The Wildly Curious Kate Greer: A Midwestern Bi-Coastal It-Girl to Reckon With
In 1996, Mariah Carey’s bouncy “Always Be My Baby” took over radio waves, the accompanying video a tire-swing spectacle to rival Katie Holmes’ Rolling Stone cover two years later. The song’s melody and keyboard chords are relentlessly upbeat, but listen more closely and the verses’ gravity lands like Firestone rubber on campsite soil. It then seems fitting that the pop track was named “favorite song from childhood” by artist and Renaissance woman Kate Greer. From a limited 2D vantage point, Greer is blonde, breezy and beams the kind of gentle optimism of a yoga instructor. Online, her Polaroid-posey homepage (kategreerwashere.com) and Instagram-esque visuals for her company, Cheerie Lane Popcorn, could pass for NYLON fashion spreads.
It could be tempting to discount Greer as another dimpled gamine—too pretty to be substantive, too friendly to be wise. And that would be a big mistake. “I had this epiphany at one point,” Greer recounts in our conversation, “that a lot of my work and what I do—and how I probably annoy some of the people I come in contact with is that I love the full breadth of any experience—to not just talk about the happy things. I think the phrase ‘Don’t say anything if you don’t have anything nice to say’ has probably ruined a generation of men.” Here, Greer laughs, briefly pausing to explain further. “As humans, if we’re being honest, sometimes we’re going to have things to say that are tough to say and experience things that are tough to deal with, and it’s important to have outlets where we synthesize all of our feelings—good and bad.”
Greer grew up in Marshalltown, Iowa before studying journalism at the University of Missouri and pursuing her M.Ed. in psychology. She then headed to New York and launched Chez Conversations, a collective of five female artists working across a variety of disciplines. “We are best friends. We banded together because we realized that having the support of each other not only opened doors to work together on projects, but strengthened our individual projects.” One such collaborative project—particularly timely in the context of last year’s election —is “Tiny Political Zine,” a collection of ink portraits and typewritten statements showcasing the women involved in U.S. politics, presented on lined memo paper from New York’s Chelsea Highline Hotel. “We wanted to learn more about how skewed the proportion of female politicians is—the number of men representing us versus women is not reflective of the population,” says Greer, who doesn’t mince words on the challenges facing ambitious women across professional fields. “I have this powerhouse of a mother and a feminist father, and truly thought growing up that I could be anything I wanted to be and do anything I wanted to do. But the truth is that when you move out into the world and see what exists in our system, it’s just not systemically set up that way.”
However, Greer finds joy in the hard work of unearthing injustices. “I think people are scared to dive in and look at systemic issues—what we inherited through our culture,” she says. “But one of the beautiful things for me over the last couple years has been engaging these issues. There’s so much freedom in excavating my history as a female in this society, growing up in a primarily ‘vanilla’ world—in being able to really understand and fight for all of us to have equal chances to do whatever we want to do in the world. That process of unpacking can be life-giving and freeing. It’s a big load off of your shoulders to shake off some of what we were handed.”
Part of what Greer shakes off is the conventional understanding of what being an “artist” means in the first place. Though “primarily a portrait artist,” she is also a new-media maverick and entrepreneur. “At the heart of what I do and obsess over is understanding people better and how they connect. I’ve been all over the map, and I hope to always be.” It’s unusual for creatives to admit that their art need not be an exclusive vocation, but Greer revels in her diversified fervor. “I hate when people ask, ‘So what do you do?’” she says. “I’m grateful to live in a world where I can chase curiosities. The truth is my painting gets better if I spend some time picketing or exploring another creative avenue.” And for those from the supposed “fly-over” zone who feel a chip on their shoulder, Greer offers an ardent counterpoint. “I’m wild about the Midwest. I am so proud to be from here. In New York you get catapulted onto this treadmill the moment you land, but in Iowa they care about your individual story. Whether you have integrity, whether you’re kind.”
Greer’s artistic output often aims to redress the myths of what the “Midwest” means. “The picture that so many people from New York have is not right,” Greer stresses. “I’ve been exploring the idea of a portrait project in small towns around America. My Grandma Lily went to Bingo, socialized, tended to her garden and ate healthy in her own special way. A lot of us today across America have the exact same recipe for satisfaction. We could all be better connected in our country if we understood what happens in other parts of it.” Adamant about women championing other women? Check. Passionate about politics, while earnestly dedicated to creating the world’s perfect popcorn? Double check. Serious, smart and also girly? Keep your No. 2 sharpened. Whether in Iowa or Big Sur, Omaha or Soho, Greer isn’t afraid to buck expectations, and her personal investment in others proves central to any measure of success. In light of our highly divided nation, Greer has developed an It-Girl model to follow—with humility, rigor, and to a shamelessly catchy refrain.
Photography by Attilio D’Agostino.