The Art of Collaborating: A Local Artist’s Thriving Venture

By Christina Sturdivant on February 20, 2014
by Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann & Michael B. Platt
Sokna. Image courtesy Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann & Michael B. Platt


*Editor’s Note: Common Ground is on view at Honfleur Gallery through Februrary 28.  Details found here.

The art of collaborating takes fragile development for those involved. Melding concepts, visions and techniques outside of one’s own comfort level requires trust and overcoming vulnerability. Committing to a project in hopes creating harmony between two creative voices is the definitive challenge.

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann has been confronted with this challenge many times. The abstract painter has collaborated with students from elementary school to college, with much anxiety throughout the process.

So when the Honfleur Gallery approached her to create a mashup exhibit with well-celebrated printmaker, Michael B. Platt, hesitancy was warranted. While the two had never met, Honfleur selected them because both had previously shown solo exhibits at the Anacostia gallery.

Mann, who received her BA from Brown University and MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, is known for paintings marked by organic, environmental textures. She is currently an instructor at the Maryland Institute College of Art and is the recipient of a Fulbright grant to Taiwan, the AIR Gallery Fellowship program in Brooklyn, NY and the So-Hamiltonian Fellowship in Washington, DC, among other accolades.

Platt, a long-time lecturer in fine arts at Howard University, creates signature photographs weighted in figurative explorations of humanity. He was awarded the prestigious Franz and Virginia Bader Fund Grant in recognition of the impact of his art, and his work can be found in numerous private collections including the Corcoran Museum, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Collection and its Rare Books and Special Collections and the Schomburg Research Center in Black Culture of the New York Public Library, among others.

While both artists are recognized for considerably distinguishable styles, the two united to create Common Ground, the exhibit showing at the Honfleur Gallery through February 28th.

Indeed, extracting commonalities is a foremost necessity in creating a cohesive work.

After familiarizing herself with Platt’s work, Mann found that they both approach making art in a similar way—intuitively and in a process oriented manner. Furthermore, both artists share an interest in combining fragmented identities in their work.

Admiring her partner’s mastery of taking a figure and layering its skin with patterns, environments and imagery, Mann found her role in the project.

“I thought that I could be the person to provide that texture,” she says.

by Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann & Michael B. Platt
Day Tripper #2. Image Courtesy Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann & Michael B. Platt


The two decided on a theme of environments, water and nature and began creating the exhibit.

At residency in Omaha, Nebraska, Mann began producing 5 large-scale images, which Platt could pull as ingredients for the final product.

In Platt’s studio, he photographed models—ethnic women, diverse in body shape, features and expression. Unclothed and redressed in watercolor paint, the women convey narratives of struggle, freedom, wonder and bold femininity.

Once Platt received the canvasses from Mann, he began a digital process of layering her textures over his subjects.

“Collaboration brings in more surprises and unexpected movements,” says Mann of her reaction to Platt’s digital fusion. “This is the first time I’ve collaborated seriously on a project with a fellow artist and it was really easy.”

In satisfaction, Mann believes the collaboration immerses the viewer into the artists’ subtle ideas glossed in heterogeneous aesthetics.

by Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann & Michael B. Platt
Common Ground #2. Image courtesy Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann & Michael B. Platt

On Saturday, February 1st during the Artist Talk at Honfleur, Platt’s wife, poet Carol Beane, spoke about their trip to France for the exhibit’s inaugural showing at the Teshima Gallery in Paris. In the confined space, the artists worked to navigate proportions to display the collection’s most prized pieces, two of which sold overseas.

Back at Honfleur, long-time Platt fans marveled at the 14 works displayed from the 25-piece collection.

One audience member remembers the photographer during his younger days as a painter, “He’s still a painter, he’s just using a different tool to work with,” she says.

“The genius [in the work], responds another audience member, “is not doing it in a conventional way.”

For followers of Mann, many are equally impressed with Common Ground’s ability to raise her portfolio’s platform.

“A lot of people are surprised because the finished pieces look different from what my work usually looks like,” says Mann who primarily considers herself an abstract painter and has not produced much figurative work since her days as an undergraduate student.

Although she will not likely venture into figurative pieces on her own, she is open to working again with Platt.

“Any way that I can stretch my work is welcome to me,” she says. “I’m really happy and proud of the collaboration in the end, it was a chance to see what happens when given the opportunity to create a collaboration of elements.”