Create Award Resident Artist K. Vuletich Shares Stories of Youth Experiencing Homelessness through Collage
- On December 12, 2017
K. Vuletich is passionate about art, life, and the youth she works with. As a direct-care worker with Urban Peak, a center for youth experiecing homelessness, K. is inspired by the raw creativity she encounters in her clients, who have, she says “the ability to pull things out of the dumpster and make them into something beautiful.” She is interested in using her artwork to tell their stories and share their dreams on Art Gym’s gallery walls.
Outreach Director Julia Dillard got the scoop from K. on the work she’s developing for Unseen (on view Jan 4-27), and the roots of her passion for social justice and volunteerism, and art.
“What inspires me are people who I’ve worked with who literally pull trash out of a dumpster, and they’ll paint on it and it’ll be beautiful. They’ll make something that otherwise would be in a dump really, incredibly beautiful. “
Julia: Where did art start for you?
K. Vuletich: I would say art has always been part of my life. When my mom was young, she was really interested in art but she was deterred from that path and encouraged to pursue something more practical. When I showed an interest in the arts my mom was like, “Yeah definitely pursue that!” and really tried to cultivate it. She’d always tell me “You know it’s going to be a balancing act with that and a professional career option but you can figure it out.”
Julia: What are some of the ways you like to express yourself artistically?
K. Vuletich: For me, what’s inspiring is the community that I’m surrounded by. I think often times we neglect the fact that art already exists in the community we live in–we’re not bringing art to it. I think a lot of artists and nonprofits are sometimes guilty of this, and galleries and museums are all guilty of saying “We’re bringing art to the community.” But it’s like, this community already has it’s own art, so how do you cultivate that? What inspires me are people who I’ve worked with who literally pull trash out of a dumpster, and they’ll paint on it and it’ll be beautiful. They’ll make something that otherwise would be in a dump really, incredibly beautiful.
Julia: You’ve done a good deal of work and volunteering with low-income communities. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
K. Vuletich: I started volunteer work while I was at Regis–they require you to take a certain number of electives that include volunteering. I realized volunteering could be very life-giving. I started considering doing a full-time volunteer year while watching Frontline episodes about Appalachia, and realizing I had no idea poverty at that degree existed in the United States. After I graduated, I got a direct care position with Urban Peak. I loved working with the youth and being able to just talk to them as people. I didn’t realize something that small could make such a large impact.
“These people, who really inspire me, are often pushed aside because they don’t fit into whatever neat little box the world wants them to. I think they deserve to be on gallery walls…to be seen and heard. That’s the part I’m most excited about, doing the recorded interviews and painting their portraits.”
Julia: Tell me about what you’ve been working on during your Create Award Residency, for the Unseen show in January.
K. Vuletich: I’m working on a few different things that have kind of just mushroomed. I’m doing recorded interviews with some of the clients from Urban Peak. Then I’m painting their portraits by incorporating components of things they said in their interviews, kind of narrating their stories with things they said. I would have done a fully collaborative project, but it’s not accessible for everybody that I worked with. The fact of the matter is, even something as low-barrier as this, where I’m doing all of the work, is sometimes too much for a lot of the clients, because it still requires them to meet with me. I don’t want to appropriate their stories or make assumptions, but I also want to be able to make their stories public. These people, who really inspire me, are often pushed aside because they don’t fit into whatever neat little box the world wants them to. I think they also deserve to be on gallery walls, and they deserve to be seen and heard. That’s probably the part I’m most excited about, doing the recorded interviews and painting their portraits.
The other component, is that a lot of the interview questions have to do with life dreams. A couple of the questions I ask are, “What does the American dream mean to you?” and “Do you ever feel excluded from that dream?” As somebody who grew up with not-a-lot when I was young, there were definitely times when I felt excluded from the American dream. So I can only imagine what somebody who has been experiencing homelessness for one or two years has felt. I’m doing pieces around dreaming, expression, and the young people that I work with.
“It’s really interesting to think of art as “making”. It’s kind of similar to living and dying and breathing–it’s all the same thing. I think that living life can be it’s own art form.”
Julia: I’m so excited to see this work Katie. It’s cool to hear about your background and the way the various threads of your life come together in your artwork. Do you have thoughts about the role that art plays in social issues?
K. Vuletich: Yeah, I do. That’s something for me, too, that’s very convoluted. I by no means want to appropriate these stories. In an optimal world, people who have these stories to tell, should be telling them themselves, doing their own paintings. They’re the ones whose work ends up on gallery walls. But that’s not always entirely possible. Sometimes they’re high and they can’t make an appointment, sometimes they have too much going on, they’re working just to make ends meet. One of the young people I was working with was working 80 hours a week–and still barely making it. Those situations don’t give them a lot of opportunity to express themselves. I think this work has also challenged my assumptions about art. I don’t think art needs to be two or three dimensional. One of my professors at Regis, Jean Stewart, asks all his students “What is art?.” He told me a story once, that one of his students just answered by saying “It’s making.” Like, that was all he said, just “it’s making.” (shrugs).
It’s really interesting to think of art as “making”. It’s kind of similar to living and dying and breathing–it’s all the same thing. I think that living life can be it’s own art form. It’s important to recognize that even something as simple as the social connections we have, that in it’s own right is an art form. It just so happens that I also really enjoy two-dimensional art, haha.
Julia: That’s so powerful, art is making. I’m going to be thinking about that for a while. What’s been your experience “making” at Art Gym?
K. Vuletich: I wasn’t sure what to expect when applying here. It’s just such an incredible and expansive space, I’m surprised more artists don’t know about it. I talked with some of my friends who are renting out studio spaces, and they’re like, renting out this hole in the wall, and sharing it with three people. At Art Gym, I feel very welcome, with very few restraints on what I can and can’t do. I love the people – everyone is just so helpful. I’m not an established artist yet but I still feel very appreciated in this space, I think that’s really important. Not to mention, even after my residency is up Art Gym is probably the most affordable option in Denver.
Julia: You’re two years out of school now, what’s your best advice to other emerging artists?
K. Vuletich: I would say just do it, haha. When an opportunity presents itself, really challenge yourself to do it. I know for me, one of my biggest issues is fear of rejection. Now I just keep a rejection folder on my computer. Because it’s really important to know there is rejection, but there are people who have faith in you and what you’re doing (like Art Gym). If you’re afraid of rejection your whole life, it’s not just the art world you’re going to have issues with. I learned to take advantage of opportunities, and a big portion of my courage came from mentors like Tony Ortega persistently encouraging me to apply for things. No matter if I get rejected or not, I still have people supporting me. And best case scenario I end up pouring myself into a great project and fulfilling one of my dreams.