Artist Katie Kikta reconnects to drawing and the divine beauty of life

Lindsay Gallery hosts the local art educator's first solo show, with an open house on Saturday, May 8

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
"Back in My Body," Micron pen and acrylic paint, by Katie Kikta

Toward the beginning of the pandemic last year, Katie Kikta went through a destabilizing breakup. She moved out and began living on her own, trying to determine what the next stage of her life would look like.  

“I went through a lot of therapy, figuring out ways to reconnect to myself. And I hadn't been making art,” Kikta said recently by phone. 

During this journey of self-discovery, Kikta listened to music and read books by self-help author Brené Brown. “I was really hard on myself with what had happened in my past relationship, the mistakes that I had made. And [Brown] talks about owning your truth and your stories and reconnecting to creativity,” she said. 

Kikta has made art off and on since she was young, eventually getting an art education degree and teaching at the high school level, first in Westerville, where she focused on ceramics, and now in the Olentangy Local School District. Somewhere along the way, Kikta took a break from drawing, but therapy helped her realize how much she needed it back in her life.  

“I kind of forgot who I was, and my purpose. Getting back to making art was a good first step toward reconnecting with myself,” she said. “I could take something that was heartbreaking and process it into something that I could create and let go.”

"Cycle One: Death" by Katie Kikta

These recent drawings are part of a new exhibit (and Kikta’s first ever solo show) at the Short North’s Lindsay Gallery, which will host an open house with the artist on Saturday, May 8, from 1 to 5 p.m. 

More:Still an outsider: Lindsay Gallery turns 20

For this new body of work, Kikta used only black Micron pen and gold acrylic paint to create stunning, intricately detailed drawings that often highlight aspects of the natural world (birds, snakes, flowers) while also zooming in on the musculature, organs and internal tissue of the human body.  

“I use Micron pens because I find it super meditative to do all that line work and to build everything up. It's a way for me to get out of my head and focus and create something I feel positive about instead of holding onto that negative thought,” she said. 

There’s a reason behind everything Kikta depicts. “The animals represent certain emotions or feelings or experiences, and even certain plants I use represent certain things,” she said. “There’s symbology behind certain flowers and plants like poppies, carnations and roses.”

"Wholeheartedness"

It all speaks to a question undergirding the exhibition: “What does it look like to break and then rebuild?” 

Like many people, Kikta feels things deeply in her body. A heartbreak, for instance, can fill your chest, like a sharp pain in the lungs. Kikta uses human anatomy to explore how the body feels and stores emotions. “That's been a process this last year, too — being OK with showing things and being open with emotion,” she said. “Those drawings are emotions.” 

The gold paint in Kikta’s drawings creates a halo effect, which takes its inspiration from Byzantine-era art. “The halo represented divinity, and it was specifically Christian — God and Jesus. I'm not religious … but I use that halo as a symbol of divinity, and not religious divinity, but the power of life, the holiness of life,” she said. “I think life is absolutely beautiful. Even in my most sad, broken-down moment, there's still hope and there's still beauty. And I think that is divine.”