By NOAH BECKER, DEC. 2017
I had the chance to meet with the ambitious New York City based Australian painter Katherine Blackburne. Her large scale enigmatic oil paintings fascinated me right away. The following conversation took place in her New York studio...
Noah Becker: So, I wanted to jump in and discuss the atmosphere and locations you evoke in your paintings. They are more or less landscapes but they also have things that relate to architecture. Talk about where these paintings take place, what is the setting?
Katherine Blackburne: This particular series of work generally take place in very old, dark forests and aquatic centers.
Becker: Why forests?
Blackburne: I’ve always found forests to be a rich metaphorical space that allows for a type of projection. A projection of the human psyche.
Becker: And it shows almost dream-like or dystopian swimming pools and ghostly buildings.
Blackburne: Yes, municipal pools and aquatic centers used to function as social spheres. It’s where the old school social life used to happen, around the town community pool. I find them to be very strange and beautiful places.
Becker: Has this been part of your life for a long time? You keep getting drawn to this subject.
Blackburne: There is something very alluring about certain landscapes and buildings, yes. I come from a family of architects and I have been swimming laps in aquatic centers for many years. So I suppose these spaces are not only deeply personal but function as point of interrogation for the external world.
Becker: How did it all start?
Blackburne: This all started because of this dream I had some months ago about this gigantic and pristine blue pool in an aquatic center - a pool with flags and obligatory kiosk and change rooms.
Becker: And what’s the geographic location of this space?
Blackburne: It was located in the Bavarian Alps - the dream-state idea of the Bavarian Alps. These mountains were huge vertical slopes towering over me. There were lush green trees overwhelming the dream-space. But then there was this strange aquatic center. It was eerie and deserted. Actually it all seemed a little like being inside a Luc Tuymans painting so some formals stuff had to shift in order to step outside of that influence.
Becker: Why dreams?
Blackburne: I was looking for a way to circumvent the intellectual judging aspect of my decision processes and work in an arena that felt less divisive, more randomized.
Becker: So are these active spaces or dystopian for you? Or do they start as active spaces then become dystopian? Are they abandoned sites? Because there’s an interaction between nature and architecture happening. Also the idea of something being a German scene in Bavaria, there’s a history there that figures into the work. But maybe you’re not trying to push history painting in the Anselm Keifer sense?
Blackburne: I recently began reading “Landscape and Memory” by Simon Schama. It begins in the primeval forests of Poland. Schama talks about moving through these spaces and histories. These are green lush forests that hold these very dark histories. Massacres, war, violence and horrors and all of it sunk into the very ground there. Forest are striking in their ability to hold many invisible histories simultaneously.
Becker: I see the forests you are painting but these things like swimming pools - do they exist in within these forests?
Blackburne: The pools function as a type of proxy for a human figure in a sense. Meaning there can be the trace of humans without painting an actual body. I wanted to get at this idea of a forest as a place for psychic projection of the social imaginary.
Becker: what’s the social imaginary?
Blackburne: The collective idea society or group has of itself.
Becker: You mean like the social imagination of a society?
Blackburne: Yeah, that’s one way of putting it. Collective ideas that are carried in myth and in habit in a society. So these social imaginaries can be really tiny (like you and me in a room), or occupy the whole of North America for example. Different kinds of groups have different ideas about themselves. The forests are the situation where they form collective ideas about themselves.
Becker: In the forests?
Blackburne: Yes, much of our darkest collective stuff seems to happen in forests. I find this immensely fascinating, no less so because I grew up in Australia - I’ve always been enchanted by the landscape there.
Australian colonial history intersects with the long indigenous history in ways that all of Australian society is obviously still grappling with and how the landscape figures in that story affects me deeply.
Blackburne: But also whatever “the other” represents -stories, myths, events is situated between humans and material reality. In this way humans are positioned as separate from nature and landscape. I’m interested in how that occurs. I’m interested in questioning that dynamic. WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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