J Pangburn writes for The Creators Project that algae – as an illustration medium – first struck artist and illustrator Katherine Rutter, who creates fantastically surreal drawings, while visiting her family in Arkansas one late summer. Hot and humid, Ms. Rutter and family members went down to a nearby creek to cool off. There, an algae bloom was taking over the creek, creating what the artist calls “handfuls, armfuls of these thick, green, hairlike strands.”
Completely taken by the algae, Ms. Rutter soon began experimenting with it. “I guess it’s pretty gross but I was fully immersed in it, physically and mentally,” she told The Creators Project. “I originally wanted to make some sort of sculptural form with it, but after that failed, I applied it to paper. I don’t remember now if I was already familiar with Jung, but the act of discovering images through the algae was in line with my belief in the importance of the unconscious self, and learning to embrace all forms of the self.”
Ms. Rutter, who recently moved to Savannah, Georgia from Oakland, has always enjoyed visual narratives, especially if they are of the fantastical variety. She began drawing at a young age—mostly pencil drawings on printer paper depicting various stories from the Bible, her family’s farm animals, or the fertile ground of her imagination. After earning a BFA in photography from the University of Central Arkansas, where there was no drawing emphasis, she returned to illustration. Most recently, Ms. Rutter was part of a group exhibition titled Naked Light at Athen B. Gallery in Oakland.
“My work has changed gradually and drastically since then, discovering gouache, discovering algae, discovering myself,” she says. “I mean, I think that’s so much of what art-making is: an exploration and discovery of something that is part of you.”
Algae is now an important part of her artistic process. It gives her unconscious mind a voice that it might not otherwise have had. She sees the odd shapes created with algae as being akin to a Rorschach Test, upon which she builds using other media like watercolor, coffee, ink and pencil.
A tactile person by nature, she loves using her hands and fingers. She says it makes things more intimate because there is a different energy to it. When she pulls the algae out of a jar, she allows a delicate and collaborative dance of sorts to unfold.
“After it dries is when I begin to search for images,” she says. “Before applying the algae to paper, it’s completely blank and I have no concept for the composition, no ideas, no sketches. For me this is a way of letting go, of releasing this sense of control that we as humans tend to hold onto.”