By Mary Locke
Photographs courtesy of the artists
“All the physical art-making is equal. We both do the same thing. We both do everything,” says Tyler Corbett, of his collaborative art with girlfriend Erinn Kathryn. “We’re educated as painters and printmakers in this formal, traditional way. But I’m more drawn to innovative art, breaking those formal traditions,” continues Corbett. The three of us are seated in the couple’s art studio in a former laundry warehouse off Sandy Boulevard in inner Southeast Portland.
When he answers the question he looks to Kathryn—not for approval or guidance, but out of habit. The pair lives, loves, and creates in partnership. His eyes drift to hers for an acknowledgment of understanding. It’s intrinsic to how they communicate in order to craft their collaborative art effort, Corbett/Kathryn. The two spend hours standing opposite each other at a waist-high work table in their studio, surrounded by jars of paint, art pens, and small power tools. Here, they draft, paint, and build three-dimensional topographical representations of Portland, as well as other places they’ve lived and visited.
Their art is firmly planted in a geographical reality, yet stretches those boundaries to accommodate a human understanding of our topographical culture. Their work seeks to reinforce the human perspective of cartography, while recognizing the grandeur of the dramatic natural elements that surround us, such as Mount Hood.
“These all began from maps, and reference places that actually exist, but we play around with the relationship we have to say, Mount Hood,” explains Kathryn, whose ice-blue eyes belie her warm personality. “You’ll see Mount Hood if you’re driving down the highway on a clear day, and for some of us, that’s the only relationship we’ll have to Mount Hood. Our art asks, How do we have a different relationship to these places that are around us all the time?” explains Kathryn.
“Tyler?” she looks to Corbett.
He looks at her, nodding. “There’s definitely an accuracy that we follow—we skew certain things—but there’s definitely an accuracy that we follow…But if we do a mountain range, we’ll double or triple the height of it—”
“With real intention,” notes Kathryn.
“Yes, we’ll readjust the scale in order to make it more relevant to people. When you look at Mount Hood it’s this giant peak, but if you observe it from a more aerial position, it really isn’t that big. Yet our experience with it on a personal level, is that it’s huge. We try to reinforce the human element, the human perspective.”
“That’s where we shift from just making replicas to creating a piece of art,” adds Kathryn.
Corbett and Kathryn currently spend hours in the studio preparing for an upcoming September exhibition at the Multnomah Arts Center, for which they received a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council. In addition, their work will be featured at the Rosewood Community Center in East Portland in October, and the Lightbox Kulturhaus in Northeast Portland the following month.