Whitehot Magazine

Inside Kate Shaw's Luminous Dreamscapes

Anthropocene, 2015, acrylic and resin on board, 120 x 240 cm, courtesy of the artist


Australian artist Kate Shaw is exhibiting at Martin Browne Contemporary in Sydney (May 2018) and with Mirus Gallery in San Francisco later the same year. With 32 international solo shows already under her belt, and a Thames & Hudson monograph in the works, Shaw's meditative abstractions provide pause for thought.

As we witness the truth getting battered and bruised before us, and everyday the news cycle signals end times – it is both comforting, and confounding -- to meet someone both intact and upbeat.

Artist Kate Shaw is just that. Like a butterfly preparing for hibernation, Shaw is presently fluttering around the globe feasting on art and culture before heading back to her home in Melbourne in her homeland of Australia. Back in her quiet studio she will hunker down with science podcast Radiolab on full volume; tuned into updates on nuclear testing and human genomic advancement. There, with her preferred palate of 'amped up' natural colors she will unravel new works and new worlds: phosphorescent wonderlands, fjords, ravines, kloofs and moonscapes, uncanny valleys, underground suns and radiant orbs. Her mountain muse appears frequently, like a chant, or a mantra. Her lens is not just rose-tinted but kaleidoscopic.

Rolling suitcases brimming with sundresses, armed with travel apps and sporting clear 3D printed eyeglasses, a blonde bob and bangs, Kate Shaw's lifestyle would likely make mainstream squares anxious. The artist chooses freewheeling over structure, and her present is fluid as life's adventures seem to unfold like a river. Enquiring how she manages to harness fear, Kate quips: 'In the West, fear has no philosophy, fear is frequently used as propaganda. How I see it is that confidence comes with gratitude. Awareness and gratitude allow one to step confidently (fearlessly) into the void (world)'.

In the three weeks since she bounced in and out of New York early in September Shaw has travelled to London via Portugal, done a stint at Skulptur Projekte Münster answered my questions via sound files sent on the train in transit to Berlin. All that before heading to Venice to catch the tail end of the Biennale. While in New York she got to do things few people who live in the city year 'round would do including an interpreter aided conversation with Chinese gunpowder artist Cai Guo-Qiang's in his East Village studio and sitting cross legged in a teepee with Austrian physicist Fritjof Capra discussing his new work 'The Systems View of Life' in a rooftop Audubon Society garden (and bird sanctuary) that's part of the greening of Brooklyn's Greenpoint.

Stratosphere, 2016, acrylic and resin on board, 60 x 180 cm, courtesy of the artist

But life is not all smiley faces. As a woman artist Shaw is well aware that 'in the commercial art world male artists get higher prices and have a greater representation in the cannon'. However, while at a recent sculpture project she noticed that 'about a third of the artists were women, and is is pleased to be seeing a lot more curated shows at museums showing a larger percentage of women'.

While there is certainly still a long way to go as far as equality is concerned) what really irks her is:

'I think artists' can (and do) get taken advantage of particularly by the amount of funds they put into making work and a lack of respect understanding that the artist has to be paying their fabricators and or suppliers and who ever they're working with, so there is this really disjointed thing about creating something for an audience and what it has taken to do that in both time and money.'

A residency regular, Shaw expounds: 'Probably my favorite residency was Point B in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I went back about 3 or 4 times. It was a fantastic community of artists from all around the world: Norway, Denmark or England, not just exploring the US art scene. For New York, knowing how difficult it can be for an artist to have a live / work space, Point B is in a great location. Mark Parish, the founder, understood the need for artists to have a temporary space where they could be working on a show, or some sort of project. And to have that, both the space and the knowledge of the area (as he did) to be able to say, here's the best hardware store, and the gallery openings to go to in the city, is all really valuable to someone new in town.''

Spaceship Earth, 2015, acrylic and resin on board, 120 x 240cm, courtesy of the artist

'The lure of residencies in places like Central Australia and Iceland for me is that a lot of my work is about cycles of creation and destruction. Iceland is a very new continent and is constantly being formed, which is very much the beginning of continents on earth. Central Australia is an old sea bed. You can be in the middle of a canyon and see sea shells in the sedimentary layer as well as where the water would lap up to the shoreline. That, for me, is a powerful experience -- of being alive – material experience of time and in the natural environment and what it means to be human.'

Folly, 2017, acrylic and resin on board, 120 x 240 cm, courtesy of the artist

Future Gaze, 2016, acrylic and resin on board, 120 x 240 cm, courtesy of the artist

Rather than preach about climate change and environmental awareness, Shaw aims to introduce traditions of philosophy into her paintings. She hopes to spark us to 'generally reflect on things, and how systems are interconnected'. Her paintings seduce the viewer into an appreciation of the landscape. One gets a sense of extreme elements with her use of hyper color and reflecting changing light and play with depth perception in her alchemical glaciers and gully's.

So what's in Kate Shaw's future?

'The next set of paintings I am going to work are based on my ancestral DNA. These data paintings will reference DNA percentages of where I am from, and will be based on the different landscapes belonging to that land. I am interested in DNA as identity, and how we attach ourselves to a particular land, or place, as kind of fiction: where does it end and where does it begin to say 'I belong' to this or that place. That's of particular interest to me now, with so many refugees fleeing their homelands to other lands and being told they don't belong. As an Australian I am an immigrant. I am not native to Australia (the Aboriginal people are). My connection to the land of Australia is a very short one, via (largely) the English and the Irish. While my DNA is predominantly English and Irish, there is Scandinavian and Polish and the Iberian peninsula including Italy and France. The construction of DNA interests me, chromosome interconnectedness -- everyone's DNA is from everywhere. My humanity is inextricably bound up with yours.' WM


Petra Mason

Cultural historian and vintage photography book author published by Rizzoli New York. Founder Obscure Studio and ArtHit. Whitehot arts and culture contributor since 2016.

Photography by (c) Thekiso Mokhele / Obscure Studio


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