Artist basks in Triad lovefest

by Amy Kingsley

Interviewing artist Kat Lamp is all a matter of timing. This dawns on me about five minutes into our dialogue, when she vanishes into a friend’s embrace. It’s the third hug she’s received in as many minutes.

Lamp has a lot of friends, and I count myself among them. Call that disclosure, if you like, or bragging.

On the night of Lamp’s solo opening at the Green Bean, I’m inclined to be pretty proud of her, and obviously I’m not the only one. Friends and fans representing the Triad’s two most populous counties turn out in force, packing the front room from the lip of the makeshift stage to the arched entryway in back.

It’s clear even early in the evening that Lamp could add marathon hugger to a list of credits that already includes artist, designer, musician, student, writer and muse. Her art opening is more like a rock show than most, forgoing – for the most part – the buffet of cheese cubes, free wine and chitchat.

“Kat Lamp is the reason we have such beautiful art on our albums,” says Filthybird singer Rene Mendoza. “She’s a very big part of who we are.”

Mendoza might as well be speaking for the entire Triad indie rock community. Lamp is exhibiting her work solo for only the second time ever, but already the 28-year-old has worked herself into the fabric of the Greensboro/Winston-Salem cultural scene. In addition to Filthybird, Lamp also recruited singer/songwriter Greg Collins to play at her opening.

Lamp employs an artistic language of bright colors, hard outlines, unusual characters and gloomy subtext. In her first solo show at Winston-Salem’s Electric Mustache, her work included a narrative series starring a lost kitten and a misunderstood Yeti.

In her second exhibition, her work has clearly taken a turn towards the contemplative. Lamp worked realism into several portraits and landscapes, although invention is still as abundant in her work as brushstrokes. Lamp credits her art instructors at GTCC for helping her hone her artistic talents.

“It’s been happening for a long time,” Lamp says, “even though it looks like quite a departure. I decided to be more investigative with subject matter and colors.”

This time around, Lamp collaborated with metalworker Steve Tesh, who contributed ornate steel frames to nearly a dozen of her larger paintings. Tesh and Lamp met 14 years ago when they shared a car ride to a punk rock show.

“I don’t think he remembers,” Lamp says, “but since then we’ve just kind of known each other.”

Tesh has been working with metal for four years, ever since he joined a collective called the Hut in Winston-Salem.

“I’ve done woodworking since I was twelve,” he says. “Working with metal is kind of the next step for getting out of the mundane world of carpentry.”

Lamp approached him more than a month ago about framing her work.

“I’ve done framing before for my friends,” Tesh says. “But in the past they have always asked me to do it like two nights before their shows. This is the first time I’ve ever had ample time to work on it.”

That gave Tesh plenty of time to consider the best approach to Lamp’s work.

“I was very sensitive because it’s steel,” he says. “I wondered if it might be overpowering. But her colors are bright enough that it’s in addition to, not overpowering.”

Lamp has been an artist for as long as she can remember. She grew up in Winston-Salem with her father, and plays bass guitar in addition to painting. Now she lives in Greensboro, in an apartment in the Aycock Historic District.

“[Art] was a really awesome place for me to escape to growing up,” Lamp says.

I’m just about to follow that up when another pair of arms descends on Lamp’s shoulders. I tuck my notebook under my arm and head back to the bar.

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