Art Fair on the Square with artist Kate Morgan, a newbie to the annual event
Kate Morgan was a first-time vendor. As a working artist, she exhibits at fairs around the country from April to October, most times on back-to-back weekends.
For six years, mixed-media portrait artist Kate Morgan applied for a spot at Madison's Art Fair on the Square, where approximately one in four applicants are chosen through a jury process.
This past weekend, her persistence paid off as she displayed her work at the annual fair, which funds the year-round programs at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
Morgan was one of 450 artists at this year’s art fair. Sharing her art with the Madison community was cause for jubilation as well as an opportunity to add one more city to the list of places where she has sold her work. As a working artist, she exhibits at fairs around the country from April to October, most times on back-to-back weekends.
It's her fifth year doing art fairs full time, but she is new to the Madison scene.
“Because I’m a newbie, what I’m trying to do is build an audience. I have to do as many cities as I can, just to market myself,” Morgan said.
Morgan works out of a studio in a maker’s space at the Columbus Idea Foundry in Columbus, Ohio, where she resides. She considers herself a bit of a pack rat, utilizing sheet music, architectural maps and even engineering diagrams as ornaments to represent space and landscape and how these relate to identity and the fluid bodies featured in her portraits. She uses textural elements in her pieces, forcing the viewer to adopt multiple perspectives.
“If you look at where you’re from on a map, it’s usually a dot, and that’s not our experience with where we’re from… it’s just a picture, but it’s also a gateway to so many things,” Morgan said of her work.
“There can be cultural identifiers in my portraits, but I like to think of them as classical, timeless and universal,” Morgan said. “Most of my work depicts the female form, and big amazing hair. I am a woman, that’s what I know. But I leave plenty of room for the viewer to interpret for themselves.”
Most of Morgan’s portraits have similar features, but each one is a different subject. There are subtle allusions to Byzantine art with gold icons directly behind the subject’s head in some of her portraits. Morgan plays with this concept, using the icons to represent notions of virtue by placing the gold icon sometimes directly behind the subject’s head, and other times distorting it, or placing the gold icon further away from the head. A subject who fully embodies their truth, for instance, would have the icon directly behind their head, Morgan said.
Morgan’s pieces vary in size, from 5x7 inches to portraits as large as 64.5x41.5 inches. Prices range from $200 to $1,600, or more.
The artist drove from Ohio for the art fair. With her friend Rebecca Gimblett, who doubled as roadie and tent assistant, she arrived in Madison on Friday evening to get a jump-start on setting up. They showed up an hour before vendors were supposed to move in, but the row of cars on the square Friday evening meant others had the same idea.
Morgan and Gimblett arrived around 7:30 a.m. on Saturday for the first day of the fair. Most art fairs don’t start until 10 or 11 a.m., but Madison’s Art Fair on the Square is an outlier. Crowds start to wrap around the Capitol as soon as 8 a.m. in the morning, which is unique, Morgan said.
“You can tell a lot about a city, how they engage, and if they actually do buy or are just there to look,” she said.
Kate Morgan (left) and her friend Rebecca Gimblett, who doubled as roadie and tent assistant at Saturday’s Art Fair on the Square.
Everybody has a different approach to the fair. While it’s a social event for a lot of people, Morgan said can distinguish between those who just look, buyers and those who are simply there to connect with her and the work she does. The artist values the varying degree of encounters, some of which she would not get in a gallery space.
“Sales for me are better in this type of setting because I get to talk to people,” Morgan said.
Morgan said the toughest part of working an art fair is the unpredictable weather, so Saturday's clear and sunny skies were ideal.
“This is a perfect summer day, which hardly ever happens,” she said.
Should the weather have turned to rain or intense heat, Morgan was prepared. In the back of her tent, she typically keeps battery-operated fans, umbrellas, rain boots and a raincoat tucked away.
By 3 p.m., the crowd had grown a little thinner around the Square, but it was still big enough to bump into people moving from one tent to the next. Morgan spent most of this time organizing her inventory. The rest of the day moved at a relatively steady pace.
“There are some places that I don’t fit into,” Morgan said. “In the whole last couple of months, people have told me Madison is going to love you, and I definitely thrive in more contemporary places like Madison, and areas that are more open to new styles.”
Day one of the Art Fair on the Square wrapped up at 6 p.m. Vendors left their tents as they were, and returned Sunday to do it again.
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