Driven to Abstraction

Imagine eye-candy. Now imagine the total opposite.

Simon Benarroch

What: Katelyn Farstad’s  “Mouthbreather” exhibit


When: Nov. 3 – Feb. 2


Where: Midway Contemporary Art, 527 Second Ave. SE, Minneapolis


Art is one of those Wittgenstein things. Most people think they can tell art when they see it, but nobody can come up with a decent set of criteria for what art actually is.

Minneapolis-based abstract artist Katelyn Farstad combines splashes of paint with found objects like seashells, nails, snake skins and human hair to create tangled, chaotic imagery.

Her works are more concoctions than compositions — macabre soups bubbling with images Farstad says are beyond articulation. If there’s a theme, it’s committed unpleasantness.

“I’m really into gross stuff,” she said.

Another of her exhibits, “Rats Make Love,” was featured at the Zach Freur Gallery in New York earlier this year.

The 24-year-old Minneapolis College of Art and Design grad named her upcoming show “Mouthbreather,” she explained, because it describes people who reject social conventions.

It’s a fitting name, she said, because she uses art to promote openness in herself.

“I’m in the process of learning not to censor myself, really,” she said. “I’m also experimenting with how materials interact.”

Keeping the “experimentation” idea in mind goes a long way to helping understand Farstad’s approach.

Sometimes, she’ll look at one work and see it as contained within another. She said it became clear to her, for example, that her piece featuring two mounds alongside what looked like a towering conch shell was actually a zoomed-in view of a swirl of paint on another piece.

Farstad said she rarely starts with a concept in mind. She often works on three or four projects at a time, letting her mood dictate the process.

The enterprising artist said she wasn’t looking for a common meaning for viewers to digest.

“It’s all so subjective,” she said. “There’s not a concept that someone needs to be getting. It just allows for a sincerity that I can’t do verbally.”

While her works are all over the place aesthetically, every move is deliberate.

But there’s nothing accidental in her chaotic renderings. Every spray-painted foxtail, stencil design and swirling gob of paint is there because at one point it felt right.

“I couldn’t just spill some paint on the frame and say ‘OK,’”**** she said, gesturing to a small piece with white overtones, a cross-hatched black frame and at its center, a seashell with a black line drawn down its middle.

“A friend of mine said this one reminded him of pedophilia,” she said.

Farstad said she always knew she was going to be an artist.

“I knew from pretty early on that this was all I could do,” she said.

Now she’s working two other jobs to raise money for graduate school. She hopes to get into Yale University, where she expects the overall intellectual environment to inform her work in unpredictable ways.

While she’s no stranger to the idea of making peanuts as an artist, she’d rather do that than scrap her passion for the sake of certainty.