Artists You Should Know
As a child in Minsk, Belarus, sculptor Katya Usvitsky’s maternal “babushka” (also named Katya) nurtured and influenced her artistic tendencies, mainly by crafting clothes for her toys. Usvitsky now feels as if she “knew how to sew before she could talk.” Grandmother Katya taught her self-sufficiency, the meditative rituals of making things and the technique of stitching on an old-fashioned sewing machine.
By 1989, America’s “Lautenberg Agreement” had classified Soviet Jews as persecuted, and the ensuing decade saw a large influx of Russian-Jewish immigrants from all the provinces. The opportunity arose for her father’s half of the family—the Jewish members—to emigrate to the US, and in 1991 the clan landed in Cleveland—for no particular reason other than Katya’s aunt “liked the name.” A decade and a graphic design degree later, Usvitsky entered New York’s contemporary art milieu. “New York was my grad school,” she said. Not incidentally, during the mid-aughts, fiber art was reemerging as a viable, even trendy genre.
Strategies of accumulation, like Sheila Hicks’ mounds of vividly colored balls and Mike Kelley’s piles of stuffed animals, inspire Usvitsky’s work. But her hand-wrought forms do not act as autonomous entities. Rather, each is in service to the next, like interlocking organic cells. Much of Usvitsky’s work is tonal; in fact, the subtly varied dyes of a single shade of nylon—she prefers “nude”—is often the only color involved. Each ball is a module, in sculptures that range from intimate to human scale. Home (the official title of a piece the artist has nicknamed Big Mama.) is capable of encasing a body. The pictured version of Home is a self-portrait that gives us a glimpse of Usvitsky’s character: a self-described introvert, she turns her back on the viewer, resolutely filling in the entrance to her cocoon.
(Katya Usvitsky is half of Noysky Projects, a Hollywood gallery co-founded with the artist Sean Noyce, another Fresh Face in this issue).