Mayme Kratz proves to be an artist by nature in more ways than one. With her studio located near the railroad tracks and almost below a busy overpass, Kratz is just as industrious with her artwork as the surrounding area.
The large barred openings of the cement block studio at first seem to lock something away, but here, Kratz releases her clear observances of nature. And while she's often tagged as a resin artist, Kratz uses other natural materials in her work: seeds, leaves, twigs, cicada wings, bones, shells, cactus, beetles and, yes, sometimes snakes.
Over time, Kratz says she's has gathered a unique collection of objects and pieces. "My obsessive gathering and collecting is really about recording memory," she explains. "A lot of the times the objects I'm attracted to are recycled transformations."
Up a gravel path from the street and past her parked white pick-up truck, steps lead to the entrance of her studio with solar panel powered twinkle lights twisting around the handrail. Once inside, it's clear that nature isn't the only catalyst for Kratz's creativity.
Rows and piles of poetry collections and biographies fill the artist's studio office. Mary Oliver (The Leaf and the Cloud and Owls and Other Fantasies) stands as the most influential writer for Kratz, but other literature stacked on her desk includes Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses, Staying Alive, Real poems for Unreal Times (edited by Neil Astley), John Ruskin's Modern Painters and Timothy Walsh's The Dark Matter of Words.
Along with writing, Kratz's strong mentors early in life made all the difference in her development, she says. With a skilled craftsperson for a mother, an aunt who was a painter, and a machinist father, Kratz was given a unique perspective on material and putting things together.
"There's always an element of beauty to the work (I do)," she says. "I think we need beauty in our lives. This space found me, and it was truly one of those moments when you know you're on your path."
High-ceilings, long marble-patterned tables, and an open workspace give the artist the freedom to create. And to, of course, really get messy. "There are certain spaces that are more conducive for different kinds of artmaking," Kratz describes. "Having a dirty space is really important to a lot of what I do. Big sanders, man saws, table saws -- it all figures into sculpture."
Several skylights filter sun into the studio to brighten the space, though Kratz is careful that the intense summer heat doesn't melt resin under their scopes (it's happened before).
A sampling of Kratz's wall work lines a purple and blue paint-dripped wall in the corner. Based on a dream Kratz had in which she herself became a circle, the visual meditations layer different patterns and fragments from nature. (Mexican buckeye seeds, crab, shellfish and buds, just to name a few). Coatings of resin make the materials less distinguishable and more mysterious, drawing the eyes toward the center to look into the work rather than at it.
The layers in Kratz's work operate both physically and conceptually: "I didn't want all of the information available, and I'm often like that in my work -- a little secretive. I prefer that it's felt rather than known. What sometimes looks like the inside of a nut is probably something a little stranger than that. I don't have to tell anyone that," she explains with a laugh.
As for being a working artist in Phoenix, Kratz still considers the area to be the Wild, Wild West in a strange way. "It gets a lot of rebels, and it's kind of a mess politically because of that, but I think it's also very revealing," she says. "It's hard to hide in the desert. You're more exposed. That's one of the reasons I like it."
Kratz will speak with Melinda Bergman at SMoCA on August 16 about their individual work at SMoCA Lounge and to also present new pieces, including a screening of Kratz's video of her "Tumbleweed Bower" sculpture that exhibited at the Ice House Art Space. Represented by the Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale, Kratz has an upcoming show there in April 2013.