Luna Fest: Kate Tupper welds dreamy, sci-fi myths

Commercial welder started with scraps from the shop floor and forged it into a burgeoning career as a professional sculptor

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Bright Heart art bike by Kate Tupper. Photo: contributed

The super-talented Nakusp-based metal artist Kate Tupper’s elaborate sculptures span the gamut from intricately detailed art bikes to abstract sculptures and installations. Tupper’s metal art career started when she was working as a welder; she’d scrounge scraps and metal waste to make her unique creations. Over the past decade, she’s emerged as a serious metal artist, selling sculptures, taking commissions and putting on full exhibitions. She’s won exhibition awards at the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre and has been featured in Castlegar Sculpturewalk for the past two seasons, taking third place in the juried show in 2016. Her 2016 work is now featured in the City of Nelson — look for her sculpture All Strings Attached near the Cantina. She’s been well received in her hometown; an easy chair made from metal has been installed on the village’s waterfront as part of a downtown revitalization project, and her abstract sculpture adorns the M.V. Columbia ferry on the Shelter Bay to Galena Bay run. (Tupper actually worked as a welder on construction of the new ferry.) She’s also been involved in teaching design to students at the Nakusp Secondary School. We caught up with Kate for a Q&A update on her works and to find out what she has in store for the LUNA Festival.

Kate Tupper worked on the MV Columbia as a welder, and was then commissioned to create this sculpture for the vessel. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

Revelstoke Mountaineer: Your sculpture is featured on the Upper Arrow Lake Ferry M.V. Columbia, a ferry that you also helped build as a welder. Tell me about the piece and your inspiration for it.

Kate Tupper: I started writing poetry during the Columbia build. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I carry a small book in my front Carhartt pocket for recording on the go measurements and instructions.

Detail of the MV Columbia sculpture. Photo: contributed

Welding for hours and days and weeks, my thoughts became words, that then became incomplete sentences. I felt like an explorer at times because shipbuilding was so new to me every section added, or new process I learned, just blew my mind. I sketched the visual beauty in the patterns of structural steel. Welding is bright, steel is dark; it’s my favourite juxtaposition. I wrote about the beauty of camaraderie. I had never been with such a great team of humans working and laughing so hard. These people took the time to answer my questions. The time I spent on the Columbia is why I can build what I dream today. So when I was asked to design a sculpture it was easy. I had already written the artist statement, and the visual research was there in my mind and notebook. Voila! Looking Aft came to life with a CKCA grant and an Art Party fundraiser.

Art bike by Kate Tupper. Photo: contributed

RM: You work as an artistic director for Shambhala. Tell me about what that job entails and what sensibility you try to bring to the festival.

I started as Art Director and supervising what is called the Farm Decor team at Shambhala Music Festival last summer, 2016. This year it was our 20th anniversary, so you can imagine a job like that comes with some big boots to fill. The focus of the team has been primarily in creating a vibe for the site. The past work is incredible I feel honoured to be a steward of all the sculpture and murals. To have the opportunity to lead, and design large projects for one of my favourite places has been a dream come true for me. On Farm Dec we build projects with magical, whimsical elements that encourage community, education, and personal growth. I try to focus especially on down-regulation because the stages are so stimulating we need that balance downtown. I arrived on the Farm this year on July 16 and ran teams through too many projects to list. In the end right before the show we were a team 19 strong. It was a hustle and air quality was poor, but we managed to crank out the magic. Our biggest project was a welded non-denominational wedding chapel build from 76 old school chairs by four lady welders: myself, Georgia, Emma, Emily and my friend Brad. We let him name it the Thundercone. I love its organically inspired sheet metal, and hand-painted details. It’s become a place for not just lovers but also friends to come together.

A Tupper sculpture entitled Moments Later. Photo: contributed

RM: You’re involved with the Nakusp Art Party event, which has turned into an art party weekend getaway for many in Revelstoke. What’s that event about?

We love that Revelstoke comes to visit! Art Party is something we do in Nakusp’s off-season to bring fun, business, and of course art to our village. it started out as a one-off to save my sculpture project Looking Aft, but turned out to be so much fun that everyone keeps pulling together to produce another one. Proceeds go towards public art projects in the Nakusp area. We have a solid team and the community support is phenomenal — something special is happening over here and its about great people getting together and celebrating the arts and each other. Our next event is November 18. Remember that we have hot springs for your hangovers! #visitnakusp

One of Kate Tupper’s metal chairs installed at the waterfront walkway in Nakusp, B.C. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer

RM: Your works span the spectrum from practical art like metal furniture and leisure art bikes to abstract metal sculpture. Aside from metal and welding as your chosen media, what themes or processes unite your works?

Creating myth, I think, unifies. Each of the works to me is a character or a part of a story line. Visual themes calling me lately are of the natural world combined with a sort of dreamy science fiction approach. I love the illusion of floating and often try to incorporate that into the work. I think I picture each sculpture alongside its artist statement as something like a page from a graphic novel. I create costumes when I’m in the research and development phase of projects they are essentially the sculpture in a different form. A sort of first attempt at what I am hoping to build and bring to life. Maybe I think if I can get inside I’ll know what it is supposed to look/feel like? I think it’s working. The three elements combined; sculpture, artist statement and costume are what I actually consider to be the full body of work.

Tupper at work. Photo: contributed

RM: Your LUNA piece called Heavenly Bodies will be featured at Main Street Café. Tell me about what you’ll be creating and the ideas and inspiration that’s guiding it?

Heavenly Bodies, AKA M.A.F. Unit 0, is a project funded by BC Arts Council. LUNA Arts Festival will be its maiden voyage. M.A.F was designed to be public art that could touch and be touched by anyone of any age. The idea around her was connection to ourselves and hopefully everything else. To teach humans how big and small we are. To create a sense of wonder, to tap into the mystical experience. I have built a sixteen-foot tall structure — sometimes it feels like a rocket sometimes it feels like a planetarium. Sometimes it feels like something a little more sacred. This installation is different for me because it included some new materials and processes. MAF Unit has many intentionally void spaces cut in her formed sheet metal walls to be traced by light strips and filled with custom made windows. I have been running a super sticky resin lab on my deck for several months researching and developing small projects. This week I started pouring the big windows into the custom rubber moulds I built. I hope all of Revelstoke shows up on September 30 to explore Luna and see if all my experiments worked out!

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Aaron Orlando
Aaron Orlando is the Creative Director of revelstokemountaineer.com and Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. He's worked in Revelstoke as a journalist and editor for the past ten years. Got tips on Revelstoke news, entertainment, sports, outdoor life, community or anything else? Email aaron@revelstokemountaineer.com or call/text Aaron at 250-814-8710.