Katelyn Kopenhaver Collaboration

Can you introduce yourself and let us know what you’re all about?
I’m from a town outside of Philadelphia called Doylestown. I started at Bucks County Community College and studied Fine Arts, always with the intent of focusing on photography. I came to New York City in 2013 after I could financially make the School of Visual Arts my new reality. I shot fashion and portraiture and then my senior year began expressing myself through installation and fashion. As of now I have been doing installations, performance and exhibiting my photographs and coats within the New York City and Los Angeles area. I write poetry and am training as a boxer. I used to be a hyper competitive equestrian and it's a personal goal that I will get back in the show ring. I know way too many facts about Johnny Depp and love a well crafted cocktail. I freelance with photography and design and work as a graphic designer for the advertising agency POMADE. 

Was there a moment growing up when you realized you wanted to be an artist? Or was it a gradual evolution?
I saw a black and white photograph of my dog Riley, that my brother Brent took when I was about 14 years old and was instantly drawn to it. My middle school was one of the few that offered darkroom photography in your last year (9th grade) so I decided to take the class. I remember my teacher vividly. She was pushing me to continue, so come highschool, I continued. Once there, I had another teacher push me to continue in college. I remember she would give me access to special paper and materials because she recognized my drive and talent. And then once in community college I had one of my favorite professors, Kimberly Witham, whom I will always respect and admire to this day. She supported and strengthened me before I even stepped foot into SVA. It was almost like, if I ever had a doubt of what I should be doing, I would have these amazing mentors show up, guiding me.

You mentioned you grew up riding horses. Most people will never have that experience. What lessons has that taught you regarding life and/or being an artist? 
I was always given the horses with attitude problems, that were wild and mean. I loved and welcomed them. Even if I could not fix them they were always teaching me something. I always accepted a challenge and learned the value of responsibility and work ethic and risk by the time I was 8 years old. Horses taught me confidence, perseverance and trust. You are commanding this 1000+ pound animal with a whole other brain and set of issues and you have to trust it and it has to trust you. Horses stiff out of fear, they force you to be confident. There is nothing more brave, nothing more honest than a horse's eyes. My trainer Patty Miller, whom I still go back and visit whenever I can, was always pushing me to get stronger, fine tune my technique and thus win. When you get knocked down, bucked off, you have to get back on. It is vital for survival. I realized getting back on a horse every time I fell off is how I approach life. And yes all these lessons that are staples of my character have come with a huge price tag (thanks dad) but there is nothing about someone's identity, someone's character that you can put a price on. I trust horses more than humans, I understand them better than humans. They will never betray me or hurt me. They are the only creatures that will fully have me - mind, body and soul.

You went to school for photography but it seems like you pivoted from being behind the camera to being more of an artist than a photographer. What made you want to focus on the furs? 
Photography has always been at my core. It brought me to where I am, even at this very moment sitting in my kitchen... typing. I love and will always love the act of taking pictures and photography as a medium of expression. In this past year I have recognized a completely natural shift within my work. It happened when my message was not meant to be through the medium of photography but something else entirely. There was a light the furs had that I never experienced and I had to keep going. I have to keep going. They are universal, non apologetic.  Fashion and language is all around us, we cannot escape it making it a great platform for my voice. If I have to make controversial statements on controversial garments to make people pay attention in a world that is so saturated with “stuff” then let’s do it. 

What were the first iterations of your furs like? Any false starts or funny stories?
I have had a couple phases when I go back and laugh at myself and perhaps one coat that will never get shown, but besides that I meditate a lot on the piece: why I am doing it, is this the right medium and most importantly, what is it going to say. This leaves little room for error or regretful feelings. 

What’s been the highlight of your art career so far? 
I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of amazing moments. I think my greatest one though was meeting with the photo director of New York Magazine, Jody Quon, once a week when I was accepted into the Mentors program in the photography department at SVA. By chance I was paired with her to create a piece that would be exhibited in SVA's Chelsea gallery. We would discuss work, life, art and everything in between. It was surreal stepping out of that elevator and being able to spend my time with such a powerful and influential woman.

Because of your success, you’ve got people biting your style, literally copying it. How do you handle that? 
I have definitely lawyered up and have done A LOT of reading and research. I have my images and visual art heavily copyrighted. I have learned that people are going to knock you down where they can and it’s important to keep moving forward and leave wannabe’s in the dust.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Is there something you would tell a younger artist or a five year younger version of yourself? 
“Imagine how you see yourself, start to act like it, and it will happen.” 
“Show me don’t tell me”   
“90% of people will always let you down, keep your awareness high and choose carefully” 
I would tell a younger artist to make anything that calls them. Don’t worry about what it means and why. We are always stuck on “why” because in our society everything has to have a meaning and get categorized. I would also say to make work from your own experience. Inspiration is under our noses. Don’t make work for anyone else except yourself. Risk and risk again. Always remain dilated and open but be careful on who you let close to you and who you choose to share your ideas with. I just wrote a segment actually, on changing the creative process in “The Better Business Book: 100 People, 100 Stories, 100 Business Lessons to Live by” if anyone is interested in more of this topic. 

You’re a teacher's assistant at SVA and sometimes you bartend. What does it take to be an artist in NYC? What are you willing to do or put up with in order to be making art? 
I teacher assist for a fabulous fashion photographer Janusz Kawa. He has been such a light in my life and I continue learning from him even post graduation from the School of Visual Arts. In addition I bartend a couple days a week to not only make fast cash but to network. I have met business advisors, lawyers and artists, all of whom I still converse with and who contribute value to my life. Being an artist in New York City is not butterflies and rainbows but you also cannot complain about it. “Don’t tell me how hard it is just fucking do it” is a quote from a professor I had. We are our hardest enemy to fight and person to impress. I am willing to go to the core of myself and make money however I can, so long as it doesn't consist of me selling my soul, but understanding that anything can be used to its benefit. I am willing to cut out socializing, depleting friendships, romantic interests that are lethal and focusing on my own identity. If you do not fully understand yourself, you will not be able to make the work. So then... what's the point of anything really?

I saw you post about Marcus Aurelius' book Meditations. What are some books you’ve learned from or been inspired by? Any recommendations?
Man, Marcus Aurelius has guided me so much on how to handle the struggles within your own mind: pain, self control, ego, and moving forward. I always reference him and re-read him whenever I feel the need. I recommend the Saturated Self by Kenneth Gergen as well. It speaks about contemporary issues of identity and the self. Also Carl Jung, specifically what he has to say about archetypes. I read a lot of philosophy and non-fiction, however - I need to start reading more fiction. Any recommendations?!

You're currently living with your brother and he is hugely supportive of what you’re doing. How do your parents and family feel about it?
My brother is ten years older than me. We've never lived in the same environment for longer than a couple years and even that to me is fuzzy. We live together now with a freezer stocked full of organic grass fed meat and with one of the comfiest living room sofas you will ever come across. He has taught me more lessons than he probably realizes through his wisdom and experiences. I value his generosity and purity. I will always be indebted to him. My parents are also incredibly supportive and I look back at how I was raised, the opportunities I was given and the experiences I had to fight for. It carries over with you forever and the appreciation I have for them is ineffable. I also can’t forget about my sister! Loads of support and endless encouragement. A spirit brighter than my own I would have her back over anyone and anything.

What does the future look like for you in the next six months to a year?
Everything and anything. I am setting out for more gallery representation and showing. I have more guerilla style work coming up, that isn't fur in medium, but similar in concept. I have been doing more performance and spoken word poetry so perhaps you will see me on a stage one of these days. I am always continuing to advance, learn and grow. The universe is a sea of endless knowledge, what more could someone want than to continue learning?