The opportunity to go on artist residencies has been key to the development of my work as an artist. I’ve been A.I.R at Iona Hostel (Isle of Iona; on two occasions), Sumburgh Head in Shetland (twice), The Mothership in Dorset, at Jam on the Marsh music festival (in Kent, on three occasions), the Outer Hebrides (funded by a-n) and at Tremenheere Sculpture Park and Gardens, for the last four years: this culminated in a solo exhibition at Tremenheere Gallery (2019).
Walking in wild places in Italy has given me the chance to visit physically demanding mountainscapes, where the veils between worlds are thin (2008 – 2018). I always write and draw in my notebooks when I’m on these pilgrimages.
Immersing myself in a distant place or different situation has led to epiphanic moments and insights with my work. Being on Iona led me to a clearer dream life; encounters with wild animals such as otters found expression in my first book, Iona Notebooks, published by Guillemot Press (2017). I fell in love with Shetland, loving her sweeping black hills and ribbons of green. I responded strongly to the spirit of wildness I felt here, which lead to my second book, Shetland Notebooks, published by Guillemot Press (2019).
Residencies at Jam on the Marsh Music Festival enabled me to develop my thinking around the importance of sound, and frequency in my work; time in the gardens at Tremenheere led to the crystallisation of thoughts around sap and fluids. when the current pandemic is over, I hope to spend time on Dartmoor making notes and drawings in preparation for a sequence of paintings.
Here is some text from a draft for my first book, Iona Notebooks:
Iona notebooks Preface (draft)
I first travelled to Iona and Mull aged 18, to take photographs for my A levels. Being brought up near London, the scent and vision of raw wildness I encountered on those Islands was a revelation to me – and still is.
I remember the ferry crossing to Iona and the Abbey vividly. 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, newly-single 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 with a deep blue sky blanket above me. That such humble plants would bend so, and support my body was marvellous to me.
Early in 2015 I applied for a residency at Iona Hostel, staying in the shepherd’s bothy at Lagandorain near the North End beach – Traigh An T-Suidhe. Lagandorain means ‘hollow of the otter’. Most days I would go to the beach at dusk. Once while standing as still as a tree I saw a creature about the size of my dog moving down the beach, for all the world like moon-made-animal with her crescent-curling gait. In my weather-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 and Iona Hostel, John Maclean, wrote these words about my first 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.
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. The music of Bach is important to me; The Little Organ Book plays repeatedly in my room. I work all day, apart from walks across the machair, through the tiny black sheep, to Traigh An T-Suidhe or the tiny village. I can slip into St. Orans’ Chapel, light a candle and sit quietly. Working with my saliva and watercolour sticks I work with closed eyes and in darkness to allow my hands to absorb something of the intensity of these spaces, and to invite the quality I find there onto the pages of my notebooks, spread out on the narrow pew beside me.
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
Draft texts for Shetland Notebooks (published March 2018, available from Guillemot Press):
Listening to myself, far away
Baby muzzle animal-brown and twitching
in amongst the spirit grass
thread of sound on the breeze
finds you, tiny babe floating adrift.
Arctic Terns: Encounters on Shetland, July 2017
In July 2017 I spent a month on Shetland as artist in residence at Sumburgh Head.
I went to write and to make work for my next book – Shetland Notebooks. Each day I walked and wrote and made drawings. The nights were short and pale; I made myself a nest in my bunk bed, draping the sides with blackout material to enable me to swim into sleep, away from the revolving eyes of the lighthouse and the low late Sun.
During the days I’d walk the spotless beaches, the sandy spits, the brilliant-weed-encased piers and brochs; fish heads swam on tides, Terns hovered overhead, kites to my mind; orca stormed the coves, and seals sung to me. I was lured onto rocks, black, shiny, high and low as birds’ flight tunnels, birth canals for dream.
In my notebooks I write that I am as a girl again, sharing the sea with fish and ducks and ducklings; fish heads, sandeels and tern.
I run and splash; the terns shriek and gavotte around me plunging arrows into the sea. The pipes of birds cannot waken pebble-bedded bellies of long-sleeping whales…
the tern to me is grace and warrior bird; their worried call, sound gathered into a cup, a ball, to be thrown to me across the water….
One day as I walked beside a road near the airport, I looked down to see a Tern in front of me on the grass. It was dead, lying crumpled; death had stolen her easy elegance, ruffling her former immaculate black cap. I picked her up and walked to the beach where earlier I had seen her fishing, diving with fierce intention into the clear sea.
I sat beside her, I buried her deep in the sand. But first I wrote to her:
I sit beside you tern, your heart resting against a rock on the beach where this morning you fished