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Kat Furtado - sharing empowering messages through ethereal, abstract art

San Diego, CA / United States

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Kat Furtado is a contemporary mixed-media artist from San Diego, California. Kat is a certified and licensed Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) with a Master's of Art in Communication Science and Disorders. Her background as an SLP informs her creative endeavors.

Storytelling, emotions, and recurrent themes of humanity are woven with care into her ethereal, abstract artwork. To Furtado, art is an extension of non-verbal communication and validation of the human experience. Because communication continues to be the only true link between sentient beings, Furtado creates art as an essential communicative endeavor.

Furtado became a mother in 2015. The transformation within motherhood was the catalyst for her third career (SLP, motherhood, artist), wherein she realized that parenting two small children required her to do the bravest thing she could imagine: something new. She became a full-time artist in December 2020. This is her first solo exhibition. Furtado has sold out multiple self-released collections of original small works and print releases. She has collectors worldwide. Her artwork has been featured in multiple virtual juried exhibitions and publications (through the Women United Art Movement and "The Huts" Magazine). As part of the “Taking.Up.Space” Initiative, Furtado coordinated, co-created, and participated in "Attachment; Abbreviated.” – a virtual exhibition featuring shared, swapped, and changed materials between artists on opposite ends of the world. Furtado also completed an artist residency through the Artist Mother Podcast Community in March of 2022. Since Women United ART MOVEMENT, a global platform highlighting women in the arts October 2021, she successfully self-released the product lines featuring her illustrative work, sold through her website.

When she isn’t creating art, she can be found cuddling with any combination of her two kids and two rescued pets. True to motherhood, there's almost always someone on her lap. True to being an artist, there's always paint in her hair and on her clothes.

Kat, you are a certified and licensed Speech-Language Pathologist with a Master’s of Art in Communication Science and Disorders and a mixed-media artist. What was your journey into the art world like, and how did your background influence your art practice?

This is a wonderful question! Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs), for those who don’t know, are health professionals who evaluate and treat a wide range of disorders, disabilities, and needs – mostly relating to communication. I say “mostly,” because while we treat things like disfluency, articulation disorders, language impairments, and cognitive/neurological needs, we also support people with swallowing dysfunction, damage to anatomy and/or physiology, and degenerative diseases. We work in attachment and feeding with newborns, and we work with patients who are in their final stages of life. We facilitate the communication needs of people who have dementia, neurological diseases, or who have experienced traumatic brain injury. We treat patients, clients, and students over the entire span of human life to help people communicate their needs, wants, and ideas most effectively and efficiently, given their own unique needs.

It was actually always the plan to go back to work as an SLP three months after having my first child. The lack of sleep paired with post-partum depression and anxiety forced me to reevaluate, and I became a full-time stay-at-home parent. I’m still a licensed and certified SLP, and the field is always growing. If I want to go back, it’s always an option. For now, though? I’ve built an art career that I want to keep nurturing and fostering. There’s so much room to grow and so much yet to learn! It feels, in some ways, like a strange jump to move from being a health professional to being an artist, but it really wasn’t. Art is just a non-verbal extension of communication. It’s one more modality of expression.

As for how my background as an SLP influences my art practice, I really love to consider what it means to create a system of communication for the work I create. It’s not just “nice” to create art that communicates emotions to others. It’s essential. You know, as artists, we talk all the time about “visual language”, but without a strong sense of what that is, how do we know what we’re really saying? Much like how concepts, motor plans, and sounds (for example) are all components that contribute to spoken language, I often think (probably too much) about how colors, shapes, and movement–among so many other things–are parts of visual language. I am also almost always considering the interaction between a painting and its onlooker – it’s a quiet, beautiful, ongoing conversation.

You became a full-time artist in 2020, and the impulse for the decision came from your experiences in motherhood. I relate to this very much as I always say that motherhood made me an artist of me. Can you please tell us all about it?

Yes, of course! As a new mother, I desperately missed the challenge and interaction of Speech Pathology. I missed the cognitive engagement of my fast-paced career.

Once I began painting, I found my voice again. It became an absolute challenge to find time to create, learn different materials, and make something from almost nothing. Art quieted my soul in a way nothing else ever had, so I knew I was on the right path.

You describe your art as a way of communication and validation of the human experience. What is the message behind your art?

I consider myself, in a way, a curator of stories. I love to convey the expanse of what humans experience, but I do it through fabric and form, color and line, and movement paired with complete stasis. It’s a conversation. My ultimate hope is that when people see my artwork, they somehow see something of themselves reflected back, maybe even something they thought no one else could even see. There is so much that is universal in the way we communicate with one another and in our need to be seen, heard, and understood. We all want validation in some form, so I create work that speaks to that. My art is for the people who want to live in a bit of wonderment, you know? The small things in life, the details, the intimacy, the magic of observation, the nuance of every moment? That’s what I want in my life.

Sometimes my work tells stories, and sometimes my art is the story. As an example, I did an entire series examining the cycles of harmful language/ideas we impose upon young children relating to how they look. In particular, I wanted to examine the unsolicited comments people make about the bodies of young girls to them and about them. In this series, “Things My Kids Will Never Hear Me Say”, I used circles as a representation of generational systems, continuity, change, cycles of safety and harm, and connection. And while every painting itself was ethereal, beautiful, soft, and comforting, they were paired with titles that demonstrated the opposite end of that spectrum. Every title in the series was something I’d heard directly over the course of my life. Many of the titles were phrases that had been said directly to me about me, but some were things said about others to me as well, or to people I love. Things like, “You’d Be The Prettiest One There If Not For Your Weight,” or “Well She’s Not Very Pretty, Is She?” The titles were intended to be jarring, reflective of my deep criticism of the way we speak to brilliant young kids whose sizes or bodies are the least interesting/important things about them. Harmful language in each title was paired with traditionally beautiful artwork to further express that the way we speak about people isn’t a reflection of them. It’s a reflection upon the speaker and thinker of those horrible thoughts.

In another series of works, “Hands of Harm and Safety”, I used the juxtaposition of two opposing forces–intense emotional overwhelm paired with beautiful small moments, all while the wheels of time forged onward. I was inspired by a short period of time during the pandemic when I was spending incredible everyday moments with my kids. Being with my kids was wonderful but it was also hard (just by virtue of parenting through the pandemic). Then I had multiple health scares in a very short period of time–a potentially deadly melanoma scare in my eye (which is ongoing, actually), a breast ultrasound preceded by some serious, uncomfortable conversations, and migraines with tests to determine what was really happening. All of this happened so suddenly and in such a short timeline that I felt it deeply and overwhelmingly. There was much good in the everyday moments, and the world kept turning even as it felt like it was all falling apart. Paired with the good, there was so much fear. For this series, I used scans and medical imaging from these tests during this time, lines reflective of anatomical features, and even visual auras from the migraines I experienced. These references influenced the marks and shapes in the series itself.

All of my work comes down to interconnectedness and communication. It’s a practice in reassuring others that they’re not alone while reminding myself that I’m not alone either.

What inspires you the most?

My kids! They have endless energy and vision. I learn so much from the way they observe and interact with their world, and from their intrinsic sense of justice.

Can you describe your process?

I love to explore different media and find new ways to create a cohesive story with each piece I form. I approach every painting, collage, or relief with scientific curiosity, as I might do in my clinical field. I ask “why” and “what would happen if…” and then I explore.

It’s very empowering to use possibility as a guide. I never know exactly what will happen, but I learn from the outcome, and I always know it will eventually come together. I love using sculpting media, paper, transparent substrates, handpainted monoprints, stitching, and all forms of paint. Magic is when it forms something completely new. Layers are carefully created over years, sometimes independent of one another. At some point, they’re ready to go from being whole parts to being parts of a whole. They’re ready to be composed into their new forms: intimate, raw, and carefully curated. This is when the best stories rise to the surface.

I know that your daughters are both very creative. Do you involve them in your art practice? Do you have any tips for artist mothers who are afraid to let go and create alongside their children?

I involve them in everything I do. They see me using different media and they’ve been exposed to my work from the beginning. We’ve actually taken a very lax approach to how they create. This has benefits and drawbacks. As a major benefit–they create with their own ideas in mind. We never give any directives about what to create or how. They’re given raw materials and what happens, happens. The drawback, of course, is that there is an occupational hazard that comes from kids using paints–mainly: a mess.

Their personalities completely determine how they use the creative space we give them. I find that they have very different ways of approaching art. One of my children would sit all day long carving and creating tiny figures out of a clay if we were to let her. She is meticulous and works methodically. She follows rules about where the paint goes and doesn’t, for example. Our other child works quickly and assertively, and her favorite media is anything she can layer with paint and more paint and more paint. She works passionately and with gusto. She is very likely to paint on the walls if left alone for even a moment. And she has done so. She will continue to do so. We know this about her and have plenty of cleaning supplies on hand so she can clean up after that inspiration has struck.

Once, when told to wash her hand (which was covered in paint), she accidentally made a handprint on the wall on the way to the washroom. After cleaning up, and before any of us even knew there was a handprint on the wall, she used a pencil to connect all the fingers to the palm portion of the handprint. I was honestly more impressed with the way she was thinking about her handprint than irritated that there was a mess. But is it annoying to have paint on our walls? Absolutely. And it’s not great for resale value. Still, it has given them a sense of agency and possibility. The world outside our home will try to stamp that out of them ceaselessly so they’re given the freedom to express themselves in our home as long as they follow the boundaries we set.

In terms of tips for creating with kids, the best advice I can offer is to let them try. They do not care if what they create is “beautiful” or “important” by anyone else’s standards. It’s theirs. They do it for their own satisfaction. It’s a brilliant lesson for those of us who were not told to embrace our own eccentricities.

When you give them a chance to try new things, you embrace a growth mindset. When you embrace a growth mindset for them, you give yourself a chance to do the same. It’s an exercise in learning to give yourself grace. Creating with my kids has taught me a lot about myself and how I interact with the world.

I often talk about showing up as an artist, so my son sees that anything and everything is possible. How important do you think is showing our children that dreams are the first steps towards living the lives we envision for ourselves?

This is something I say often too. It came down to one thing for me, honestly. I realized I can’t expect my kids to feel safe expressing themselves if I don’t feel safe doing the same. I have to be a safe space for my kids to just exist as they are. This leads to them feeling comfortable trying new things, even knowing they could fail. It allows them to rewrite what “failure” and “success” mean. It’s such a gift! I want them to feel like they can try new things without worrying about what will happen. If they feel curious about something, I want them to try it. And I want them to KNOW they are welcome and loved and appreciated exactly as they are.

Their ability to see me creating art? It makes art possible for them.

What has been the most exciting moment of your art career so far?

Oh, wow. This is harder than I thought it would be to answer. It sounds a bit cliché, but the most exciting moments are getting to see the reactions of collectors to the work in their homes. I have received so many wonderful messages and responses to the work I have sent into the world. It makes my heart feel like it might explode with gratitude.

I’m also still excited about my first official solo show through the Women United Art Movement that took place last year (thank you, Mona).

What are your dreams, plans and goals (both short-term and long-term)?

I love releasing collections and have sort of gotten away from that in the last year or so. I’m excited to jump back into doing that in the short term. I have long-term goals of being in publications, releasing more lines of illustrated products, and potentially even being in a museum (dare I even dream?) someday.

That said, I remind myself often that while I can formulate every dream in the world–the most important goals that I can accomplish are the ones that relate to legacy and impact. My legacy as a parent is showing my kids they can learn to do anything that they care about and that they can (and should) leave the world better than they found it. In so many ways, I’ve accomplished the most important goals I set out to achieve just by virtue of having two kids who will make a bigger, better splash in the world than I ever could. The world is wide open with possibilities.

What is the number one advice for emerging artists who are trying to find their

authentic voice through their art?

Push yourself by learning everything you possibly can. Do it once, then again five more times. After that, evaluate, learn from it, recalibrate, and start all over again. I guess that’s the advice: start over again all the time.