An Amazing Interview with NMSU Printmaking Instructor Kat Chudy

Kat Chudy is a printmaker who advocates for people with disabilities and is also a teacher at NMSU in the art department. She has gone through some hardships and pushed past them, she got back up her feet and her ability to do what she did considering her circumstance is a lesson to us all. She insists that she isn’t anyone special, she said “I’m just here.” with pride. She loves what she does and she has an amazing story to tell, and some great advice for anyone. 

What got you into printmaking?:

“That’s kind of a complicated answer.” When she was a teenager she started making prints without realising it, she worked at William Beaumont Army Medical Center and she was making pen and ink drawings. Her mother suggested selling them so she started xeroxing and signing them. In undergrad at UTEP she started learning silkscreening and was really good at it. Her teacher Kim Bauer was impressed by how quickly she picked it up. By the end of her first semester she already wanted to be the TA. She just took to it immediately. What fascinated her was the ability to make multiples, she liked the idea of putting time and effort into a piece and them being able to distribute that piece to many people.

Would you consider yourself a feminist?

“To a certain degree, yes. Some of what has been going on recently has turned me off to the movement.” She took some classes last semester and she noticed that a lot of her peers would participate in what Kat would label as sexism towards men. She considers herself a feminst in terms of making the playing field equal. She has seen the pendulum swing in the opposite direction and women starting to seek revenge towards men and what they have done toward women. She doesn’t think it’s “appropriate to injure back in an attempt to level that playing field.” She thinks “that as human beings we should try to rise above and to always behave better and to be better than things have before.” 

What type of artistic impact do you want to make?

A lot of her work has to do with disability and destabilizing ableist narratives. She directly tries to make changes with her artwork. She believes that art has the ability to change the world. “The fact that I use print as a vehicle for that is a very conscious choice and I think that the application of the multiple is important in my choice making and that the ability of print to distribute as a multiple is important in the choices that I make.” She doesn't paint because her audience would be smaller and she wants to extend her reach. Her audience is geared toward both people with disabilities and to make people aware of people with disabilities. At first, she wanted to show and create empathy but she has changed toward activism, but she still tries to create empathy. She doesn’t want her activism to be too aggressive. She says that “you need to be able to create empathy in people to make them care about the activism otherwise it's just perceived as aggression. I think that both halves are important to the work that I'm doing and to people in the world.” People find her work important, and she believes that able bodied people see her work and become more aware of the invisible power structure and problems.   

Where do you wish to go in the field?

“I don't have anything but complicated answers for you” She is working on her MFA she doesn't know how long she has left, 1.5 to 2 years left. She has been toying with the idea of getting a masters in Art History, she is also getting her conservation certificate. She just recently got a job at Thoreau New Mexico, which is a private company in the arts, managing collection. She wants to keep creating her art. She learned that when she first got sick that having a plan doesn’t always work out. So she is going with the flow. But she would like to keep teaching but wants to stay in the Southwest. 

 

What advice would you give a collegiette woman interested in art?

“Well, it's changing, so maybe ten years ago I would have said that it's a man's sport and given some advice about how tough it is and stick with it and be strong.” But it's not a man's sport anymore. “When I was in printmaking it was still a man's field and when I was the printmaking TA in undergrad I got teased. They were like ‘are you sure you can do the job? This is a man’s job.’and there was still a lot of heavy sexist sentiments and especially about printmaking.” Printmaking is a physically intense artform and takes a lot of hard work to do. It feels like a lot of the classes are mostly female nowadays. It’s a lot friendlier in classes. In terms of galleries, museums and jobs it’s still a hostile world in terms of getting your work out there. NMSU is different where a lot of the faculty in the arts are female. But thats where NMSU is special. “I feel like this is an extremely good time to get into the arts for women. If that’s where your heart is then this is a good time to do that and to go for it! Don’t ever be discouraged.”

 

What are some major setbacks you’ve had to deal with as an artist?

Her biggest set back was when she got sick. She first started getting sick in undergrad and they didn’t know what was wrong with her. She almost didn’t graduate because she was absent for half of her last semester. The dean didn’t want to let her graduate, so her teachers did everything they could to help her because despite her illness she was still a good student. “They moved one of my Art History classes into the printmaking slot because the head of the department refused to let me not graduate because of what a good student I was, and thought the dean was being a d*ck. They advocated for me and were like ‘she’s our best student, if we don’t help her graduate,’ they saw how sick I was, ‘she might not come back.’ So, they helped me graduate.” Two weeks after she graduated she was diagnosed with metastatic, thyroid, stage four cancer. She started 7 years of treatment where every 3 months she was operated on. She spent seven years in bed, “it took me forever to crawl out of my hole of pity and misery because it wasn’t just the cancer. I had all these other things wrong me because it took the doctors so long to figure out what was wrong with me, it had spread so far in my body that it caused all these other problems and it took them forever to fix me.” She had a lot of plans and because of her illness, they all went out the window. She felt sorry for herself and part of those seven years was to take the time to stop feeling sorry for herself and to crawl out of bed and to get on with her life. She had twenty-eight surgeries by the time she was done. She had a lot of scar tissue from the surgeries and had a lot of chronic pain. “I had to learn how to deal with that and I had to learn how to deal with pain and insomnia and depression and anxiety and all the fallout.” She came to a point where the medical community called her cured but she didn’t really feel it because of all of the fallout and she had to say, “Now what? And i have to figure out what to do with my life now and how do i make a living and how do i move on with my life. That took a while to figure out and I still wanted to work and what does that look like.” Everyone kept telling her “next year” because she was still too sick to go back to school and start moving on. She said “Finally I just put my hand down and I said, ‘you know what its never going to be a good time, how about now!’ And finally in 2017 I said "Now, I’m gonna do it now. I'm gonna go back to school now.’ and then they went well we need to do another cancer scan.” She stuck to her decision to go back to school. Her cancer came back but she went back anyway. She’s going to have to continue to get scans to fight her cancer and make sure it stays gone. “But at some point,” she said, “You just have to get on with your life, and that’s the lesson I learned.” 

 

How did you get past those setbacks?

At some point you just have to get on with your life and keep going. Sometimes the world burns around you and sometimes you're in pain. But be happy doing what you do. Some days are going to be rough and sometimes you might need to go sit down and have a cry. But you need to fight to be where you want to be. “In the end, learning that lesson, was all worth it to be able to teach you guys.” It’s okay to sit down in a corner and cry for a bit, because that is what makes us human. She added to her point by saying, “Part of what disturbs me so much about our culture now is this inherent denial of what makes us human and denial of emotion. I refuse to participate in that as well. [...] I think it’s important to take those moments if you need them. That’s why I ask you guys if you are okay. Were all humans, we have moments. We all have moments of weakness and strength and greatness and crappiness and that okay. 

 

What brought you to NMSU?

She was living in North east El Paso and the crime in the area started getting kinda bad. So she moved to Las Cruces to get away from the crime. She moved to Las cruces before applying at NMSU because she wanted to have in state tuition and not go through that whole scholarship nonsense to have in state despite living in El Paso. She knew she wanted to apply, and commuted to El Paso from Las Cruces for a year so she wouldn't have to deal with that part.  When she moved to Las Cruces she fell in love with New Mexico. “Everyone here is so different and the mentality of the people here is, everyone here is so friendly and El Paso is so different. I don’t want to leave now, I love it here, I love this place!”

 

What shows have you been in that you are most proud of?

After some contemplation, she concluded that she is much more excited about her work, and what she stands for rather than any of the many shows she has been in. She is proud to be a part of a movement and to be advocating for people with disabilities. She is excited to make a change and a statement. 

 

How much do you love what you do?

She motioned that she loves it further than her arm span. She loves teaching, the weekend prior to the interview she laser cut wood blocks for her students, and didn't feel like it was an inconvenience. She loved doing it. She wants to help people, and improve society. She loves her art making and the social causes she is fighting for. It is hard to measure something like that, so her motion of the full span of everything is the best she can do for now. 

 

Do you see yourself changing your profession?

“Yes, so when I came into the program, I was doing these little ink drawings. When I had my first critique, Craig Cully was like, ‘these are so illustrative and literal’ and immediately pushed me toward abstraction. If you had shown me what I am doing now, I would have thought you were crazy.” She wants to be flexible, she wants to keep being able to adjust to how her life is. “I heard that once your 30, you stop listening to new music and you get stuck into a certain way of being. So, I always try to think about that and I try to make myself listen to three new artists.” She wants to be able to adapt and change so she can be ready for anything horrible happen like what already did. 

 

All photos are credited to Mira Rector

Instagram: @my_mira16