Archana Horsting poses for a portrait inside an art gallery
Archana Horsting, who co-founded West Berkeley’s Kala Art Institute in 1974, retired from her post as Kala’s executive director in December 2021 to spend more time in the studio. Credit: Kala Art Institute

The striking, abstract works in Kala Gallery’s show “On the Fringe of the Field” span the more-than-50-year career of the award-winning Berkeley artist Archana Horsting.  

Her work melds her multiple interests — printmaking, philosophy, photography, sculpture, and architecture. Before co-founding the Kala Art Institute with Yuzo Nakano in 1974, she installed a massive architectural sculpture in Santa Cruz and studied art history and apprenticed with sculptor Carlo Schiavon in Italy. 

Her signature black-and-white work came later. After she went on a yearlong hiatus in 1979 to move Kala from its old location near Ashby BART to its current one in the old Heinz Ketchup Factory, Horsting felt stuck. She returned to the fundamentals of drawing — making a mark on the page and letting the pen tell her where it wanted to go. Those lines became the basis for her etching series “Text, Context, Texture, Architecture,” which she described as the first pieces that consistently reflected her own voice. 

“From forms I find within, to forms I recognize outside of me, families of work develop,” she has written. “Some works calling out to each other across the room asking to move closer, eventually, forming diptychs or triptychs, and growing in scale. One sees larger themes develop, revealing new lines of inquiry.”

Now 74, she retired from her longtime post as Kala’s executive director in December 2021 but has continued to hone her art. It’s why she opts to call the show, which opened in late May and closes Friday, a “survey,” rather than a “retrospective. 

Archana Horsting's art
Archana Horsting’s “TriX,” one of the pieces from her etching series “Text, Context, Texture, Architecture.” Credit: Kala Art Institute
Horsting’s “A Stacking.” Credit: Kala Art Institute

Berkeleyside caught up with Horsting over email to discuss her career, artistic process, and plans for the future. This interview has been condensed and edited.

Q: You’ve lived in Chicago, studied in Davis, Santa Cruz, and apprenticed in Padua, Italy. How did you come to live in Berkeley, and what sets the Bay Area’s artistic community apart from other places you’ve been in?

When Yuzo Nakano and I were thinking about where to set up Kala in the 1970s, we wanted it to be somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area and Berkeley had the best weather, bookstores, cafes, theaters and all the things we were looking for. We wanted a place where international artists would feel at home and where we would feel at home. We settled in Berkeley.

Q: Over the years, your work has combined your interest in and studies of printmaking, sculpture, painting, art history, philosophy, architecture, literature, and more. Which three figures would you say had the strongest influence on your creative development and work?

When someone last asked me a similar question I came up with 45 names, but off the top of the head here are three figures that have most influenced me: Ruth Horsting, my mother and the first woman sculptor in the UC system who taught at the UC Davis art department for 15 years; Krishna Reddy who taught printmaking and sculpture in Paris and New York, and Stanley William Hayter, whose Atelier 17 in Paris was one of several models that influenced Yuzo Nakano and me and helped us envision Kala.

Q: When did you start to work mostly in black and white, and why do you prefer it to working in bright color?

As a printmaker, I proofed prints in black and white. Then I started painting in black and white in the 1980s. Printmaking taught me that a black-and-white proof will give your eye the most information back about what’s going on with the plate that you’re working on because black to white is the highest contrast you can have. Black and white contain all the colors actually. 

Q: You’ve said that in recent years, you’ve started to add gray to your palette. What inspired you to do so, and what does it add that black and white can’t?

I wanted to work from classic black and white photographs and those have a very rich gray scale. I began adding a medium gray to my palette that allowed me to create a richer gray scale which felt necessary and became important to me in painting from black and white photographs.

Q: How did you come up with the title “On The Fringe of The Field,” which you’ve used as a title for many of your solo exhibitions (starting in 1987)? 

I like all the meanings of the word field and what goes with the word field. Farmers field; field of study; magnetic field in physics; and so forth. And with my work. The feathering of the black areas into the white is a kind of fringe and a kind of field. Fringe is also how I, along with many other artists, feel we’re working – on the fringe of the art field.

Q: What led you to co-found Kala Institute in 1974, and how has it evolved in the past 49 years? 

I met Yuzo Nakano in Paris in 1972 where we both were studying at Atelier 17 with Stanley William Hayter and Krishna Reddy. We knew we couldn’t stay there forever so we set out on our own to start something similar — a workshop where artists could share presses and exchange ideas.. We wanted to continue to do printmaking so had to set up something of our own. We turned to California to get started. In the beginning, we had with one press in a garage in San Francisco, moved to Berkeley, settled in the historic Heinz ketchup building in West Berkeley, and now are a 15,000-plus-square-foot operation with a print shop, media lab, darkroom, light-filled gallery, community classroom, print and study center, artist project spaces, and more. We’ve expanded and adapted but Kala continues to be a workshop for ideas and a homebase for artists from the Bay Area and from around the world.

Q: What made you feel like now was the right time to put together a retrospective exhibition? Does this mean you’re planning to retire and stop creating more art?

I prefer to call this a survey show rather than a retrospective. I’m definitely not retiring from the art world, although I have retired from a staff position at Kala. The current co-directors, Mayumi Hamanaka and Ellen Lake, invited me to have this 50-year survey exhibition. The best time to have a show is when you’re asked and this has been a meaningful experience for me as I step away from the day to day at Kala and spend more time in my studio.

Q: Has the process of putting together this retrospective and reviewing it in hindsight changed the way you see some of your more formative work? 

Yes. Definitely. I had help, too. Mayumi Hamanaka, the artistic and co-director of Kala, and Jun Igarashi, a visiting curator from Japan, were very helpful in selecting work from my studio for this show. Also the process of making the catalog was instructive in getting a several-decades-long view. Despite the variety of work, I’ve noticed an iteration of similar inquiries that I have had since the beginning. I noticed how early some of my visual concerns showed up and how they continued to resonate over time. 

Q: What’s next for you? 

What’s next is an exciting opportunity to be back in my studio experimenting. I have a big collection of sketchbooks with seed corn, ideas for new projects. I’m looking forward to starting my next series of work. I may have a few more photo translations I want to finish and after that start a new series.

Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...