Essay on my work by Fanny Johnstone. No Ordinary Woman.

Photo by kind permission of Hana Shahnavaz, taken at Arusha Gallery on the opening night of my solo show in June 2022

Kate Walters: No Ordinary Woman

Painter, poet, shaman, writer and tutor.

Kate Walters ‘Love Paintings’ – featuring lovers, angels, spirit animals, organs and shamanic embodiments ablaze with emotion – are currently on a one-man show at the Arusha Gallery in Edinburgh til July 24th. Raw, delicate and primordial, Walters’ pictures wield love and sexuality in glowing colour and form. The exhibition seems an aching invitation for us all to remember something long forgotten… deeply buried.

The love and longing pouring out of the figures is almost uncomfortably intimate for the modern viewer – and yet endearing and relatable, which draws us in. What gives Walters the courage of her convictions that each of her pictures – which surely parade vulnerability as a true strength – has something worth saying?

“Experience, practice. Listening to my paintings and the accounts and feedback of others on experiencing them. A sense of completeness when I spend time with them. Knowing their history, what they’ve been through to come to the point of completion. It’s never simple or easy or a short journey: each picture has a huge history lying like a curled sleeping snake behind it. When writers write about my work it helps me to have confidence in what the pictures are saying, and that they can speak to many.”

As well as artist, writer and teacher, Walters is a classically trained shaman. With the door to a spirit world openable through shamanic ritual, and with so many influences to choose from both human and spiritual, I wonder how Walters renders her choice of images down to form a sense of cohesion to her body of work?

“The roots for this body of work are intense penetration of certain themes and obsessions of mine – the symbolic imagination, myths, mysticism, poetic language, various religious traditions. For example Sufi mysticism and the writings which explore it, such as those by Tom Cheetham and Henry Corbin. There is also the joy of paint itself and the magic which happens when you allow it to help you find the true voice of your creative imagination.

“Then, at certain points in a family of paintings, I do step back and look at how they are relating to each other, but if one’s path is strong their relation to each other will not be forced or managed, it will happen without design, having its own mysterious blueprint. Cohesion grows and develops naturally, as a tree might grow a strong crown from deep and well-watered roots.

How does someone like Walters – whose accent firmly places her own roots in or around London – come to be working as an artist and shaman in Penwith?

“I began my life as an artist around 35 years ago, soon after my son was born. I’d been to art school (Brighton) 10 years previously and apart from working in sketchbooks, a little writing and photography, I’d run a farm and didn’t have the energy for making art back then. But when my son was born and I had a difficult time in my personal life, I began to have intense dreams and the need to express myself creatively grew powerfully. A few years later I went part-time in my art-teaching career and began an MA at Falmouth university. Soon after I moved to Cornwall and began to develop my own practice in a dedicated way, on very little money and as a single parent.”

We all know how finding the time to make and create art can be difficult, especially while working, raising a child and fitting into a new community. And building self-confidence can take a lifetime. How long has it taken Walters to create – and have confidence in – her own artistic language?

“I’ve had three or perhaps four main phases of artistic language… they’ve evolved gradually in most cases, each one leading naturally to the next in a way which I didn’t feel I was directing. When I first moved to Penzance in 1997 I worked in oil painting and drawing, responding to this wild landscape for a few years. I was writing then too and dreaming – my emotional life fragile – and this was reflected in the paintings and drawings which sought to explore and understand my inner life. Gradually the explorations of my psyche and various traumatic events came to meet the surface where my hands encountered the paper, and the confidence to express these impulses slowly grew and

accumulated. Each time a new language emerges it feels like a surprise, yet it is also known and always welcomed.”

Kate Walters is a striking figure with long silver hair, a strong self-contained presence, and a great pair of knee-high pink suede boots. She has lived a big life so far, and her presence makes a confident statement. What does she favour about Newlyn School of Art?

“It has a wide range of practising artists and tutors who are very experienced. I’ve taught in a lot of places and there’s no substitute for experience – it counts for a lot. And it’s very practical and hands-on compared to other art schools. Newlyn uses a lot of traditional materials like gesso, and ink made from plant pigments, which have gone out of use but which contemporary artists are coming back to and I’m all for.”

A recent Newlyn student myself I am always hungry for advice from tutors about how to get better, to get more in depth into my work, to feel and think like an artist. Walters’ sense of self seems so strong, and her knowledge profound. What rich sources does she draw from to inform and consolidate and suggest future works?

“I read very widely (books on psychoanalysis, other artists, traditions and writers such as Georgianna Houghton, Maria Lassnig, Louise Bourgeois, James Hillman, erotic art, Persian miniatures, Helene Cixous, Anne Carson, Tantra, etc) and this has helped to give me a feeling of context, to enjoy the company of fellow travellers, even though they may be long dead or far away. Something is shared which gives me a feeling of belonging, especially needed when the areas I’m exploring are fleeting, wispy, fugitive, subtle, elusive, tender, afraid.”

“When I’m painting I’ll jot down words or phrases which come, or places of understanding I’m taken to through the process of painting. Tiny drawings sparked by what’s happening in the painting will also arrive; and sometimes I’ll make another painting from a particular phase in a painting which I know will soon be subsumed by another development. These words might become titles, or they might grow into the poems I write alongside my painting practice. And sometimes the most overlooked areas of one’s practice… the shadow… bears the most riches.”

w/c 1099

Links to essays: