Brooklyn’s Katie Stout turns trash into high design

Mix Master

Artist and designer Katie Stout is building a triumphal arch—of trash. The aptly-titled Arc de Trash is the biggest thing she’s ever made, and it’s covered with material samples, shells, a DVD of Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet, plastic necklaces, a friend’s shoe. “I don’t know why, but I love this gross cardboard situation,” Stout said, pointing to a mysterious mass of packaging tape, brown paper, and plaster near the lintel. There’s even a section devoted to an array of tiny plastic E.T.s from Wolf E. Myrow, a store in Providence, near the Rhode Island School of Design from which Stout graduated in 2012. “It’s a bunch of crap,” Stout said. “But every time I go in there I just think I need this box of E.T.s.” Positioned in front of the arch is a half-completed ceramic sphinx, which will provide a “regal moment amongst the trash and the rubble.” Originally, Stout wanted people to get on the beast and ride it.

Stout’s Arc de Trash and Sphynix in progress in her Brooklyn studio. (Anna Talley) 

The trash arch and sphinx will soon be on their way to Flutter, a long-term, cross-disciplinary exhibition held within a repurposed 1920s art deco building in South La Brea, Los Angeles. Opening on June 1, Flutter will feature work by Jacolby Satterwhite, Jillian Mayer, Liz Collins, among many other leading contemporary artists and designers. The chief curator of the exhibition, Karen Robinovitz, has themed Flutter around happiness and play, aiming to create an atmosphere of excitement and wonder to contrast the onslaught of grave news currently saturating our world. For Stout, the process of making in and of itself seems to be what sparks happiness. “I love the idea of shipping my trash across the country,” she said, “but I’ll need to send an extra box of trash in case I need to fix the wall.”

Detail of Arc de Trash with tiles and the top of a Valentines Day treat. (Anna Talley)

Ceramics and studies are clustered on every horizontal surface in Stout’s studio. (Anna Talley)

As she’s constantly experimenting with themes, forms, and materials, it’s no wonder that Stout has a self-proclaimed hoarding problem. But the arch isn’t just a catchall heap of miscellany from the studio floor—it’s also a sort of Katie Stout collage. There are amputated parts from her “Girl” lamps, samples from the bathroom she tiled at New York gallery R & Company, a mixtape from a high school friend. “It feels like a cleanse,” Stout said, and that’s given her the freedom to explore new ways of making. A recently completed wicker sideboard, with rocks and lamps woven right into the surface, is a far cry from her glob furniture, which is characterized by its imperfect forms and eclectic color schemes.

Ceramic plates painted by Stout at her residency in Austria. (Courtesy of Schloss Hollenegg For Design)

This large porcelain vase decorated by Stout features a variety of fantastical illustrations. (Anna Talley)

Stout working during her residency at Schloss Hollenegg for Design (Courtesy of the Artist)

Stout also recently completed a residency at Schloss Hollenegg in Austria, a castle-turned–design studio, where she painted porcelain. Her work with that smooth, luminous material reads as a reaction against her lumpy objects, but the pieces still scream “Katie Stout.” There, she was inspired by Victorian-era eclecticism, and her particular brand of eccentricity is evident in one of her vases, covered with a bestiary of multi-headed (sometimes multi-breasted) animals. “I had three days left at the residency and I brought these two giant vases into the paintery and the woman who runs it was like, ‘those take three months to paint!’ and I was like, ‘Nah.’ It took me an hour and a half,” she recalled. Next up, she’s excited to try her hand at metalworking for an upcoming project with Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, a Milanese foundry that has produced bronze sculptures since 1913.

Wicker Credenza designed by Stout for a private client. (Blaine Davis)

Tabletop lamps are woven right onto the surface of Stout’s wicker credenza. (Blaine Davis)

As art and design become more intertwined, Stout, with her creatures and credenzas, seems to be at the forefront of cross-disciplinary practice. She cannot be categorized as designer or artist. “I just waffle between the two,” she said. “The magic of something dies once you give it a name.” This ambiguity gives Stout the flexibility to make abstract clay animals one day and design a “Ladies” wallpaper for Flavor Paper the next—she’s no material purist. “I like doing ceramic stuff where, like, half of it is not at all properly done,” she explained, but she also stressed that, at the end of the day, no matter the material, she still has to be purposeful. “If it’s supposed to be functional, it needs to be somewhat functional.”

Flutter will be on view at 217 S La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California from June 1 through November, 2019.
Header Image: Portrait of Katie Stout. (Kyle Dorosz)