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Who are the artists in your neighbourhood? Kate Stewart

Photo of a woman standing in a lush, green garden next to a sculptural abstract form of similar height.

After a successful career as a specialist magazine editor in architecture and design, Kate Stewart walked away from the corporate world and, at the age of 40, pursued her passion in the arts by enrolling in a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts, where she was awarded the Fiona Myer Award for Painting on graduation. Kate’s arts practice is informed by a range of interests, her recent output is in the form of layered assemblages of translucent panels using photography, digital drawings and paintings.

Full interview with the artist

Bayside Gallery (BG) talks to Kate Stewart (KS) about her art making process and takes a peak into her Sandringham home studio once owned by the celebrated Boyd family of artists, Arthur Merric Boyd in the early 20th Century and Guy Boyd in the 1980s.

BG: What do you feel were the values/benefits of your degree at the Victorian College of the Arts as a mature aged student?

KS: Having the exposure to different ways of thinking across generations, access to incredible tutors and to be in the midst of an incredible microcosm of activity in the studios. It was like stepping into another realm of existence for me. Ten years on and the experience still sustains me.

BG: There are three key elements in your artworks - they are often layered, translucent and box-like. And colour is a key factor. Can you talk a little about the construction of your artworks and the relationship between these elements?

KS:  I am drawn to complexity and have always seen things as layers. Something interesting and incongruous happens when you compress images together. My practice is focused on visual perception and I am constantly trying to find new ways of combining materials and experimenting with forms. I guess you could look at it as an exploration of the boundaries between painting, photography and sculpture. Working with translucent materials such as Perspex allows the ephemeral element of light to be become part of the work, creating shadows, reflections and shifting colours.

BG: It sounds like there are multiple processes to your work. Can you tell us about this journey in your art making?

KS: The journey always begins with photography as a starting point. Working digitally, I spend quite a lot of time combining and manipulating images until I reach a point where I think I have the starting point for a painting. Then, it can go in all kinds of directions. Usually it’s a combination of print-making and painting, and sometimes I work closely with fabricators to try and realise my forms. Like many artists, I rarely do the same thing twice, as I’m not interested in finding some kind of self-replicating formula. Most recently I have been experimenting with threads as another kind of sculptural element in my works.

BG: Your artwork, The Waterfall, was shown at Bayside Gallery in the 2020 Bayside Local exhibition. Two translucent panels were suspended from the ceiling, which was a new development in your practice. What were your aims in suspending the work?

KS: It was important for these works to hover in space, so the viewer could walk around them and approach the work from different angles. The intention of the work was to playfully mimic the natural form of the waterfall in a very stylised way, making reference to the mesmerising and mediating effects of screen culture, and how it impacts on the way we perceive and understand the natural world. I was also interested in working with shifting veils of colour using the same principles as Rothko, but drawing on digital processes.

BG: Can you tell us what materials you are exploring or developing now?

KS: For me, artmaking is an ongoing experimentation with the expanded field of painting. My most recent works have been focused on exploring the expressive potential of the half-tone dot in a new series of larger scale paintings. Here I have been mixing oils with pastels and charcoal to develop a new kind of frottage process where my photography appears as an embossed surface within the painting.

BG: Your work responds to the impact of technology and screen culture. How do you envisage art as a medium to reconnect with our natural world?

KS: Art as a medium can mirror and critique the cultural conditions at play in our time. It can help us to distil and understand our relationship with nature and culture in a world in flux, where we are bombarded with information and new technologies.

BG: Now we have to ask what is it like working as an artist in the house of Australia’s well-loved artists’ Arthur Merric Boyd and his grandson Guy Boyd?

KS: The artistic legacy of this house is something I breathe in heartily everyday, imagining the ghosts of the generations of artists who have lived and worked here. I’m most inspired by Minnie Boyd, the wife of Arthur Merric and the matriarch of the Boyd family, who was a very accomplished painter in her own right. The first work I made from the house was titled ‘Finding Minnie’ and was based on frottage drawings I made from the original surfaces of windows, walls and doors of the old house. It was my way of trying to forge a connection with the previous occupants and the history of this site.

BG: Which feature of the house do you most love and how have you kept the artistic legacy of the home alive?

KS: Our aim was always to create a family home infused with art and nature, and to create an ongoing dialogue between the past and the present. The enclosed verandah is probably my favourite part of the house. Guy Boyd built it onto the back as a space to catch the sun and display his iconic sculptures. We retained the original features and windows, patching over the rust and cracks. It is filled with plants, books and half finished artworks.

To find out more, visit Kate Stewart's website.

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