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.
Here are two of my works from my recent exhibition at Arusha Gallery in Edinburgh – my first there in five years.
I was very pleased with how the exhibition looked; there was a great crowd at the opening on February 28th; and many people bought copies of my new book, Shetland Notebooks & Sketchbooks, published by Guillemot Press.
The next book launch will be at Tremenheere Gallery just outside Penzance, on April 13th, at 3 pm, when my publisher Luke Thompson and I will talk about the book, and then at 3.30 we will lead a workshop on walking and writing (£15 per person). This event is part of the next Newlyn Society of Artists exhibition, entitled Ex Libris, which has it’s Opening Event on April 6th at 2pm (until 6pm).
this is one of the works in the exhibition in New York…
And in York, U.K., at the New Schoolhouse Gallery, from now until the end of January:
NOW SHOWING: KATE WALTERS THE START THAT FALLS FROM HEAVEN
Penzance-based artist Kate Walters’ The Start that Falls from Heaven is an extraordinary, deeply moving exhibition of works in oil and watercolour that were predominantly completed on the isles of Shetland and Iona. The exhibition overflows with motifs of the feminine, the mythical and the natural world and asks: What does it mean to be human, knowing, and living in the anthropocene age?
Here are some images:
I was very happy to be part of Ghost Tide, an exhibition curated by Monika Bobinska and Sarah Sparkes, at Thames Side Studios in London recently. I spent an afternoon offering ‘hollow bone’ sessions (funded by Arts Council England); the pictures show me doing this work with visitors to the exhbition. This work was done in a ceremonial way, with drumming, trance, and song.
The Ghost TideCurated by Monika Bobinska and Sarah Sparkes at Thames-Side StudiosSupported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.The Ghost Tide – coinciding with the festivals of Hallowe’en, All Souls and the Day of the Dead – takes as its starting point the perspective that ghosts exist as an idea, or as part of belief system, across cultures, across national borders and throughout recorded history.Most languages contain words to describe the ghost, spirit or immaterial part of a deceased person. Often, these words – like the type of ghost they describe – have traversed borders been assimilated across cultures.
The exhibition, situated next to the Thames Barrier in south-east London, evokes ghosts as a migratory tide of ghosts washed up along the shore of the Thames, their historical baggage in tow.
It also evokes the presence of artists in this part of London, as a migratory tide of creative flotsam and jetsam which ebbs and flows as the city gentrifies and develops.
Featured works include sculpture, installation, film, sound, performance and wall based works.
The exhibition will include installations and outdoor interventions, as well as public events and Sarah Sparkes’ GHost Research Library ghost library.
About the curatorsSarah Sparkes is an artist and curator. Her work, The GHost Formula, 2016, commissioned by FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) recently toured to NTMoFA (National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts) as part of the exhibition No Such Thing As Gravity, curated by Rob LaFrenais.She was the 2015 recipient of the MERU ART*SCIENCE Award. Together with Ian Thompson, she was awarded a BEYOND artist residency at Allenheads Contemporary Arts, 2018. Her work is shown by New Art Projects London.Sparkes leads the visual arts and creative research project GHost, curating an on-going programme of exhibitions, performances and inter-disciplinary seminars interrogating the idea of the ghost.
GHost events have been supported by Folkestone Triennale, University of the Arts, University of London, FACT, NTMoFA and Arts Council of England. She has lectured and written widely on both ghosts and GHost.
Monika Bobinska is the director of CANAL, which organizes exhibitions and art projects in a variety of settings, and runs the North Devon Artist Residency www.northdevonartres.org
Artists include Andrea G Artz, Chris Boyd, Davies Monaghan & Klein, Diane Eagles,Gen Doy, Sarah Doyle, Graham Dunning, Andrew Ekins, Charlie Fox, Katie Goodwin, Kio Griffith, Miyuki Kasahara, Calum F Kerr, Rob La Frenais, Liane Lang, David Leapman, Toby MacLennan, Laura Marker, Joanna McCormick, Josie McCoy, Jane Millar, Output Arts, Miroslav Pomichal, Quay Brothers, Anne Robinson, Edwin Rostron, Matt Rowe, Sarah Sparkes, Charlotte Squire, Sara Trillo, Kate Walters, Patrick White, Heidi Wigmore, Mary Yacoob, Yun Ting Tsai, Neda Zarfsaz.PV: Fri 19 October 6-8.30pm with performance by Gen Doy
CURATORS’ TALK: Sat 20 October 3-4pm
HOLLOW BONE ceremony with Kate Walters: Sat 27 October 3-6pm
DAY OF THE DEAD CLOSING PARTY: Sat 3 November 2-7.30pm
Papel Picado workshop 2-5pm
Make your own Day of the Dead cutouts with artist Sarah Doyle. Suitable for all ages, materials provided
Performances & artist led walk 2-5pm
Charlie Fox, Calum F Kerr, Joanna McCormick, in and around the gallery
Day of the Dead Feast 5-6pm
Refreshments will be served
International Film Screening 6pm
Haunting short films in the gallery by Chris Boyd, Liane Lang, Quay Brothers, Yun Ting Tsai, Neda ZarfsazThames-Side StudiosThames-Side Studios Gallery
Harrington Way, Warspite Road
London SE18 5NR
Open Thur-Sun 12-5pm and by appointment