The Work of Kate Walters
Kate Walters’ watercolour paintings bleed into being. Like smoke, they are both firmly and hardly on the page. The forms of birds, trees, and plants emerge from the mist of Walters deep connection to the earth and the animals that inhabit it. There is a mood of a dream space about them, but their delicacy creates a focus in the viewer: they are pulled into the image and, in a calm revery, are allowed the time to stay within it. As the artist works with delicate things that are only just here- energies observed from the undergrowth, a cawing of a raven, the raw essence of a stem- she uses watercolour to depict this subtlety. She describes watercolour as having a ‘high frequency’: it is both refined and close to its original source, as it comes from the wild pigments of the earth. As the artist’s Shamanic practice often revolves around deep concentration and entering another plain of understanding, a higher frequency, this medium is perfect for conveying what she finds there.
‘Notes in the Garden’ is an exhibition of watercolours, monotypes, paintings and text inspired by time spent in the gardens of Tremenheere. Walters has a personal history connected to the gardens. As a single parent, she moved down to Cornwall with her son and spent her initial time in the county exploring the landscape through walks, relishing it’s wildness. One of the places she would walk to was Tremenheere. It became a place she often revisited, writing and sitting in the gardens, spending time getting lost within its abundant natural space. As she has a background of working with nature on a Shamanic basis, she goes there to tune in to the true nature of things. She is interested in what happens to the body when it comes into contact with trees and animals, as she understands her own body as a fine sensing organ. Walters recently considered the stem of a plant, ‘the stem is held in the earth and then a change occurs when it leaves the earth; then, nothing is holding it but air’, she ruminates. She is also interested in ravens, as they are bringers of information, knowledge, change, and some believe they can travel to other dimensions. Tremenheere pays host to a number of very vocal ravens. The artist once followed these birds through the garden to a specific tree into which branches they congregated; the tree started to make a lowing sound, which the ravens copied, creating an example of how boundaries can shift within nature. She is especially focused on, ‘how the animals dream the garden into being, the animals that lived there once, years and years ago’, which she defines as ‘morphic resonance’. The artist is also interested in mothering, and what we give birth to in the world, ‘could be an impasse, could be a thought, could be a prayer’, all the way down to the words we choose to unleash, defining the tongue ‘as a kind of womb.’ Currently she is absorbed by the concept of the tree as mother. She showed me one of her watercolours, ‘Limb’, which depicts a section of a tree. As the viewer looks closer, the delicate chiaroscuro bleeding of the watercolour reveals that this tree’s ‘branches’ are not just that, but suggestions of human bodies: it is as if the tree is birthing these figures from its trunk. The delicate dark-to-light brushwork creates a texture that flips between bark or wood, and that of a thumb print or porous skin. It is this delicate duality that Walter’s masters within her work; it captures both the ‘shifting boundaries’ of nature the artist is fascinated by, and Walter’s own ability to inhabit these in-between spaces. Because of her long history with Tremenheere gardens, she is including a selection of archival work, giving it a body and a context, placing the new, raw work its own ‘morphic resonance’. The exhibition is given further depth through the inclusion of other artists, writers, and performers, who Walters asked to contribute small to medium sized pieces that ‘act to broaden the conversation.’
The artists work surrounds intraspecies conversation: how we can learn from animals past and present. In bridging this cross-species gap, she finds moments of quietness and contemplation. Walters astutely said, ‘we can hear animals, they just speak with a different voice’. She takes responsibility in translating this voice into paint so that others can see it. She exposes the essence of a leaf, or a bone, or a creature, and this is infused into the watercolour, revealing it’s spirit on her sheets of paper. In her statement, the artist describes herself as ‘an explorer of what is hidden’ and is drawn to wild and unruly places, where human beings almost have no place. A formative experience of place and wilderness was a trip to the Isle of Mull she went on to take photos for her A level art project. She was struck by the natural and spiritual resonances of the place. A washed up sperm whale especially affected her, along with her visit to Iona, a spiritual centre off the coast of Mull. This increased her craving for wild places, which led her to move to Cornwall, Scotland being too far away from her family. As her work developed, however, she needed to go somewhere wilder. She went to the Northern tip of Iona, where she wrote her first book ‘The Iona Notebooks’.
Writing is as much a part of Walters practise as painting, and each practise helps the other, ‘like a ball being thrown between the two- it keeps on going backwards and forwards.’ So much so that as soon as an image is coming to her, she will write. This writing is not forced or heavily curated, rather it comes quite naturally, flowing out of her- filling pages and pages of the notebooks she always keeps on her person. She writes every day she is in her studio, combining the two processes within her creative and artistic space, the constant writing generating an ongoing conversation with her work. ‘The Iona Notebooks’, which were published by Guillemot Press in April 2017, was the first instance of both her poetry and her artwork being exhibited side by side. The founding editor of Guillemot Press, Luke Thompson, needed an image for a book of poetry, so sought out Walters after she had come back from her residency on Iona. The artist told Thompson about the writing she had produced during this trip, and after looking at it, he suggested they make her images and poetry into a book. Due to this success, and a need to get back to a wild place, Walters applied for a residency on Shetland for July 2017, which resulted in her second book ‘The Shetland Notebooks’ being published earlier this year.
As writing is what Walters naturally produces, it is natural that reading is a big part of her day-to-day life. The artist’s studio is filled with books; they cover every surface, including the available seating areas, creating a kind of aladdin's cave of knowledge and words. So when I asked her what she was reading, the answer was a long list, including a book on Barbra Hepworth’s drawings, a collection of Indiginous poetry, a book on the darkness in alchemy, and Hilma Af Klimt’s responses to flowers and plants. The artist enjoys a varied diet of lots of different types of books, to ‘create a kind of field for things to happen’. Her reading does not directly inform her work, instead it contributes to a ‘general compositing’ which germinates bountiful visual and linguistic concepts. In fact, the ‘very rich diet’ of literature Walters was consuming during her residency on Shetland, combined with the island’s wilderness, gave her a dream that not only produced ‘Shetland Notebooks’ but was a catalyst for a big change in her work. It was this dream that made her focus on watercolour. She began to paint images that she saw in the dream, not illustrating the narrative but giving her work a flavour. The motifs of disembodiment, mothering, and the lost infant have continued to appear in her work ever since.
Since Walters was a child, she has had rich dreams. She was COE raised but has consistently been interested in different religions, with a strong sense of faith and relationship to prayer. A momentous change occurred around her 40th birthday, which led her to attend a healing ceremony with a celebrated local Shaman. She became a regular singer and a drummer in these ceremonies and felt that the practise was ‘a place where my dream life found a home- the dreams were given a context.’ She ended up working by herself, becoming more refined the more she practised Shamanism; the artist has now been doing it for seventeen years. Shamanism has always been intrinsically connected to Walters’ work, no more so than in her ‘hollow bone’ performances. In this process, someone comes to the artist with a problem or question, Walters interrogates this problem before using her drum to go into a trance. The artist comes back with an answer and both vocalises and paints it. This is often done in front of an audience, so then, as well as seeing Walter’s create something from both a personal and mysterious stimulus, the whole process becomes a kind of performance art in itself. This process came about during Alic Herrick’s ‘A Fete Worse than Death’, where she was asked to have a stall. She came up with the concept ‘I can draw your dream’, in which she used her drum to tune into the people who came to the stall in order to draw their dreams. It was extremely successful; Mark Almond’s agent came across her work during the festival, which resulted in Walters creating the artwork for ‘The Velvet Trail’ album.
Due to her use of art to heal and comfort, there is a residual compassion within her work. Walters states ‘a drawing is alive’, and her work certainly seems to breathe with a kind of diluted truth. Looking into her watercolours is like looking into a kaleidoscope; images shift and bleed into one another, the more you look: a tree limb becomes a baby, a leaf becomes an eye, animal turns to human. Each change and definition is decided by the person looking at the image, and these discoveries, in turn, bring up personal congruity in the viewer, making the work differently personal for everyone who experiences it. In the moment of looking, the painting reaches out and touches the observer, singing with a higher frequency, one that you, the viewer, end up singing too.
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