Kat Alyst is a photographer based throughout Los Angeles, Austin, and New York who explores beauty, nostalgia, stillness and surrealism in stunning and colorful portraits of herself, friends, and strangers alike. Directing her subjects, she subconsciously channels through them, translating melancholia and apathy underlying a saturated color palette.
The artist’s birth year only comes up to be from 1912. No one is quite sure how old she is, making her one of the first Fine Artists to never fully give her age. She recently had a few announcements of upcoming projects she has been working on since quarantine started in March. We caught up with her to review these projects and see if we could dig deeper into the world of a “catalyst”.
Where are you from? Can you describe more of your background?
I grew up in East Texas, which I often hated. I think what mainly frustrated me, was looking back, I felt misunderstood. I was “weird” for not liking to wear blue jeans, or want to ride horses. It is a very rural place, and I just did not feel like I fit in. I remember feeling really happy when I finally got to use the Internet. I found a community of so many people online, and was so inspired by what they were doing.
What are some themes that you tend to work with?
I have not always thought about themes, at least in the beginning. My new work will be very personally themed though. In both cases, I prefer to approach my work with feeling, and turning a personal experience into a universal one. Sometimes (in my opinion), too much theme can be restricting.
Can you tell readers where you went to school and how you began working with photography?
In college I took some photo classes, and actually minored in photography, but I did not know I would someday love it as the medium I do today. I thought I would be more of a traditional artist actually, and even had some qualms with going to art school at all. I enjoyed using the dark room the most though, and with the classes that gave me hands on opportunities, sort of kept me in school for that reason alone. I thought at that point in my life, if I were to move to LA or New York to just be an artist, I would have got distracted and not stay so focused. It was not until 2015 I really got serious about photography. I did not have the money, but went ahead and got a used Canon 5d Mark II on eBay that was $600. I have no idea how I found one that worked for that price, but it was then I jumped into self-portraits, shooting musicians mostly, and started finding my voice with images then.
How do you distinguish your fine artwork from fashion collaborations you’ve done? Both are splendid.
Thank you. I do love both. With fashion though, there is usually more of a true collaboration between the team and myself. I am hired to capture a vision that a creative team has depicted, and it is about the clothing itself. I try to add my artistic approach to every piece, and am as creative as the job lets me be. With fine art, it is more my message. When collaborating with strangers, I do enjoy their voices added to the images if they wish to do so though. I find interaction between people as an art form in itself, and I think due to growing up mostly alone in rural Texas, I find studying people and collaboration, as a therapeutic process for me too. When I do self-portrait work, I have to prepare to be vulnerable and raw, but I am still working on that too.
We see an array of human beings in your portfolio. It seems your early work was mostly female, is that correct?
Yes my first batch of imagery was with women mostly. I just think the female mind and entity is surreal in itself. All who identify female are such a force. I find endless inspiration from women, and capturing it through my lens, as someone who identifies female, it becomes to intimate, much more special and me. I love photographing everyone, and have been fortunate to grow my portfolio to photograph more male subjects. I find beauty in everyone of course. I think that is just something that comes with the territory of a portrait photographer over all categories.
Tell readers about your upcoming project that you are working on… your book and your project for your art show. Is this your first show?
To be honest, I am so frustrated with my writing lately. I do not even know how long a memoir should be. I wonder if anyone would even want to read it, you know, you sort of end up doubting yourself sometimes along the way. I just have to focus on, it feels true for me to do, so I will let the process be what it is. As for the show, yes, this would be my first bigger show, at least in a gallery. I have had group art shows with painting before though, but this will be my first show with photographs in this manner. It may be a solo show, or group, I would be happy with either. I do not know where it will be held yet, but the message will be told through themed imagery of self-portraits, and remind the viewers they are not alone, by sharing some quirky and serious messages I have experienced through the years.
This sounds deep, both your show and your book. Do you have an agent or are you independent?
It is just me, and well friends who I ask opinions. I have only gotten as far as I have because of the people around me now.
So you have all these interviews and press due to just you? How has that been, and do you get rejected, or has it been smooth sailing?
I am literally emailing pitches nearly every single day. I generally pitch bodies of work I create with myself or others to launch on a fashion-based publication. I enjoy getting the whole team out there for those projects in any way possible. Everyone works so hard on the collaborations I have been a part of, so I just want to make sure everyone can fly. As far as those and my own work to pitch, yes, I get rejected all the time! I think it is important that artists know this is probably normal. I do not want to say it is normal and someone reading emails me and says actually it is just you (laughing). I just know that anything you want takes work, and in a world where email and texts make everything a much faster pace, Editors and Curators are bombarded. There is also so much talent, so just because you get a rejection, does not mean you suck or whatever. It just means you did not fit what they were looking for, but you will fit somewhere. It just takes work to keep your message going.
Well said! You mention, “fast-paced texts and emails…” What do you think about social media?
I love / hate it to be honest. I think it is so useful in many ways, and completely maddening in others. To avoid a lengthy rant, I think people really need to not focus on the numbers. It can get addicting to watch them go up, but that does not mean your art is good or bad. As long as your content is true to you, then you should post it, not for the Likes and not for the Follows. We get so wrapped up in such a strange world, and it can be inspiring or a downfall.
I think we could actually agree on that. You are very wise for your age.
Well I am over 100 years old (laughs).