I’m very happy, relieved and grateful to the Arts Council for awarding me funding from their Emergency fund, to help in these times of lockdown and the loss of income from many sources. I have been spending this time immersed in my work, enjoying my return to oil painting and working on a larger scale. I’ve also begun writing another book, which will explore my inner process and how it relates to, and is informed and energised by my painting and drawing.
In the Time of Coronavirus a Great Tit cheeps
The sparrows bathe, and rub their bellies in dust
I find a card in my notebook – it recalls the uncorrupted Tongue of St. Anthony; I remember visits to Padua, of the horse skeleton cradling the warrior; and Otranto Cathedral with the miraculous tenth century mosaic floor…I feel confined in my thoughts about travel being forbidden; I escape within.
We create in our bodies, in their bodies; the snake carries matter, undefined mass. Drawings from Otranto Cathedral, there’s a woman with a horse coming from one breast, and a snake from another. She is astride another creature.
My drawings of horses swallowing a vortex; a pregnant woman with many breasts rides a low-slung horse; she has a furry penis, and a long tail.
The horse I bred who died, I remember him, with pain, in my therapy time, just before lockdown. Loss is pain. My therapist speaks of sacrifice. I research horse sacrifice. The man uses a knife to cut just behind the breastbone, then plunges his arm in, severs the horse’s heart from all its connections, and pulls it out…(Jeremiah Curtin, A Journey into southern Siberia)… “The Altaic shamans of NE Asia, on the other hand, killed horses for ceremonial use by breaking their necks.” Or “No blood was spilled. The horse was skinned bloodlessly and its hide removed as completely as possible so that the form of the horse could be reconstructed by draping the hide over a bench or trestle…signified the presence of the animal as if it were alive, and at one stage of the ceremony the shaman mounted this effigy and pretended to ride it skyward.” The horses which were sacrificed were always pale grey, or white.
At home, I receive a look of anger, I turn away.
*I have a dream of looking up and seeing a glorious snake-dance above me. Two snakes are kissing, dancing, very erotically; I knew each snake’s body held a human (male and female, one in each). They were coloured like a clouded Leopard.
Standing on the tips of flowers in my drawings
The deathly male needs to come alive in order for the fertility to be activated. Part of me is not alive (yet). The penis still hooded. I remember Assisi and the reading about circumcising the heart, my shock at this notion, these words. I’d stood in a pure white room, simple, with an altar made of pale wood; it was early in the morning, and light streamed in. The monk stood beside me and spoke the words.
Part of me that has survived without the male needs to die in order for that other masculine to live (sacrifice? Ritual?).
This picture and another, below, have been accepted into this year’s Beep Painting Prize, in Wales; we are hoping this will go ahead in the Autumn of this year.
Unable to travel anywhere, in this time of Covid, I’ve been reading again old notebooks, which accompanied me on journeys to Italy, and time spent in precious places.
Here are some notes from 2017 when I was in Puglia:
Lunch of open textured bread,castagno honey, cheese – soft and creamy from Norcia – pistachio nuts and red pepper.
I’m almost beneath the ground, in a cave, beside a circular space where the horses would have been gathered. The ground is soft to touch, there’s a tiny river bed, and orange and lemon trees are hanging with fruit; an old broken mill wheel is propped up nearby.
The cave with its soft brown animal floor, stone licked by horse’s tongues, the mill-stone’s memory traced in the stone ceiling, sun-white revolving; all your feet together you ponies, your hot breath, quivering mouse-brown noses, your shoulders straining against leather and weight of rock (sasso).
The ramp you walked down is behind me. You were led by men, short of stature, their elbows pressing into your hairy hot damp necks, your hindquarters slipping, hocks bent, little pointed toes digging in.
How long did you walk in this cave, circling beneath the rock sun, pressing olives for oil?
The ground in here is wet and cold, a rich chestnut brown, holding. Your hooves would have sucked into it before slipping on the white rock.
In Ostuni, in the empty white streets, I remember the old man with the Capriolo skull I should have bought.It was impossibly elegant and beautiful. I wasn’t fully present. We returned several times to find him, but he’d gone.
Castagno honey scents recall walks in ancient forests, where the air was thick with tree pollen and quiet; all bird song muffled. They were resting. The path was quiet, long, pine-scented, leafy, endless.
Monks tended bees in multi-coloured hives.
In the valley their immense jars were filled with oils.
I’m finding this time a mixture of things.
I love the extra freedom to spend time in my garden (I grow many veg and flowers), and I walk to my studio most days to spend the afternoons there on my work. I know how lucky I am to be able to do these things, and to live by the sea, and in a relatively underpopulated area. In this time of shutdown there is no teaching so I’m able to put all my creative energy into painting and thinking about work – and doing related reading and writing.
I’m currently exploring the image of the snake/penis as an organ to receive…and the womb as an external organ of the spirit which is carried by significant creatures (horse, bird, leopard) – I could never have reached this imagery without letting go of ego/mental appraches/attachements (to a certain extent, at least!).
As an empath I’m finding the news about how health workers are being pushed to their limits extremely distressing, and families terrible premature grief is awful to behold. Not being able to say goodbye grieves me sorely. The government’s failure to do anything clear, transparent, honourable or competent is also causing me distress, and anger. I campaign against this government on Twitter (@katehorse).
I miss seeing friends, but being in touch on social media is a great thing. As something of an introvert this time is not so hard on me. I also make more phone calls to friends and relatives. Writing letters and sending pictures to people with notes by post is good. The initiative by Matthew Burrows on Instagram is very good, and I have sold a number of small watercolours.
Here are a few recent notes from my notebooks:
Pregnant Darkness (by Monika Wikman), p. 87
“any masculine spirit in us that thinks it ‘knows how it is’ can become the dominating thought form that kills experiential connection with the numinosum. The dominant culture can kill the most precious gift Jung pointed to – a felt, instinctual living relationship with the spirit of imagination…”
The Saturn archetype is Mercury’s polarity…
Hands-branches-roots-bird’s feet-claws-matrix-capillary mat-vein-arterial pathway.
Hands holding ectoplasm or the numinosum, the abundant, charged air.
A dream of pruning stuff to do with fathers, and where to dispose of the cut wood – thorny, brambles…
Black Madonna with skirt of earth and seeds.
Seeing with the navel. Resonance between the third eye and the navel.
I’ve been looking for something which was always lost, always will be lost. I hunted for it in all the wrong places. It was never for me. I’m more than ready to stop the search. I don’t even feel sad anymore. When you are ready change isn’t difficult; like changing gear without the clutch:when everything is aligned it will be smooth.
Iron John by Robert Bly p.55
“to receive initiation truly means to expand sideways into the glory of oaks, mountains, glaciers, horses, lions, grasses, waterfalls, deer. We need wildness and extravagance.”
I miss Italy. I miss being able to plan to visit Shetland or Orkney.
I am so proud, humbled and delighted to be part of the new Dark Mountain publication, with Mat Osmond.
Our new book, Black Madonna’s song, will be published soon after the lockdown ends. Details of launches and events will be available soon.
An essay to accompany an exhibition of recent work at Newlyn Art Gallery, February 14th – April 18th.
These recent works by Kate Walters stand on the cusp of change in her increasingly impressive oeuvre. Fascinatingly, they also position us on many thresholds, each of which works towards complex meanings: they are between worlds; between earthly beings; between beings and plants; between abstraction and figuration; between profound and ancient traditions and an innovative symbolism that extends them.
What I mean by this is that while she draws on traditions – the Shamanic, the Graeco-Roman – she never merely repeats them. So although she references Artemis/Diana (the huntress) we do not find a goddess figure accompanied by the usual trappings of hound, bow and arrow, and stag. Rather, Walters explores Diana’s rôle as guardian of the wild forest, protecting all newborns, without distinguishing between animal and human. In this, her wildness is associated with water, both as the free-flowing imagination and the untamed rivers and springs. This is not to preclude Diana’s lethal capacity as huntress; but rather to foreground that none of this is sentimental or easy. It is a matter of life and death.
The way Walters draws on the Shamanic helps to bring these thoughts of transition and the wild closer to the formal qualities of the painting. There are two elements in this tradition that she cites: the tree and hair. Several of the works in this exhibition articulate a co-emergence between branches and hair, and between both of these and veins or living sap, or the ducts through which nurturing milk flows. We see it in the forms and the way the paint flows and spreads. It is more than transitional: they are consanguineous.
So why ‘Island Bodies’? Because the works were inspired by islands, of course: Iona, Orkney, the Uists and Shetland. But it goes further than that. An island is not the opposite of the mainland; it’s as connected as all parts of the earth are. It’s just that we can’t see it under the waters, nor can we see that the waters are what define all life.
We have to think and see differently to understand these things, these works of art. We have to be “Deep in the Psyche of Nature”.
As Walters points out, quoting her favourite Rilke:
The moon won’t use the door,
Only the window.
In the garden
Deep in the psyche of Nature
Of Earth as River or Snake
I hatch babies in my hair,
The creatures I feed
Vision, Milk, Hair, Nest.
Penny Florence. With thanks to Kate for access to her research.
the deep rumble a vibration I have not senses to perceive;
The elements arrange you
Your heart is thunder
Your vessels air.
As if hung by some celestial cord the birds open themselves to the air, and trust.
Through a bird’s eye a glimpse of beyond stars
A place where you can feel time growing.
the skin of time marks you
pale flowers wing-bright and folded
Quiet as bird soar,
Hind hair or horn blown,
path crossed near sea to home of earth.
Burrow like an animal.
Stone nest curved as wing breast,
a line like bird call,
tapered voice, sharp call of hill green cloud
displayed as wing across all the sky,
From island to island
I hold a tern feather in my hand, the part which has come out of her body,
Grown by the sun, the fish, and her womb.
The colour of rock caught to flight
sky flashes silver as fish scales
-tirricks refract the air, turn it in their wings, make a sound shell of it, a musical spirit fish of sky.
Fish swim in air.
cots in the earth
little grassy cribs
The Mother belly rests
Feet pray to Heavens
Serpent bound rocking like seals, praying sea-paws skywards
In my pocket there are white hairs shed by deer, found in a wood, long ago in England; and feathers from the birds of Shetland.
I sit beside a broad beach sweeping white, open. Roman-nosed seals watch children play. Arctic terns dive and squeal.
Walking here I passed a stable. A golden horse, of broad front and blonde mane, peered at me from the gloom. His coat reminded me of the light dancing in a stream, river trout reflecting; of trips as a child to beaches where I’d seek out ponies and donkeys, burrow into their aura, follow them, learn their stories, leave my family to be with them. A nomad child then, maimed, my compass animal scent.
A child painting in a pale blue boat.
Dream of ploughing with my heart.
Dream of my body, of peeling back my skin to find my flesh is made of rubies.
Dream of a woman with a boat coming out of her mouth, full of people.
Song of bird
The skin of the sea your face
The skin of the sea made veins
birds gather ribs from clouds, dress them in feather
Stain your cheeks with breath of bills
Red of passage, daylight drunk
Folding in your hand as earth comes to hold her
Neck soft, body pliant
– no taut sky dancing now.
Breastbone aloft like a sail, cold open wings, bodies wash in around your feet.
I sit beside you tern
your still heart resting against a rock on the beach where this morning you fished
Acrobatting the mountain you made of air, the sea you swam in
now deep red tiny feet forever curled
Your mate is silent, chicks unfed.
I weep for your beauty, your courage, globe swerver, body artist.
I watch your fellows diving still, cavorting in the air, hovering cruciform, then twisting arrows dive.
Tiny deep red bill a miracle
your white tail feathers forked, still.
You are like the tips of petals, the constellations of stars
Your black-tipped cap night dusky ruffled in death
Carmine sharp bill cut like a lacey lance
a dagger closed,
the names of places the animals I’ve loved
Seal song lowing, a deep green banshee
swinging, rocking, embodied song sea chunk
belly song balancing soft flesh on rock, the tip holds you
stacks of rock layers of prayer
Glistening breath of water, the sound of water breathing, Island lungs, the creatures shine in completeness, their hearts quiet.
Thread of seals in brightness along the island’s rocky frills.
Flotilla of duck divers black curving water; land
Orange yellow meadows
Orchid pulsing purple
swallow scimitar blade cuts air
St. Ninian’s Isle 3.7.17
Thick arm of dark cloud twisting overhead, N to S. Three bonxie fight over gannet entrails, countless pink and yellow strings sand peppered.
Fat-necked bird you sleep now, your salt-blasted eyes forever grey, tide-hued.
Wing of fulmar forlorn, alone beside a cliff.
Sea anemone shell fragments the colours of a warm sea: violet, jade.
At St. Ninian’s Isle the Black Madonna bestowed her body – blood gone black to rock now starry with birds; a great skua lands here with crab fished from the deep; the sea dark with weed, the horse-sleeping-nymph her hair waves from the shallows; her hand print a continent of palm pressing on ancient sand; the mud between her fingers these slanting sleeping stone children.
So now the rocks speak with foam and through the mesh of weed; head-dress of feathers, constellated with birds.
Rocking seal, you gaze at me, round unblinking eyes. Fat creamy bulk in breasty form, the stony pillar supports you, you appear to rock and the waves come. You close your eyes, yawn, keep your balance on the rocky anvil where your life is beaten out. Your head turns as you shift your weight. I see a large red wound on your far side, a crescent bite, a pink moon wound. I imagine the Orca biting your neck, throwing your great form in the air. The afternoon is sadder now. I keep watching you through the binoculars, you keep on looking towards me. Then your eyes close, I see your eyelids dull, opaque. The tide rises. Finally a big wave comes, lifts you off the rock. You are submerged, washed out of sight. I wait. I do not see you again.
On a walk. Cow with newborn away on her own. Red birth-cord trailing, tiny soft womb-white feet. Creamy soled calf you hesitate as you cross the track, tarmac hard.
Legs still womb-curled from another world. Mother large-framed and attentive, her face near her babe, breathing the same breath.
Tern with silver fish bright as gannet wing. On the beach the scent of flowers. I paddle. I wear three scarves; winter for an hour this July day on Shetland. Still the terns dive, dunlin decorate tide-line. Newly mown fields make a palette of greens; the intense light floods my eyes, washes them.
PREFACE, first draft
I first travelled to Iona aged 18, to take photographs for my A levels. I remember the Abbey vividly, and the ferry crossing. And I remember walking past a tall, dark monk who could have stepped straight from an El Greco painting. He looked right through me; a spell was created.
I returned in my early thirties with my young son; I was broken-hearted then. I spread myself upon the heather near the Hill of the Angels, high up and far away. I felt a sort of bliss, supported by the scratchy and pliant purple, violet and orange-hued pillows. Wild places inspire me. Something in me responds to the sense of them being completely themselves, raw and pure. It restores my heart.
Early in 2015 I applied for a residency at Iona Hostel, staying in the shepherd’s bothy at the North End, or Traigh An T-Suidhe, near Lagandorain. Lagandorain means ‘hollow of the otter’. One day in the late afternoon dusk, I was standing still as a tree when I saw a see-saw creature scything down the beach just feet away from me. In my wrapped stillness I was unobserved – or ignored – and, breathless with delight, I watched the otter merge with the sea and swim away through towering swell. Next morning I was on the beach at dawn hoping to encounter the magic again; I found little round tracks at the shore line marking the spot where the otter had landed from her sea-flight, tipped gently from a wave…
The owner of the croft, John Maclean, wrote these words about my visit there:
Kate is a listener. She listens to her psyche and dreams and has an altogether more ancient response to the land. Her work explores place through archetype, symbol, the animal world and the older religions. This is home territory for Kate -she is quite comfortable in the company of the ‘Sheela’s (the Sheela na gigs).
Kate’s work isn’t easy, in the sense that it neither makes assertions nor statements. It seems to be deliberately un-emphatic. The effect is to unsettle, to make us alert and create a pause.
Whenever I stay on Iona I work long days. Spread around me as I sleep are my drawings and notebooks. I wake and review, pick up pen, ink, roller, paint, and continue my responses on the pages taken from The Bhagavad Gita which I have prepared with gesso.
And yet there is only
One great thing
To see in huts and on journeys
The day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.
Inuit poem, found in Ice Bears and Kotick, by Peter Webb
I’m very excited to be heading to Worcester University to speak on my work generated by residencies in Shetland; in particular a strong dream I had where I saw myself before I was born – which has lead to around 500 watercolours being made. I’m now returning to my first love, oil paint, to articulate and negotiate thoughts and feelings around fluids – sap, blood, milk: milk being the bodily expression of motherly love.
I have great pleasure in inviting you to my forthcoming exhibition at Tremenheere Gallery, which I am sharing with friends.
This body of work has been made in response to time spent in the beautiful gardens at Tremenheere, making drawings and writing about the insights I received from regarding the wild life of the garden.
I will be presenting sequences of watercolours, paintings, writing and monotypes. I’ve decided to also show selected archive works of mine which presage the themes I’ve been exploring recently in depth.
Some months ago I decided to invite friends – artists and poets – whose work responds to related themes to join me in the gallery, hoping this will enrich and broaden the conversations which I trust will be established.
The Opening evening is Friday 6th September, 6 – 8 pm.
I will give an artist’s walk and talk on Sunday September 8th at noon.
There will be workshops on September 8th and 29th (please book through the gallery).
On Friday September 13th Mat Osmond will lead an evening dedicated to Extinction Rebellion (7-9 pm). All are welcome; some of us will be gathering in the cafe from 6 pm.
I’m very excited about this new work, and I’m especially thrilled to be showing in this very fine and special gallery.