5 Things About Katharine Boyd’s Life That You Should Know
February 7, 2017
1. Teaching students takes a certain passion
Even on a chilly Monday morning, Katharine Boyd’s Art I class buzzed with an energy only excitable underclassmen could muster. The students were supposed to be preparing their materials for an impressionist-painting exercise, but half of the class appeared to be doing their own thing. One student jammed out to 80s music on his laptop speakers, while two others argued whether “meme” could be used as verb. Boyd herself was busy zipping around the classroom attending to the incessant calls for help from students. With her checkerboard sweater and characteristic swingy earrings, she embodied the lively energy of the morning. Boyd furiously searched Google images to find reference pictures, only to switch gears a second later and explain the chemistry behind acrylic paint to another student. Although the class was stress-inducing, she operated with the ultimate goal to foster each student’s artistic passion. Boyd’s only agenda throughout her life, whether in her teaching style or personal life, has always been to put creativity first, regardless of societal conventions.
2. She read the entire Egyptian Book of the Dead as a 10 year old
As a little 10 year old girl, Boyd’s novel of choice was a two-thousand year old religious scripture about how to die properly in Ancient Egypt.
Absurd? Yes. But am I surprised? No, not at all.
Growing up in a predominantly white and traditional suburb outside of Reno, the stagnation of culture within her community prompted Boyd to constantly explore atypical interests. While most children her age thought Egypt was cool because of the pyramids and lost treasure, Boyd approached the topic in her own fashion. With a hearty laugh, she described to me her experience visiting the library as a child: “Instead of picking up a light little book, I picked up this very intense book – The Egyptian Book of the Dead, and read the whole thing!” Her whole life, Boyd always had the insatiable desire to explore unorthodoxy and move against the grain of modern society.
3. She went through a punk phase
Boyd recalled to me, with precise accuracy, the exact outfit she wore on the first day of her freshman year of high school: “I had on a plastic purple jacket embellished with punk band pins, and a pair of leopard print jeans to match.”
Boyd’s personal style never coaligned with the mainstream high school blueprint of “jocks” and “preps.” The reaction from her peers was not always positive, as she had to face constant social retaliation from her nonconformity. “I got to high school and everybody was like… what’s this? You don’t fit in!” For Boyd, this pressure to meld in with the rest of society was ineffectual, and instead prompted a reactionary response.
Boyd gravitated towards the already passé Punk culture during high school because it was so nonconformist. Ripped clothes, short songs, and a renegade attitude made others uncomfortable, a power that Boyd found tantalizing. This unapologetic aesthetic compass continued to lead Boyd’s style that was completely secular from the opinions of others.
4. She became a deer
During her college years, Boyd jumped headfirst into the life of a young and free artist. She not only explored visual arts, such as painting and drawing, but also experimented with performance art. She described to me a piece she performed while studying at the Chicago Art institute that was inspired by a French artist named Orlan. At the time, Orlan had created a buzz in the art world when she had gotten a legitimate plastic surgery-makeover to look like women from famous paintings. Boyd decided that this idea was absurd enough for her to spoof, but of course with her own twist: “I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna do [the piece] where like, I’m gonna become a deer. I’m gonna have plastic surgery to become a deer.” Yes, that was correct, Boyd’s college performance art piece was centered around a story where she was surgically transformed into a deer lady – all using fake prosthetics and artistic foolery of course.
One of the most important parts of creating a live performance was the construction of a setting: “In Chicago, there were all these dead Christmas trees that people had thrown out. So I said, ‘I’m just gonna make a forest’”. In her unrelentless pursuit of artistry, Boyd hung up these collected trees upside down from the ceiling of a studio to create an inverted forest. At the end of the tree-labyrinth, Boyd starred as the deer-lady herself in a “therapy after the surgery” scene.
If one were to attend this live-performance, they would have come across Boyd reclining on a chaise lounge chair made up to look like a half-woman half-deer surgical disaster, all while she casually completed a color-by-number painting of a deer. Along with an anthropomorphic muzzle and fake hooves cradling the paintbrush, Boyd had a nice pair of antlers suspended around her head to really give off the authentic post-operative part-human look.
During the explanation of this performance piece, Boyd laughed “this is so wacky” before almost every sentence, adding a sense of self-critical fondness associated with reflection on one’s youth. Wacky, I thought, was just the perfect word.
The sheer wave of information divulged was hard for me to digest at first. Deer? Plastic surgery? Christmas trees? But I slowly began to realize that this performance art piece was simply an example of Boyd’s unrestrained artistic spirit to push the boundaries of what is considered “normal”.
5. She still lives according to her own rules
In her current life, Boyd’s artistic escapades are much more toned down. She now spends her downtime practicing yoga and publishing comics instead of attending Punk concerts, but her devotion to uniqueness continues to be the same. Boyd has fully embraced a mod sense of style, and often rocks a pair of polychromatic plastic earrings to match striped stockings on an average Tuesday.
“People are afraid of color,” Boyd explained to me, “It’s that whole thing of not wanting to stand out, and of wanting to blend in.” “There’s this unwritten societal rule that if you blend in, you’re part of the ‘us’, but if you stand out, you are questioning our ideas.” The present stage of Boyd’s evolution is just as colorful and carefree as it is erudite.
With over 20 years of teaching experience at Marin Academy, Boyd’s effervescent presence has become an integral part of the school’s identity. Whether she is roaming the BBLC hanging up artwork or sitting in the cafe enjoying a healthy salad, her iconic mod style and bubbly persona are hard to miss. Unpredictable, unusual, and unaffected by the norm, Boyd continually proves to be one of Marin Academy’s most colorful figures.