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Artist Profile Series: May Kytonen

Megan Gallagher

Content Contributor

May Kytonen, Close/Divide, newspaper, rice paper, gold leaf, 8' x 7'

May Kytonen is a Seattle-based artist from Spokane, who uses fibers and recycled materials to explore Asian American identity and connection. Her work has appeared in exhibitions at galleries and arts spaces throughout Eastern Washington and Idaho, including Saranac Art Projects, Confluence Gallery (Twisp), and Emerge Gallery (Idaho), as well as 2017’s ACES: Artists of Color Expo & Symposium in Seattle.

May first became interested in fiber art while studying at the University of Washington. On a whim, May says, she signed up for an intermediate fibers course. “I battled with this loom in the basement of the art building - I just remember these late nights getting SO frustrated with tangled threads and things not going how I planned, and I swore I would never, ever weave again,” she recalls. “Yet in those intense emotions, I found a part of me actually really liked fibers - how they demand your time, your investment.”

In 2017, May received a Grants for Artist Projects (GAP) award to cover material costs and volunteer honorariums for Close/Divide, an installation that appeared at Spokane’s Saranac Art Projects in 2018. Inspiration for the project came from a piece May created in 2012 as part of a series using newspaper yarn to explore what she describes as her “tangled relationship between cultures.” May had several friends help her make yarn for the initial project and says, “I thought it was fascinating how even the yarn had a different personality depending on who made it, and also the symbolism of a community coming together to make a piece.

This emphasis on community inspired May to expand the initial piece into a large-scale project reflecting the connections within the Asian American community in Spokane. “I asked some friends in the Asian American community here in Spokane to help me make yarn, and it was during these yarn making get-togethers that we chatted about what being a person of color in Spokane was like.”

In addition to helping her complete the project, May says receiving the GAP award bolstered her confidence in her work. “Receiving the GAP was the first time I had this inkling that I could do it, that I could actually be an artist and share my thoughts and processes with the world,” she explains. “There is something super affirming about people coming around you, supporting your work and saying, ‘yes your story and your voice matters.’”

Asked if she has any advice for artists applying for awards like GAP, May says, “attend every Artist Trust event you can. The workshops and seminars they offer helped me grow tremendously as an artist. Secondly, don’t be afraid to get feedback and ask for help.”

To learn more about May and her current projects, check out her website.

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Megan Gallagher is a writer from Redmond, Washington. She has been writing for the Artist Trust blog since July 2017 and loves learning more about Washington State’s arts communities.