how my body was presented."
It was perhaps the response of her colleagues in the residency that informs her text and illustration work today. "The feedback I got was pretty solidly negative," Caitlin says. "I was told I looked too pretty, the lingerie was too sexy, that I was asking for attention. That it was too similar to past work. I returned home deflated."
Her demeanor has certainly changed since her 2nd semester critique at VCFA. "It doesn't matter if it's good or bad, as long as you're showing up and doing the work," she asserts. Her determination was encouraged by mentor Salome Chasnoff, who helped her through her final semester in grad school. "I think there are only two other people in my life who have believed in me as much as she did. I learned so much about trusting my process and being critical of my work without falling into a pit of self doubt."
Caitlin is learning daily how to grow in this confidence. She summarizes her mentality with a quote by Georgia O'Keefe: "I have settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free."
Caitlin was juried into Studio 17 of the Foundry Art Centre just a few weeks before her final residency at VCFA in 2015. It was the backdrop for the transitional time between grad school and life as a working artist, and grounded her in a routine that she needed. "When I first moved in," she remembers, "I stood on a chair in my studio and read some of my favorite excerpts from Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Helene Cixous' The Laugh of the Medusa. This space gave me the confidence to call myself an artist. I'd never referred to myself as such until I had this space." In December, Caitlin will be moving her studio practice to Saint Louis and Studio 17 will no longer be part of her daily routine. "I'm so grateful for all the stretching that I've done within these walls," she says. "There is nothing like this place. It's amazing."
As she prepares to move her studio to the city, Caitlin continues to make art daily and is working on a Winter Survival Guide, a zine about surviving winter blues, and a series of illustrated cakes with atypical iced phrases on top which may eventually be turned into letterpress prints or a book. She often finds inspiration in the work of other artists whom create artwork characterized by its immediacy - unrefined and authentic responses to the world around them and their own feelings, such as Adam J. Kurtz and Kate Bingaman Burt.
"I get so inspired by people that found an alternate way of being," she explains. "I cling to those who are carving out a path for us timid ones by just being visible and showing up to their life without shame."
Her mission is summarized in the chalked words on her wall: show up. Show up and do the work. Show up by telling the world how you feel. Show up.
Photographs & Article by Jillian Schoettle.