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Wednesday 26 June 2024

Meet the Artist: Kate Howe

Kate Howe presents ‘The Templum’ this summer. In the lead-up to the exhibition, we find out more about Kate and their practice. 

Please be aware that Kate discusses sexual assault and violence towards women in this interview. 

Kate was interviewed by Dawn Stevens, Arts Officer at Richmond Arts Service and Orleans House Gallery. 

Kate Howe

Can you introduce yourself? What is your practice about?

My practice is the filter through which I push all of my life’s experiences. It has a focus and a drive: it is born out of my own lived experience. Practice, for me, is a status of lived criticality and surrender: it invites close looking at the thing I want to turn away from the most, and it is in that crossover that the work comes into being.  

As far as material responses go, the materiality of each piece is connected to its origins, its impetus, the impulse of the question. I consider myself first a painter, probably because my mother was a painter, my first teacher, and the one who gifted me with the understanding that you can both travel with intensity and stay with something at the same time.  

That said, if painting is the nucleus of my practice, other explorations are its necessary energetic orbits: they feed and decode my work for me. These acts include Butoh dance practice and performance, writing, installation work, performative work, poetry, tattooing, all of which are led by a question. These responses are then practice-led responses to research.  

The current subjective focus of my work has been with me since 2018: it deals with questions of how violence against women became a socialised behaviour.  Currently, paintings are streaming out of one side of that question as I prepare to begin a Ph.D. at Leeds University interrogating that question as it relates to collecting art and artifacts which take rape as their subject. This is an intense subject to be continually immersed in, and I find my practice includes the creation of installation works which feel almost like the antidote to the images which arise in my painted work.  

The paper installations began in 2022 with my graduation piece for the Royal College of Art painting programme. Since then the paper; amber, glowing, warm, relating to the body, containing a temporal quality of its own, a sense of geological time, its ability to transmit both sound and light, its power to change space completely, has come to signify the fact that change is possible.  

In the total transformation of space, I feel when we bring a Templum into being, when she rises again, this great ancient body, and beckons us all inside – I feel like we might have a chance to feel, just for a moment, a place where there is no oppression or subjugation, a world like the one we hope to create, no matter how impossible we know the task to be.  

‘The Templum’, Kate Howe. 2023, kraft paper, stitching, gold leaf. Site for silent hours, readings, performances, discussions, talks and transformations. Variable dimensions, site-specific installation for the Wild Parlour: Alternative Airport at RuptureXIBIT, London. Hands: Olivia England, Sally Minns, Sadie Wight, Tom Wight, Sylvia Flateau, Flo McCarthy, Leon Watts. 

What is your most significant work or exhibition to date?

I would say that my most significant work would probably be the piece that I made for my grad show because that was the first piece, I produced on kraft paper – I had been trying to leap off the canvas for a long time. 

I was thinking of it like an illuminated manuscript but from the future. An enormous, illuminated manuscript that’s discovered in 5000 years… that’s produced in 5000 years from now. So that the piece itself looks like a page from a prayer book. [Susanna, Even the Oak Betrayed You] is a site-specific installation – I designed it specifically for that space in response to the light.

‘Susanna, Even the Oak Betrayed You.’ (After Gentileschi with Divine Totemic), Kate Howe, In response to Artemesia Gentileschi's 1610 painting Susanna and the Elders. 2022, YinMn Blue oil paint and liquid gold leaf on Kraft paper with stitching, prikwork and divine totemic. Painting dimensions 670 x 370 cm, Installation view. Hands: Ann Quilter, Ellen Wight, Sadie Wight, Ronan Porter, Mariam Nakiwala, Veronika Benk. 

I would say outside of school the most significant work I’ve made would be the cycle of paintings that I’m in right now, which is also producing this Templum – or the need for it – simultaneously. The paintings are clear to me, the work has been fairly relentless in that they simply keep coming, but when I deal with this work, I deal with the darkest part of myself, and a sort of existential dread about the prospect for change. Because I work directly from evidentiary crime scene images and other verified sources, as well as images from popular media which re-enacts these crimes for our entertainment, I am exposed to a lot of grief and despair.  

The Templums have been significant in that they seem to provide an opening, a sense of possibility and provide a punctuation or a sense of relief when they arise. Like a gasp for air. I am really excited to see what the collaborators do within that space, all of the different ways it will be activated for and by the community. That is a significance I feel coming, with great anticipation.  

‘Birthday Boar Hunt’, Kate Howe, 2024, oil on linen. 160cm x 280cm. Studio view.

The body features heavily within your work, why is that?

The body features a lot in the work because my practice is sited within my own lived-in experience. My practice is my life and my body is the vehicle through which I experience my life, the memory machine, the imprint, the way in which I’m seen and heard in the world and the portal of experiences through which I experience the world… My experiences in the world are imprinted upon my body and therefore the body becomes larger than my own: it becomes not the figure but the body of all of those who identify as women and non-binary. The suture also comes from the body and is a really important part of my work because my body has been sutured since I was quite young. I’ve always been very active and so I’ve always been very injured, and I’ve always been sewn back together. I have a fascination with the pulling together of flesh, the care and repair and the healing process and the scar that it leaves behind. Now I believe that there is no such thing as a perfect surface or a blank canvas or a beginning… I think that everything has been inscribed before, including my own body; inscribed by my parents directly and their genes and all of my ancestors. I suppose that that inscription on the body would include societal directives for how we present, for how we understand gender, for how we engage with our assigned gender… The suture to me is a pulling together while entropy attempts to pull apart. The truth I believe is criss-crossed in the scars, and that’s always the starting point, the already inscribed canvas, and I think that my work is doing a lot to show that pre-inscription of the body – of even the unborn body, or the unrealised body in society. 

The act of suturing entered my work around 2021, when I found Susanna but before I started making work directly related to her. I was facing a really grave illness and was 70% bed bound for about six years with a really complicated undiagnosable illness post breast-cancer, which I am recovered from now. The depth of that idiopathic situation meant something new to me, before I had been sutured in the sense that if I had broken something or there had been some kind of a rupture or problem it was just stitched up real quick and fixed. 

Then I became ill and expected to become well – that there would be some kind of surgical intervention where they would just cut out whatever was wrong and stitch it back up and I would move on. Instead, I became bed-bound after being incredibly active for most of my life and I began to think of the suture in a different way. I recognised that it’s an attempt at closure whilst things are still pulling and so that suture is deep in the fabric, if you will, of my practice in every way possible. 

What are your influences?

As far as artists that inspire me go, I would say that the first artist to ever inspire me was my mother, who is an extraordinary painter. I watched her build really incredible sculptural paintings during the 80s and she was working in a very masculine medium. She was using an industrial airbrush and a compressor, spraying styrene and plexiglass. She was really influenced by Sol LeWitt and so she lit her sculptural paintings really interestingly. She had an incredible sense of colour and I remember other people saying that about her. I always remember thinking how does one get an incredible sense of colour? What skill is that? And she taught it to me. What she taught me was that she learned her incredible sense of colour by studying people that had studied colour. She had a love for Joseph Albers and then gave me a love for Joseph Albers.  

The first artist that I was really inspired by was my mother and the second was Joseph Albers and the concept of colour. My Mom also took me to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art when I was quite young. I think one of my earliest memories is being picked up to look closer at some of the more intricate lines of Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series because they were further up off the floor. I also remember my Mom pointing to an enormous Motherwell painting and asking me where the painter put down the brush and where he picked it up and I remember running the length of the brush stroke. He put it here. He put it down here. And then I ran along the museum floor and he picked it up here. So to me, painting has always been big enough to run in and that probably has a lot has to do with why my scale is the way that it is and why scale is so important to me. Because if practice is life, then painting is the world. 

I have so many influences, I don’t know how in the world to list them, but I’d say right now the people I’m playing with are Rubens, Parmagianino, and reading Cecily Brown’s discussions with Someone has played a big role in opening my current work. Further influences would be Mark Strickland, Lucian Freud, Robert Raushchenberg, Cornelia Parker, Wolfgang Liab, and Doron Langberg. 

The paper pieces I would say are influenced by Arches and Zion National Parks, and my life in the mountains and canyons in Colorado, Utah and Arizona. My spatial work is influenced by Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Christo, Donatello, Richard Serra, Richard Deacon, Tim Hawkinson and Louise Bourgeois.  

I’m also hugely influenced by the world of literature and theatre. I read continuously and write quite a lot as part of my regular practice, and these textual practices cross over into Butoh dance, which is sort of the through line which sutures together my practice. Butoh is a form of dance where “the text writes the body”, and so all of my work is also influenced by notions of the fragment, as represented in Butoh by Tasumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ôno.  

‘The Templum’, Kate Howe. 2023, kraft paper, stitching, gold leaf. Site for silent hours, readings, performances, discussions, talks and transformations. Variable dimensions, site-specific installation for the Wild Parlour: Alternative Airport at RuptureXIBIT, London. Hands: Olivia England, Sally Minns, Sadie Wight, Tom Wight, Sylvia Flateau, Flo McCarthy, Leon Watts. 

What can we expect to see in the Stables Gallery?

I’ll be building a Templum. This will be the second Templum that we will have built. I wouldn’t call Susanna’s Howling Liver a Templum because it was her organ, so it was still really attached to Susanna. When you enter the Stables Gallery you can expect to experience a confounding of space, it’s one of the first rules that I set for myself when I build a Templum, as opposed to when I make any other kind of site-specific installation. But the Templums themselves are sort of eternal, internal landscapes that also call up the idea of geologic time. They call up the feeling of the womb and feel at once incredibly expansive and incredibly intimate. They have the sensation of warmth and enclosure, but also the sensation of the sublime because of the fact that it carries this cave-like sense. I spent a lot of time in America going through Zion and Arches National Park. My partner is a rock climber and we spent a lot of time in canyon lands looking along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, looking at these ancient bore holes made through the rock by dried up water that was no longer flowing. It’s an incredible thing to stand in these vast ancient canyons and realise that you don’t matter at all and that borders on the sense of the sublime.  I think that the sense of the sublime is something that underpins all of my work and tells us in this moment, both that we are alive, and that we are mortal. It gives us a sense of urgency and responsibility, or it gives us a sense of existential dread. Let’s pick urgency and responsibility instead.  

When you enter the Stables Gallery and you enter the Templum, you can expect to be transported into a confounded space, completely alien, altered, and different. Altered in a way that dips into geologic time and also into the time of the body. It’s a space to slow down and notice. If you can slow down, you’ll notice not only a pathway through a paper sculpture, but perhaps even the light changing and catching on the wrinkles and the crinkles.  

You’ll notice her scars and her patches and what she survived. You’ll see the light transmitted through sometimes several layers or just one layer and you’ll feel the space breathing, and yourself altering as your perception of how your body belongs and responds to this space shifts.  

My hope is that people will come in and spend some time and maybe engage in a radical act of noticing, even if that’s the light, how the light passes through the material, or how noticing the other person that they’re there with in a different way with their phone in their pocket, noticing each other, or noticing the self. 

I’m very excited for the many collaborative opportunities we have – not only in the construction of the Templum itself, but in how it will be activated. We are excited to welcome Marie-Gabrielle Rotie to the space with a new Butoh commission, written especially for the space. We will also welcome Nick Parkin, Marie-Gabrielle’s long-time collaborator, who will be performing spatial soundscapes live. There will be deep relaxation workshops, poetry readings and performances, meditative social performances, and a community Kiertan ranging throughout the space.  

 I’m looking forward to spending this time of the deep inhale of the summer in bringing the Templum to life, and sharing its many ways of spreading this sense of temporal opening and possibility to the community at large.

The Templum opens in August. Read our exhibition event page.