Blending a lifetime of religious stories with a fascination with death, Kat Jennings creates art that challenges the distinctly human fear of our own mortality. With excruciatingly fine detail inked into every piece, Knife Dance explores the human condition through the single most inevitable aspect of it: death.
Her art is inspired by everything from the stories people believe about the afterlife to the way we bury the dead to the art we create in honour of our gods and fallen idols.
She sat down to speak to us at the end of Inktober to share how the challenge that helped her to develop and what it means for the future of her dark art.
Kirstie: How is Inktober going?
Kat: It’s really hard trying to bang something out every single day!
Kirstie: Are you enjoying the challenge?
Kat: Yeah. A lot of what I do is really detailed stuff, so it’s got me out of my comfort zone and got me to just stop thinking about all the details and stop being such a perfectionist. I’ve put up pencil drawings on my Instagram and normally I wouldn’t up anything like this. I think you just stop giving a shit.
Kirstie: How do you feel about how that’s affecting your art style?
Kat: I think it’s quite good. I think it’s encouraging, anyway. I think the whole point of Inktober is that you play around with details and you literally just a get a word and then you draw whatever comes to mind. So it’s pushed me slightly. My general style is religious icons and this has most definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. It makes me slightly nervous sometimes, but I think it’s really, really exciting. It’s made me want to draw different things than all the religious type drawings that I normally do.
Kirstie: What draws you to religious and spiritual imagery?
Kat: I always wish I had an answer to this but I’m not too sure. I was brought up in a very strict Irish Catholic family and we could never leave the house without crossing holy water on our faces. We had to pray at night and at school and I had to pray before I ate. We were constantly praying all the time and worshipping.
For me, now, I’m not a religious person and I feel like they’re false icons. One thing that I’ve liked through history is that all of these people have been worshipped and when they died they were laid with all of these riches and all of these jewels so they could be rich in the afterlife. But in reality, they were just fucking dead. That’s it. I loved how ridiculous it is. These people were worshipped, but not even in an amazing way. I kind of like that, from a low brow point of view. I do enjoy this ridiculous idea that this skull is draped is jewels and doing nothing, just laying there six feet under.
Kirstie: Do you have a favourite religious story?
Kat: I think it’s not really religious stories. When I’m with my family and we go somewhere, we always have to visit the cathedral. And being a bit of a goth I bloody love a cathedral or a church or anything like that. So I would go in there and see the statues.
Even if you’re not religious, when you’re in a cathedral and it’s so, so decorated, your mind is just absolutely blown by the detailing and the wood carving and statues and stained glass work. If anything I am most inspired when I go to church. I recently went to Barcelona and went to one of the most famous cathedrals there. I was going around sneakily taking photos of every single icon around because they were amazing.
Kirstie: How did you get into art?
Kat: My mum always wanted me to be busy. I used to go out with five colouring books and just draw all the time. I was always quite an arty person and I got a lot of encouragement. It just kept on going. My older sister is an amazing oil painter and I always looked up to her, I wanted to be cool like her. Her paintings were all over the house. She was a very inspiring person – she inspired me and I wanted to be better than her, as sister rivalry goes. I’ve always wanted to draw, I surround myself with people who draw. I don’t think I do it on purpose, but you start relating to people and you get on with people who are likeminded. And it just happens.
Kirstie: What kind of artists are you influenced by?
Kat: A lot of my work is quite art deco. I like a lot of traditional, art deco, pre-Raphaelite art work. But my one favourite, favourite artist of all time is Harry Clarke. He was an Irish painter. The detail in his work was absolutely insane. You could look at one drawing and you can go on and on and on. His work is slightly nightmarish and full of fear. But yet there’s some sort of relaxed atmosphere to it. There’s a sense of something feeling a little bit off with his work and I really enjoyed it.
I guess when I first found out about Harry Clarke, even though I’d been drawing all my life, I found my own and my style. I completely went for it. Some people have come to me and said that my work reminds me of Harry Clarke and that’s the biggest compliment I could ever get. None of artwork copies him and there’s no like for like. He does amazing small detail and some of my bigger pieces do go into a lot of detail. He inspired me and help me to turn into Knife Dance.
Kirstie: Where does the name Knife Dance come from?
Kat: I have no idea! When I started to do my artwork, I think I was very much like stab, stab, pointy, pointy. For some reason Knife Dance just came into my head, but that was when I was just on Instagram, not really focussing on my artwork. And when I did start concentrating on my art, I went through God knows how many names and they were so twee or they were so transparent. And then one of my friends asked why I keep changing my name every week and I thought, yeah, I’m getting bored of going through names, I’ll just go back to Knife Dance and stick with it.
Kirstie: What are your favourite materials to work with?
Kat: Most of my artwork is just in my sketchbook. Then I just go straight to pen. I don’t really do paint. I’ve got paint pens, but I don’t really do much apart from that. I did a skateboard once in acrylic, but that was a fucking nightmare, so I think it’ll be a while before I do another one of those.
Kirstie: What do you like about that simple ink art style?
Kat: I think Inktober taking me out of my comfort zone, with my technical pen and my fine-liners, it’s always been about getting the lines perfect and trying to get as much detail into something as possible. I think that’s the great thing about fine-liners. I’ve never really been able to translate what I want with a paintbrush. I’ve never been able to achieve the detail that I wanted to do – which is why I had a problem with the skateboard. There were too many details that were not possible with a paintbrush.
Kirstie: If you could design a movie poster for any film, what would it be and what would you do?
Kat: Well my favourite film of all time – I love it so much, I have it tattooed across my chest – is True Romance by Quentin Tarantino. I’d probably again go back to what I was saying before, I’d love to draw scenarios. There’s this amazing scene at the end of the film where they’re fighting over the bag of cocaine and they throw up a pillow. Then they shoot at the pillow and there’s feathers everywhere and cocaine and there’s so much blood splashing across. I love the contrast of the red and the white. I’d probably draw that.
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Kat: Yeah. Lots. Draw. Draw every day. And stop being so critical of yourself. It’s the worst cliché of all time, but your worst critic is always yourself. I feel like, especially in the beginning when no one knew me as an artist, I beat myself up about it all the time and I didn’t feel like anyone was going to appreciate it. I loved drawing, but I wondered what was the point in trying to share it with the world? But someone will always want to see it. And that someone will turn into groups of people. And I have 13,000 followers now and they really like my stuff! It’s crazy! I think you just build from there. Sometimes take the emotion out of it. Try not to be so critical and precious about it and get it out there because there will always be someone out there who loves your work.
A huge thank you to Kat Jennings for taking the time to talk to us! If you want to keep up with her work you can follow her on Facebook and Instagram and support her by buying her merchandise through her Shopify site.