Interview with artist, Kait Mauro, from the "Portraits" exhibition

What organizations or creative groups are you involved with?

Well, I am obviously involved with VSA Missouri. Other than that, I just joined a bunch of Facebook groups for St Louis artists, so I am really hoping to become more involved with those/the local art scene. I also run a website called Questions For Artists: Interviews with Creators (www.questionsforartists.com), so that is my fun little side-project.

What mediums do you work in? Do you consider yourself to be a painter, photographer, sculptor, etc? How do you define yourself artistically?

I am primarily a photographer. I am also a poet and a writer. I like to think of life, sometimes, as a form of art. I made a bunch of terrariums a few weeks ago and that felt like art to me. I'd love to take some classes on sculpture because that really interests me but I have no experience with it.

Do you feel like you worry more about being liked or about being honest?

Honest, for sure. I try to never lie because I feel like people only lie out of fear - and I hate to think that I am afraid of anyone. But, of course, I am a human being and I like to be liked, like anyone else.

Do you feel like you try to send “a message” or create any sort of social change with your art?

Well, I think my "Bipolar Series" (which was in the Portraits show) was my first real attempt at activism through art. I really wanted to create a picture of what living with bipolar can be like, when you are experiencing an episode of depression or mania. Before that, I just tried to take photographs that I considered "good." I want to do more projects where I feel like I am actually saying something though. I want to try to create some awareness or social change with my art. My dream is to be an artist/activist. With my poetry, I definitely do a bit more activism, particularly about feminism.

How do you understand the balance between your privacy and being open in/sharing your work?

I have been thinking about this A LOT lately. In the end I decided to tone down the TMI on my blog by just a little bit but that I still wanted to be a voice for survivors of things I have survived. Doing that makes me feel like my hardships were not for nothing and that I am helping other people. It makes me really happy when I get an email or a comment from someone who reads one of my blog posts and they say it helped them in some way or just made them feel less alone. Since my dream is to be a professional artist, I feel that being open/vulnerable in my work is really important, at least to me.

If you had to be described by others in one word, which word would you hope they used and why?

Brave

What is a talent or skill most people would be surprised to learn you possess?

I am really good at making vegetarian sushi.

What are some of your favorite words? (In English or in any language)

Soul, forests, my own name (everyone likes hearing their name), courage

Are you more shy or bold? Explain a little.

More bold. I tend to be very open with people, even people I have just met, which sometimes makes them like me and sometimes scares them off. I love talking with strangers and have been known to hold up lines because I get into conversations with the cashiers (which I am sure is obnoxious but oh well). I try to see people as people and not just as their job or as someone to wait on me or someone to sell me cigarettes. I am fascinated by people. I think, at first, a lot of people seem rather boring, but once you ask the right questions everyone becomes incredibly interesting and complicated.

You are given a destination-less plane ticket and can go anywhere in the world (lucky you!) - where would you go and why?

Iceland because I love so much photography from there and I have just wanted to go for years.

What is are your relationships with the last two people you texted?

One is someone who is becoming a dear friend who I met at a NARAL art making party last year and have recently really reconnected with because she has been having some of the same struggles I am. The other is my new love interest, who I am a bit crazy about, so that's quite exciting right now.

What are your fears?

Hospitals, pain, losing the people I love, something bad happening to my dog, going to the dentists, being though of a boring, dying, being homeless, not being able to support myself, having another depressive episode (though I know it would pass and I would survive it).

On a rough day, how do you practice self-care?

I read Mary Oliver's poetry or get a friend to come over and distract me. I take a warm-hot bath and put lavender lotion on my arms and legs. I take a nap, because I often feel much better after I do that. I drink tea. I clean up my apartment because cleaning keeps my mind off of things and I feel better when my space is very organized and tidy. I write. I try to take some pictures because it makes me feel better most of the time. I might go to an art museum or just watch a silly movie to make me feel lighter.

What would you say is the most important lesson you have learned in life so far?

That everything comes and goes in cycles, nothing is permanent. Also, radical acceptance is something I recently learned about and, although I am not perfect at it yet, it has really helped me lately.

What has been your biggest challenge in life, so far?

The bipolar disorder for sure.

What has been your biggest blessing in life, so far?

The supportive, wonderful friends I keep meeting and my dog, Lena, who has literally saved my life on several occasions. Sorry, I talk about my dog a lot, but she is like family who never gets mad at me, is always in a good mood and loves me unconditionally.

Do you have a personal mantra for hard times?

This too shall pass. Though, admittedly, when I am having hard times I often forget to remind myself of that.

Do you keep any animals? If so, who are they and what are their stories?

Okay, here we go talking about Lena again. She's a 7-8lb chihuahua mix I adopted from an animal shelter about 2.5 years ago. Her previous owner died of a drug overdose and she was just left out in the yard, in December, which could have killed such a small dog. I am so grateful that we found each other. She goes almost everywhere with me. She is my sleeping buddy, my travel companion (we have been to so many states together) and the closest thing I can imagine to what loving your child is like. She has every color on her - black, brown, caramel, white, grey.

Favorite work of art or writing you have ever created?

My Bipolar Series is the one I am the most proud of because, like I said above, it's the one with the most activist narrative to it.

People who have and/or do inspire you? And what about them is it?

So many artists I am going to forget to name. Marina Ambramovic, Franz Kline, Brittney Lewis, Nirrimi Firebrace, my blogger friend from London who also has bipolar disorder. Poets? Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Dana Levin. Writers? Miranda July (who is also an artist of about every medium you could think of), Cheryl Strayed, Anne Lamott.

What are some things or places that really inspire you?

Nature, roadtrips, reading about other artists, the woods, mountains, the sea, people, bookstores, art galleries or museums, performance art, modern dance

Do you ever find yourself in a creative dry-spell? If so, what do you do to find yourself again and create new work?

Yes, especially when I have a depressive episode. I usually don't create anything when I am in those. I find myself again by watching Art21 and adjusting my meds to get out of the episode.

Who do you consider your creative mentors? Which people or movements have most strongly influenced your work over the years? (Writing or visual art)

Miranda July, Dana Levin, Philip Matthews, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver... so many more. I am really grateful to the writers on Fictionaut.com who took me under their wing when I was 16 and have been supporting my writing and helping me to learn what "works" and what doesn't ever since.

What is art? (It’s a difficult word to define and I am always curious about artists’ ways of understanding it)

"The product of human creativity" is the most simple and best answer I know.

What do you feel are the recurring themes in your work? What is the world you are trying to create/magnify for your audience? What do you hope your work makes people feel?

Depression, loneliness, being human, beauty in small/quiet moments. I hope my works opens peoples eyes a little bit and makes them feel more human (which is a good thing).

What do you think happens after we die?

No idea. I will be excited to find out someday.

If you had the chance to say anything to the world, what would it be?

Be softer with yourselves and with others.

Do you believe you are an old soul, a young one or neither?

I am not sure. I have been called both a young and an old soul, so maybe I am a middle-aged soul? Haha

Does art have a “purpose?” And if so, what do you believe the purpose of art is?

I am not sure. I think one of the purposes is just to let the artist create and express themselves, which is good enough in and of itself. The other purpose is to open peoples eyes - whether just to beauty or issues or something spiritual or human.

What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?

When I was driving to Washington state from Saint Louis a few summers ago, I passed through the panhandle of Idaho at the "golden hour," just before the sunset started. Everything was just bathed in gold and so beautiful. The road was constant S-bends and lined by forests and shining lakes on either side. It was the most magical thing I have ever seen.

How many times have you been in love, if ever? Does it feel more different or more the same each time? What is love, in your words? What does it feel, look, sound and smell like?

I am not sure if I have been in love yet or not. I thought I was, but now I think maybe we just thought we needed each other and were afraid of facing the future alone. I love my family. Other than that though, I am not sure I can quite put my finger on what love is yet.

Is there anything that could ever convince you to stop creating?

No.