If you asked Katherine Filice a year ago whether she thought she’d be taking her art to London in her first-ever art show, she’d have said no. Before then she may have not shown it to anyone, let alone an entire contemporary art scene at Artrooms Fair London.
Filice’s organic pen-and-ink designs seemingly step off their vellum homes—their depth is palpable.
Just two years ago, Filice, 54, picked up a pen and began drawing these lines—crafting images reminiscent of “Bodies: The Exhibition.”
Even the most well-adjusted people have fleeting moments of intense emotions—feelings of frustration, pain, sorrow or betrayal.
“I’m telling a story and I’m trying to connect, and the emotions in the artwork are incredibly real, but they are the same emotions that everybody has,” says Filice.
Raw and vivid, Filice’s works have a profound ability to connect with the viewers’ energies, as if in the exact moment of the experience.
While many of the images convey exasperation, resentment or struggle, there are clear elements of hope in nearly every drawing.
“There is some striking imagery on there, but if you look at the whole picture, there’s always a point to it,” says her husband of 18 years, Dean Filice. “That says, well this isn’t really death, it’s actually something else coming back to life.”
An active member in the community and executive creative director of a thriving marketing firm in the heart of downtown Gilroy, Filice has helped many to develop their brand.
From multiple contracts throughout Gilroy and Morgan Hill to cities around the region, agencies and educational institutions including San Benito High School and San Jose State University, and everything from small boutiques, like San Benito Bene to large corporations like McDonald’s, Filice, through her company, Articulate Solutions has supported the marketing efforts of many entities.
But what about her own brand?
With so much time in the public eye, few may truly comprehend the depth of her art.
Because of her commercial work, Filice thinks people may have the impression she’s an extrovert.
But after hours of meeting with the public, Filice steals away from her busy life and retreats to her home studio—an elegantly simple space with a wooden drafting table, a window and a few sitting chairs.
“I draw energy from being alone, I leave this space empowered,” says Filice. “This really is church to me.”
There in her studio, she reconciles her outward persona with her internal spirit—her true self.
One might think as a full time owner of a flourishing enterprise, Filice would have little time to dedicate to her art, but Filice spends a good 30-40 hours each week honing her technique—drawing when she gets home from work, a full day on Friday and weekends.
The expression is breathtaking and exacting.
Working with tiny micro nibs, just .25mm and toothy 2-3 ply vellum, Filice says she spent a year searching for the right paper.
With exceptional motor control, Filice spends at least a month working on a single design by hand—typically sketching freehand and then bringing the work to a light table.
While her creations flow beautifully, from a technical standpoint, they are challenging.
“Functionally to get the lines to flow over form is really hard,” she says. “Someone told me once, it looks like I’ve peeled all the skin off.”
The look of the musculature in her work, she says, was sort of a byproduct of the technique rather than intentional.
“I feel my compositions are really strong and I look at this more technically,” says Filice. “Like gauging the negative space juxtaposed to the artwork. The curves of the lines, there’s a lot of [balancing],” influences she says come from her work in commercial design and illustration.
Filice avoids having her designs look too controlled, but says early on she had wanted all of the lines to be precise.
“I really had to fight with letting them be imperfect and sort of embracing their imperfect nature,” says Filice. “Now when I start making lines that are perfect, I go in between them because overall it makes it a prettier, more textured, more thoughtful piece.”
Filice says there is even a message—a statement—in these imperfections creating perfections.
“I really love the process—the tactile feeling,” says Filice.
For Filice she takes something that is real and she draws it using a realist approach, but where she steps outside of that and into surrealism is where her true journey begins—this is the point of departure.
“All my work is a co-mingling of those two states: the dream and the awake,” Filice says. “That drives a lot of the symbolism in the stories.”
In our lives each of us has moments of lucidity—the moment we are struck awake. The value here is in how Filice has chosen to share those moments.
Though some of the ideas evolved over time and are based on sketches from decades past, Filice’s art is a timeless expression of pure emotion.
Archetypal imagery, oftentimes religious in nature, like a snake or wings, is featured throughout Filice’s body of work.
For Filice, there is a story and a language to each drawing that is consistent through all the pieces.
“Something with feathers or wings in reference to the divine, an angel or spirit or [something] uplifting, something positive or transformative,” she says. “Where the serpent is typically representative of somebody not telling you the truth or not being true to themselves or not showing their true face to the world.”
Filice says all of our religions are our ways of connecting and conceptualizing the relationship we have with however it’s named—it could be the universe, it could be God, it could be the divine.
“It’s all the same in my opinion,” she says. “All of those religions ultimately are speaking to the same energy. Those frameworks are just a way for humans to connect or plug in—I just do it with a pen.”
Though pained and raw at times, there are elements of liberation, of hope in her art. Often featured in many of her drawings as winged creatures drawn like butterflies or moths with little eyes, they are witnesses to the innocence of hope and growth—symbolic of awareness and transformation—they are watching.
“I always believe there is always hope and the universe and God there if you can tap into it,” says Filice. “And so whatever struggle you have, if you can tap into the divine, there’s hope that you can move forward. You always see a little bit of hope in every picture that I draw, not always, but typically there’s always a little like ‘it’s gonna be ok.’ ”
Many of Filice’s works reveal a duality that is present within all of us. Humans, in any given moment, at odds with themselves, display an outward persona, which they must reconcile with their true self.
One piece in particular, “Silenced,” is a manifestation of that and carries itself throughout the rest of her art.
In the drawing, which Filice says brought her to tears and which she views as a breakthrough piece, features three faces or masks.
“One day I just covered her mouth with a snake and I just got so emotional,” says Filice. “I realized what I was trying to say was that you have all these faces you present to the world. All of us do. We wear masks for work or whatever social situation we’re in. We put on a mask. And none of them is really who we are, but they’re all kind of lies and they all take away your voice.”
Filice says employing these masks erodes our connection to other people.
It’s in pieces like “Silenced” that Filice experienced her own awakening. A crisis, a coming of age, her search for meaning, Filice has grown up in the last few years and in a profound way.
“I’m more confident about having my say, I am more defiant,” she says. “I’m more adamant.”
Being kicked when you’re down, stifled expressions, obligatory masks, social pressures, ugly judgments—Filice’s response to these violations of self are fierce.
Works like “Rise” speak to this rebellion. The drawing has a winged figure, looking back over its shoulder, determination in its eyes.
“I like this picture because you can see the story of somebody falling and breaking and then getting that defiant look in their eyes and lifting up their wings and taking off one more time…like ‘I got this,’ ” Filice beams.
“The Secrets We Keep.” It’s the first true series Filice has done. Characteristic of her field, Filice used social media to share and promote her art—but only after the urging of a close friend. In April 2017, she took the plunge and tweeted some big names in contemporary art, including London-based Be Artist Be Art magazine and Artrooms.
In an accident of fate, Be Artist Be Art had a typo in its headline: “Smoth Design.” Intended as Smooth Design. Filice began to refer to the winged creatures in her art as “smoths.”
After she submitted her application to Artrooms Fair London in June, the artist graciously continued to encourage her peers in the art community to apply while there was still time.
“When we find someone we like, we send them info about the fair—the rest is up to the artist,” writes Cristina Cellini Antonini founder and director at Le Dame Art Gallery and the Artrooms Fair in an email interview.
Filice learned only in the first weeks of September that she was one of the artists selected to appear.
“For this edition we received over 1,150 applications from 65 countries worldwide,” writes Antonini.
Once the call for artists is closed, Antonini writes, the selection committee does the hardest job—choosing the most talented 70 artists.
Filice along with the other selected artists benefit from free exhibition spaces and are presented to a huge network of art galleries, foundations and private collectors.
On showing her work to the public: Filice says though much of her work is provocative it’s not a reflection of her mental health.
“I think that’s the biggest worry,” says Filice. “Is that people won’t understand how to separate that.”
Filice says everyone has frustrating times or thoughts—feelings everyone can identify with.
It’s all designed to make people engaged and to make them feel something, but at the end of the day it’s just art.
At some point, Filice says, people are going to wake up and realize that life was an intriguing illusion.
“You and I are connected and you’re a projection of my illusion and I’m a projection of your illusion,” she says. “Like we’re having a shared illusion.”