Alumni Profile: Katie Merz A’84
Katie Merz A’84. is an Artist, Illustrator and Muralist, Katie Mertz was a Drawing Professor at Cooper from 2005-2018. Katie Merz has been working as a fine artist for approximately 30 years, while also doing commissioned works on interior wall projects. She recently began creating large-scale public art commissions. Her mural work was featured on Cooper’s website in 2016.
Katie Merz has elevated simple, cartoon-like line-art to a level of social documentation and commentary that transcends the best street artists of the past 35 years. Her signature styled, densely-packed glyph patterns create complex, non-linear narratives that can cover a sneaker or a building with equal effectiveness, and conjure up long stories about what makes a place. Her abstract paintings demonstrate an equal respect for pure line, and steer her message from literal narrative toward a kind of atmospheric poetry. As an illustrator, she demonstrates a cartoonist’s sense of pure idea, expressed through pure line and color. Within her highly conceptual realm, she is versatile and prolific.
She has her first One-Woman exhibition in 1993 at the Jack Tilton Gallery on 49 Greene Street in SoHo. This exhibit was praised in the New York Times by Art Critic Roberta Smith.
In 2015, Katie participated in the Art Farm artist residency in Nebraska. The experience changed the direction of her art.
In her words:
“I went to a dilapidated art residency in rural Nebraska where I riffed off of my surroundings. … I wrapped the side of an old barn in black roofing paper to patch a raccoon hole. This surface, reminding me of an asphalt street, was seductive to me. I decided to tag it using a white oil stick. I interpreted, in hieroglyphic form, a Rilke poem that I was reading. This transported me back to my childhood—drawing on the street again—but this time I was doing it on a wall, using language, and changing the surface of a building. It was language, architecture, and a binary system all at once that looked like a non-linear blueprint of the inside of my mind at any given moment—as well as patching the raccoon hole.”
Her next project was in Lincoln, Nebraska . She wrapped a 700-square-foot gallery space, Fiendish plots gallery, in hieroglyphs that were culled from five pages of selected poetry.
In quick succession came the project in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and a large facade project in Mexico, a virtual city block in downtown ‘Bklyn’ and a façade for a speakeasy in Austin Texas.
“The Williamsburg Brooklyn developers wanted to pay homage to the style of the neighborhood through some sort of treatment on the façade of the building. I showed them my hieroglyphs from Nebraska and they instantly gave me the commission.” — Katie Merz
Katie worked on another hieroglyphs project in partnership with Celaya brothers of Mexico City The gallery wanted to activate the public space around a building that was used as a water distillation plant located in Monterrey. This building was immense — 2 blocks long. The project was a ten-day marathon of painting. Katie had two assistants helping her. Katie reports that the people in Monterrey were incredible. They brought her food and told her stories that she immediately translated and transposed onto the wall in drawing form. The project was a great collaboration with the people of Monterrey. “The result is an epically obtuse monument to future language or a Mexican emoji novel that has no pages and is co-written by the people of Monterrey.” — Katie Merz
North Facade of Distillation Plant in Monterrey, Mexico
The origins of this large scale work had its genesis In a 2012 Oberman grant that Katie received from the university of Iowa with the writer John D’agata They set out to create a new language which started from John’s translations from Plutarchs Greek to Katie’s translations of these words back into pictographic images This inspired a fluid and fast hieroglyphic breakdown of language patterns that integrates seemlessly over architecture In 2017 the pictographic translations from the Plutarch project were made into a custom wallpaper by the company Flavorpaper and later installed in a grand apartment in Boston.
The photos above are from Art Omi which is a sculpture park in Ghent New York The Barbacoa site is a unique outdoor community space that includes a campfire meeting space and shelter See additional photos. Katie collaborated with architect Craig Shillito on this project. It is The Barbacoa project in collaboration It’s constructed from a shipping container wedged into a mound.
During the fall of 2017, Katie had a commission in downtown Brooklyn along Flatbush Avenue. The building spans 200 feet and rises four stories high. The drawing increases in size as it nears the top of the building. It can be viewed equally from the ground as well as from across the avenue She along with one assistant finished the project in forty days The buildings is Katie’s interpretation of Brooklyn past present and future. The Façade was completed on November 12, 2017. “It’s insame !!!! It almost killed me.” —Katie Merz
Katie’s latest project is in downtown Austin where she has been invited to paint the interior and exterior of a new speakeasy. For this, Katie is working on a smaller more compressed scale that creates a more warped and dimensional effect
Katie will receive the CUAA 2018 Augustus Saint-Gaudens Award and be inducted into The Cooper Union Hall of Fame on June 1, 2018.
- Katie Merz Website
- 2016 Article: Katie Merz Makes Her Mark on Brooklyn, Link
- Katie Merz’s ‘Glyphs’ Make Williamsburg Development a Selfie Magnet, Brooklyn Daily Eagle. September 14, 2016. Link
- Flatbush Avenue Mural Project Awarded to Brooklyn Artist Katie Merz, Alloy LLC. August 28, 2017 Link
- Gigantic Mural on Development Site 80 Flatbush is a ‘living monument’ to Brooklyn, Curbed.com September 7, 2017 Link
- Smith, Roberta. Art in Review, The New York Times, December 17, 1993. Link
- Nonko, Emily. This quirky mural now covers the site of a Brooklyn megaproject-to-be, Curbed.com November 20, 2017. Link
- Wong, Pamela. Brooklyn Artist Katie Merz Chosen To Create 80 Flatbush Mural, Blkyner. September 22, 2017. Link
- Artist Katie Merz Adorns Crumbling House on St. James Place With Mural, Brownstoner. March 29, 2017. Link
- Mural at 80 Flatbush–Artist Katie Merz brings Brooklyn to life with her latest work, DowntownBrooklyn. December 2017. Link
- Interview (in Spanish) in MX Arto Studio about Art in Public Spaces;ARTO STUDIO: Intervenciones en espacio público. Link