Wild places and quiet times with actual, imagined and remembered creatures provide a site for creative exploration; I see my studio as a haven.
Watercolours, words, oil paint and monotypes each lend their unique characteristics to help me recognise the fugitive images which want to materialise.
I tune into my body as I paint, using either watercolour or oil. Current pre-occupations revolve around fluids: sap, blood, milk; and invisible energetic fluids which I sometimes see in my hands when I dream. Recent residencies at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens made me think deeply about trees and plants, and how they grow; residencies in Shetland and Iona have helped me to explore the lives of birds as they migrate, and also in their role as messengers, harbingers of change or realisation.
I’m a reader. Books are piled beside my bed and jostle on my studio sofa… subjects include: alchemy, gardening, Sufi poetry, indigenous poetry (Technicians of the Sacred is a favourite); Buddhist art, monographs on Helen Frankenthaler, Ken Kiff, Joseph Beuys, Odilon Redon, German expressionists such as Nolde…and many more.
I’m a gardener, plantswoman and a lover of film – L’albero degli zoccholi is a favourite (The Tree of Wooden clogs); Shetland Tweed, Indigenous teachings, Scottish Islands, music, and Italy.
Rev.d Dr. Richard Davey has written recently about the new watercolours:
Painting is a physical and decisive act: a mark initiating a world, forcing a form into existence, drawing ephemeral fragments from the imagination into physical being. Paint builds – it structures and shapes, leaving a pigment deposit on paper and canvas; allowing formless things to become concrete, drawing the invisible into perceivable being. But this is not what we encounter in Kate Walters’ Shetland watercolours. These are not paintings that build form, but vehicles through which we are pulled into formlessness; encounters with the ephemeral rather than the physical, a breath of pigment deposited onto paper that suggests figures and forms without defining their solid presence. Figures float into being, still tethered into the void, their weightless form a hesitant proposition. The origin of these tentative creatures was a dream granted to Walters when she was recently staying on Shetland; a vision of her foetal form cast adrift in a disembodied uterus, its unbounded body free of physical constraints, floating in interconnected communion with the universe. It is perhaps unsurprising that such a dream should have come on Shetland, a thin space where physical boundaries are dissolved in the constant ebb and flow that blends sea and shore in a swirling, unresolved flux. As she watched seals blur the line between sea and air and terns draw soaring patterns in the air before plunging into crystalline waters, Walters herself became a shamanic hollow bone, a conduit between the physical and immaterial realms. In her sketches she is seal, fulmar, tern and foetus, a boundary crosser, diving into a cosmic space before birth and after death where everything is held in unresolved, undifferentiated potential.
Professor Penny Florence has just completed a new esay on the recent work. An extract follows:
TREMENHEERE GALLERY. SEPTEMBER 7TH – OCTOBER 2ND 2019.
The Tree of Thought: The Art of Kate Walters
Kate Walters’ art speaks clearly. Yet because it is visceral, communicating to our bodies first, it can
be easy to underestimate the quality of thought it embodies.
Embodied thought addresses the kind of understanding that bypasses spoken or written language
because it is deeper. Precisely because it embodies rather than explains or narrates, it is not didactic;
Walters never preaches.
There is, nonetheless, a powerful and consistent message. It concerns the big questions: what does it
mean to be fully human; what is our place in the natural world; where are we going; questions that
echo Gauguin’s great philosophical work, D’où venons-nous, Que sommes-nous, Où allons-nous?
But, unlike Gauguin, the work does not so much pose questions as feel its way towards articulating
the mysteriousness of being.
This is a Shamanic understanding of what many of the ancient religions variously call the Path or the
Way – and Walters is a fully initiated Shaman. This is not a casual or loose similarity, but rather the
long-term commitment that underpins her art.
So what is this Shamanic terrain? It is paradoxical, because it is fully aware, yet indirectly evoked. If
you compare Child with Plant Wand and Buds with Babies , the eye-leaves of the first appear to be the
seed-children of the second, who resemble the child holding the plant. These eyes suggest insight as
much as sight, awareness and receptiveness to the cycle of rebirth, to movement out and movement in,
It’s an effect that reminds me of what Maleno Barretto said of the intrepid Margaret Mee (both
botanical artists), ‘She seems to be inside the plant’ . This suggests that art does 1 not distinguish us
from Nature, but rather is integral to it. Many of us who have known individual animals well
understand the absurdity of the idea that they don’t think. It’s the result of projecting our ways of
thinking onto creatures whose experience of the world is different.
But plants? There is increasing scientific evidence that plants, especially trees, do indeed think. The
interdependence of trees, for example, is such that they form something very like a community. Theirs
is a collectivity based on communication. It is extensive and applies to the entire tree: apparently their
more widely known capacity to warn each other of insect attack through the release of hormones
above ground, and to take defensive action, is complemented underground, partly through the
intermediary of fungi. Fungi are neither plant nor animal, but a form of life in between.2
1 Botanical Art & Artists.com About Margaret Mee (1909-1988) (Malu De Martino on Vimeo.) Walters has recently looked
at the work and thought of Mee, along with Simryn Gill and the filmmaker and gardener, Derek Jarman.
2 See my forthcoming book Thinking the Sculpture Garden (Routledge, Jan 2020) for further discussion of this research.
The book is inspired by, and revolves around, Tremenheere.