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Kathy Acerno: getting to know you

After many false starts and just as many abrupt pauses, I can finally share with you an artist that I so enjoy. Her work reminds me of an eternal summer day. It pops with bright colors, it’s bouncy, and it sparkles. It's the kind of work that puts a smile on your face. I feel like I am selecting my favorite sour candy treat every time I look through her feed.


There are some recurring themes in Kathy’s work: circles that appear in unlikely places looking like multicolor suns, vivid backgrounds with a painterly quality, and lush botanicals that mingle with the human figure.


At first glance, some of these small format collages read like succinct landscapes. The combination of flowers and random bits of paper suggest imaginary lands. It’s an interesting way of drawing the viewer in.


Upon closer examination, one can see that nothing goes to waste in Kathy’s hands. In my estimation, it’s a sign of a well-organized brain. Very skillfully, she retains a certain amount of tension, but the pictures are not jolting. People and plants seem to effortlessly coexist in cloudless surroundings.


The bulk of Kathy’s body of work consists of cut and paste collage on a variety of surfaces: paper, book covers, cardstock, playing cards and the pages of thrift store books. I have a special place in my heart for artists who willfully hold on to a traditional way of making collage, and Kathy makes excellent use of the materials at her disposal.


If you feel like I do, put on some cool shades and walk right into Kathy’s solar system. She explains her creative drive and her work in terms that we can all grasp. Read on.



1) When did you become acquainted with collage?

I remember playing around with collage as a teen in the 1980’s/90’s. I would decorate the paper bag covers of my high school textbooks, tape cartoon characters to my mom’s bathroom wall art and add cut out photos to a book of poetry. I covered the walls of my room with magazine pages, overlapping them, until eventually, the whole thing would peel off the wall in one big piece.

Fast forward to 2020, like many others during that time, I sought an online community to connect with. I found collage artists on Instagram. They have such an active, welcoming and creative community. I jumped in, participating in challenges, taking online classes, and learning about collage history and its place in the art world.


2) Do you have a singular style, or do you experiment a lot?

It’s easy to be influenced by bright and shiny objects. I love discovering collage artists online and participating in classes to learn new techniques and styles. It definitely influences my work. However, there are certain aspects that I think repeat in the things I make. Primarily, I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to composition. I enjoy having whitespace. I think it allows for pause, reflection, and open interpretation. Being able to tell a story or stir a feeling by only using three or so elements on a page is a great challenge. I’ve also come to like combining modern/abstract with vintage. The contrast is really fun and interesting to me.


3) Which artist influenced you the most?

It’s not a particular artist, but a memory that I feel influenced me when it comes to art. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a suburb right outside of Washington D.C. On a field trip to a Smithsonian art museum during elementary school, our guide was having us discuss the subject of each painting – the woman in a white dress, the fruit bowl on a table. We came to an abstract painting that had no recognizable shapes or images. When the guide asked for us to name the subject, we were stumped. She explained that sometimes the subject was simply the colors or brush strokes made. It was more about the energy of the piece rather than a realistic depiction of something. That day stuck with me and I find that I tend to focus more on how art feels to me than its realism. That goes back to my use of whitespace and combining abstract and vintage images. Making something that causes someone to pause (to laugh, sigh, or ponder), or allows them to create their own unique interpretation, is what I value.


4) What materials do you enjoy using?

I never thought I’d care so much about scissors, but here we are! My scissors include a pair for “sticky” things, a pair for large preliminary cut outs, one for larger detailed, or “fussy” cutting, one for smaller fussy cutting, and a detail knife for all the little nooks and crannies. My favorite glue is an Elmer’s extra strength glue stick.

Favorite papers include vintage magazines and books.


5) What’s your current work like? Any recurring themes?

I enjoy creating my “plant ladies.” They always surprise me and can be interpreted in so many ways. Abstract landscapes are another favorite theme.

Recently, I’ve been playing more with vintage children’s books as well. The illustrations are amazing and when taken out of context and put in unexpected settings can be really interesting.



6) Can you describe your process?

I tend to work more intuitively. I’ll either find a subject, background, or even just a certain color that jumps out at me and will use that as a starting point. A piece can be created in a matter of minutes, or will be tweaked and worked on for days or even weeks. I don’t tend to work in batches that often unless it’s for a particular challenge or project.



7) Can you tell us about your workspace?

“Workspace” is a generous term. I don’t have a studio or designated room in my house to work. But I do have a small section in my bedroom for an Ikea desk and bookcase. I have cutting mats covering my dresser to use as a flat surface for gluing and painting. Any gel printing is done on our dining room table. And like probably most collage artists, I have books and magazines stacked in almost every room in the house, waiting to be cut and glued and made into something new.



8) Tell us about your plans and hopes for the future in relation to collage.

Right now, I enjoy creating for creation’s sake. However, I am slowly putting myself out there more, be it through becoming more active in online and local art communities, submitting to art shows and publications, or selling prints and originals. Either way, I plan to continue learning new techniques, pushing myself, and staying inspired.


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