Cover story: Allison Katz: Artery

Visual artist Allison Katz’s work explores the infrastructural arteries that connect us all

London-based Canadian artist Allison Katz has been exploring painting’s relationship to questions of identity and expression, selfhood and voice, for more than a decade. Animated by a restless sense of humor, her works articulate what the artist has called a “genuine ambiguity.” 

Artery—a book that situates itself somewhere between a monograph, exhibition catalog, and an artist’s book—is an exploration of what is within and below. The book coincides with Katz’s first institutional exhibitions in the United Kingdom and features 50 full-color image plates of the artist’s work and 150 reference images. The text includes essays from Sam Thorne, former director of Nottingham Contemporary; Martin Clark, director of Camden Art Centre; and Katz, herself.

The design of the book speaks to its multifaceted purpose, and Katz was keen to use the physical medium in unique ways. “I consider a book to be a magic space, because it can collapse multiple modes of experience into a procession,” she said. “In my illustrated essay, and in this book as a whole, I wanted to create a rhythm towards understanding, that stays open, porous, generative; that is not a consolidation or a definitive version.”

That rhythm kicks off from the front cover of Artery. The cover design is based on a poster of Katz’s created for the exhibitions; she drew the lettering by hand in pencil before scanning it to digital format for editing.

“Handwriting is an important tool in my interrogation of gesture, subjectivity and the concept of the artist’s ‘signature touch,’” Katz said. She recalls childhood games, scribbling with friends and writing their names in bubble letters in the margins of their books. “This instinct to ‘tag’ something and leave your mark dovetails now with a desire to ‘know’ the real artist by the traces or marks they leave behind, and this is a space I don’t mind complicating,” she said. In this way, Katz argues that the cover holds multiple functions: as a name, a logo, an avatar for the artist, and a graphic image.

A look inside Artery.

Stepping inside the book, Katz pushes form even further. “The structure of the book is more than a little radical,” MIT Press editor Thomas Weaver said. Interspersed with text and paintings, every series of four pages of the book fold out into a poster-sized print of a piece of Katz’s work. Weaver sees the posters within the book as artworks in themselves.

Katz intends for the reader to experience the text of the book and the posters inside as separate entities, even though they are about one another. Language, Katz argues, cannot speak for painting and painting cannot reproduce language. They are parallel but related events.

This concept fed the design process for the book’s interior, as Katz considered how to make this difference visually evident. “The paintings are embedded into the pages, and those posters are folded inside like caves. You have to stop reading about them to open the page, experience the painting, fold it back up, then resume your reading. Or you can read straight through, never even realizing what lies beneath the pages.”

Katz designed the book with Mathias Clottu of Studio Mathias Clottu in London. The design process was a shared experience, and Katz leaned on the expertise of the studio to create an object that steps beyond the bounds of what a typical book can do. “I wanted to reproduce a process, and an inquiry, into how something begins, builds and connects back to latent desires, personal histories, art historical precedents, and automatic drives,” she said.

“Everything we included in the book serves a purpose,” Katz added. “I wanted to embrace the artifice of writing a personal essay, where the narrator is me, but she is also not me. Like the eyes peering out of the darkness inside the flesh of her own name, she is curious and trying to stay awake.”

Learn more about Allison Katz: Artery