In Miami, Katie Stout’s Positively Jubilant Ceramics Mark a Technical Breakthrough
By Stephanie Sporn
Katie Stout’s latest body of work was a labor of love—almost literally. “I ran into the studio in the morning and I was like, ‘No one look at me! I have to finish this piece!’” says the 34-year-old artist, describing her workaholic “pregnancy mania.” (She would, in fact, go into actual labor later that day.) Now, three months postpartum, as she stares at the exaggerated, 18-karat gold-lustered facial features of Shy Dog—the veiled, Madonna-like figure that she was working on at the time—all she can do is laugh: “That is what I thought was so important?”
Whether it was her 2022 move from Brooklyn to Germantown, New York, where she’s set up a studio in a 19th-century church, or the birth of her first child, Olympia, who inspired the title of Stout’s new exhibition at Nina Johnson in Miami, there’s been a noticeable shift in the artist’s practice. It’s as if she is letting go; relishing in the possibilities of her material’s form and the potential for extraordinary surface decoration. Still present is the curiosity, playfulness, and fearlessness of a child, but now coupled with the wisdom and assuredness of motherhood. In essence, Stout is an artist who takes her work seriously, but not too seriously.
“I look back on my early shows fondly, but I think there is a rigidity there that has slowly been shedding,” she says. Stout’s first solo exhibition, an exploration of materials ranging from paper pulp to fabric, was also with Johnson, in 2015. “Olympia,” which opened during Miami Art Week and will be on view through January 6, 2024, is Stout’s most ambitious show and deepest dive into ceramics, glass, and bronze yet. “As I was making these pieces, I felt like their personalities were really coming through. Instead of reworking them to be how I had imagined when I made my sketches, I was allowing them to just be what they were and finding delight in it—because that’s how I want to be as a mother,” she says. “I felt like I was almost mothering these pieces.”
Further anthropomorphizing her work, Stout’s team frequently refers to things by quirky names that occasionally become their titles. One example is Granny Moon, a five-foot-tall lamp composed of broken parts from old objects Stout made, as well as reddish-brown rocks she collected outside of her studio. Its flamboyant top and gold-plated adornments—all mounted on a rounded base—reminded Stout of her studio manager Kate’s grandma. “They have the same hairdo and earrings,” she says, adding that the touch-switch, shaped like a flower, evokes a “gaudy brooch.”
During a visit to Stout’s studio, Granny Moon’s bouffant-like shade dramatically cracked and tumbled to the floor before a stunned group of journalists and collectors. But the artist was quick to put everyone at ease; pieces can always be refired. “Working with ceramics, you have to be very flexible and accommodating, and that mentality has trickled into everything we do,” she says, noting that the shade of the Victorian-inspired, slug-covered Tiered Pendant in “Olympia” also had to be redone. And besides, she adds, “when I’m painting ceramics, I never know what the color is going to be until it comes out of the kiln.” Stout compares that process to the way watercolors dry on paper. (“Olympia” includes 20 vivacious examples by Stout.) “I like that lack of control. It feels very in line with what happens in nature.” Miami Art Week also marks the debut of Stout’s first multi-story mural, Flora Galora, based on her watercolors of flowers native to Florida. It is one of seven public murals made by Johnson’s artists for the facades of AMLI Residential’s newest luxury apartment community in Wynwood.
Not only did the move upstate strengthen Stout’s green thumb (she has plans to enliven the church’s preexisting graveyard with a wild garden), but it also encouraged the artist to reconsider how flora and fauna showed up in her work. “I think the flowers and the frogs are more representative of this tension between the domestic and the undomestic, like a wild garden versus a cultivated one,” she says. Dogs embody the domestic: Stout is particularly giddy about her first series of lights, Glass Frank 1 and Glass Frank 2, for which glass was blown into a steel cage in the shape of a dog’s head. She “could not stop laughing” after seeing the golden puppies’ “stupid faces” for the first time, Stout irreverently recalls; she hopes to keep one for herself. (The same technique created Bubble Gum Venus, an unintentionally BDSM-esque figure whose cotton-candy glass curves spill over its metal structure.)
Stout’s glass and clay forms grew to new proportions this year, in many ways mirroring her own physical transformation. “As my body was changing during pregnancy, I started making art that was bulging,” she says. She additionally felt more comfortable working with ceramics than welding, which could expose her to potentially harmful fumes; and she “became really fixated on vessels and jugs because I’m a vessel.”
Reflecting on their many years working together, gallerist Nina Johnson praises Stout’s confidence in embracing forms that are purely sculptural, as well as her lighting and furnishings. “The beauty of functional objects—and one of the reasons why Katie creates them to begin with—is that they are approachable,” she says. “But for the maker, that can become a kind of crutch if you allow it to. Katie’s latest works completely deny that. They are entering this area of technical mastery.” Johnson points to pieces such as Pink Edith, a 55-inch vessel adorned with ceramic flowers; Bianca, covered in a menagerie of blossoms and figures; and Dog Frog, whose squatting female form appears to defy gravity. “What’s consistent is the desire to occupy and enrich domestic space, but Katie’s material knowledge and sophistication has gotten so deep,” Johnson observes. “She’s pushing the material to the edge of what’s possible at this scale.” Looking ahead, Stout is working on two book projects and preparing for her first solo museum exhibition, at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in the summer of 2026.
“One of the things that I admire most about Katie’s practice is that there is no complacency,” Johnson continues. “She started doing the ‘Lady Lamps,’ and immediately they became oversized. And then immediately after that, they became doubles and triples. And then they became fruit ladies.” She delights in Stout’s work like a proud mom herself.