'Onwards! New Directions in Pattern' is an online exhibition (November 28th 2016 - December 5th 2016 at Exhibbit virtual gallery) of new works by Katrina Ward, New Zealand artist and textile designer. It showcases some of her research and inquiry into fashion, pattern, photography, printing processes and repetition. It is an important record of her latest developments and highlights some new directions in utilising textile patterns within the format of 'traditional painting'. Further, it offers a clarification into what is defined as 'pattern' within the oevre of digital painting. By hanging these works as a cluster in the same room, new and interesting conversations happen due to play with scale, language, repetition and translation as well as sparking rhetoric between complementary and discordant colour-ways.
Walk with us - here is a guided pictorial tour and digital archive record of the show in case you missed it.
At the end of the room, in prime hanging space, is one of Katrina's favourite works 'Queenie with Kowhai'. This painting is a celebration of colonial kitsch as well as a nod to New Zealand Art History traditions and notions of borrowing by referencing a work by Barry Ross Smith which features Queen Elizabeth with a moko. In Katrina's painting the Queen is set against a vintage floral design that is actually modelled after some vintage sheets that once belonged to her grandmother. In this setting the Queen is likened to her own grandmother and thus it is a playful pun on the Maori word 'moko' as an abbreviation of mokopuna. The Queen's dress is adorned with a pattern inspired by retro chairs that the artist recently discovered in a second hand shop. In this way the artist is playing with childhood games of dress ups and she offers the viewers a printed record of her playing 'digital dress ups'. The overlays of photoagraph, designed pattern and painting dress the Queen as if she is a doll and the artist engages with a conversation about ownership asking the question, 'Who has the right to dress the Queen?' and by extension, 'Who has a claim to this image?'. By incorporating familiar things into her paintings (The Queen, the Kowhai, the vintage floral pattern) the artist is raising questions about what is familiar and what is owned. The Queen image is anchored to a sense of place by the addition of New Zealand native flowers - iconographically the Kowhai flower does an important job of being at once an earring but also an additional cultural 'lure' and provocation about claiming, about colour, about colonial discourse and about fashion.
"Translation ultimately serves the purpose of expressing the central reciprocal relationship between languages... Languages are not strangers to one another but are, a priori, and apart from all historical relationships, interrelated in what they want to express."
- Benjamin, Walter 'The Task of the Translator' 1970
To the left of 'Queenie with Kowhai' is another large scale painting titled 'Audrey with Fantails'. This painting is a hybrid work utlising photography, painting and pattern making methods to present a 'classic portrait'. In part inspired by a popular Tretchikoff print ('Chinese Girl' 1952) hanging in the artist's New Plymouth home, this painting also weaves in some of her professional textile design work which was designed for a New Zealand children's fashion designer. The addition of distinctly New Zealand motifs (the fantail and the Pohutukawa) allows the conversation about 'claiming' and 'ownership' to continue. Does Audrey Hepburn's image belong in New Zealand? Why is Audrey the face of this particular study? Katrina likes to design living spaces for iconic people (even if derived from old fashion photographs) and she offers her textiles as both wallpaper and clothing solutions. Her subjects often wear her patterns or have wallpaper behind them that are part of her latest wallpaper designs and the artist delights in the blurred boundaries between Art and Design. In this work Audrey is dressed in the same vintage floral textile design that features in the background of the Queen image except here it is seen in a different colourway. "I like to think my patterns have a life of their own" she says. Audrey also wears a Kowhai earring (the other one of the pair?) to bind her to the show, to the location and to the Queen on the adjacent wall. In addition the artist likes to clothe her subjects in desirable patterns as a kind of 'fashion designer's calling card' so that visitors are encouraged to leave thinking 'I want Audrey's jumper' or 'I wonder where I can get that fabric?'. Audrey is fashionable as well as elegant, desirable as well as demure and in this way she offers a path into Art Historical traditions of appropriating famous people (akin to Andy Warhol and Pop Art traditions) and of providing an unsettling sense of the familiar by merging history with contemporary design.
If we turn now to the opposite wall, the 'Poodle with Patterns' painting is in conversation with an Abstract Expressionist - Barnett Newman as well as with Renaissance portrait artists. The artist's background studying and teaching Art History is becoming a recurrent theme (another pattern for the purposes of this exhibition). Whilst celebrating colour and pattern and allowing her textile designs to come alive as 'more than swatches but collisions' on the canvas, the thin vertical lines on the left are distinctive nods to Newman and to early efforts in abstraction. The pink horizontal area at the bottom directly references parapets which were used as framing devices in Renaissance portraiture - only in this instance the portrait is not a person but rather a poodle. This New Zealand artist does not distinguish between person and pooch and 'dresses' her subjects with textiles that suit them regardless of whether they are human or animal. Fashion, grooming and status - for the artist the poodle is an appropriate motif to include in the show as a foreshadowing of strange places where adornment and pattern can take us. Would a poodle live in its own wallpapered house? Would he own his own art? In the context of this exhibition, the dog is not out of place.
The fourth work is an apt inclusion in the show due to the artist's self-confessed love of puns. Her 'Big Jugs' series offered a slightly lewd yet silly play on words. Humour plays an important part in this artist's work as she encourages collectors to purchase more than one of her works - preferably two from this series to be hung together. 'Do you like my big jugs?'. It's ludicrous yet lovely.
'Big Jug II' features a New Zealand native flora 'ombre' textile design wrapped around a water vessel. This image recalls traditions of Greek vase painting, of including vessels and urns as symbols of fecundity as well as Michael Parekowhai's large photographic memorial bouquet series 'The Consolation of Philosophy'. Incidentally, and of no coincidence, one of these works is currently hung behind the counter in one of the artist's favourite Fabric Stores in Auckland (The Fabric Store).
"Everything is connected if you allow yourself to see the lines between things" - Katrina Ward
Moving further around the room 'Pant Suit with Monstera' is a highlight from Katrina's Fashion Illustration series. Initially born out of a desire to add a sense of scale to her wallpaper designs the artist started painting models in fashion clothing against a backdrop of her favourite wallpaper designs. The fashion and the wallpaper are now bound together and the wallpaper is elevated to be experienced more as a painting than as a wall covering or interior design product. These works also recall New Zealand painting traditions - in particular the 'Girly' series by Ian Scott of the 1980s. In Katrina Ward's work, studies of New Zealand painting, language and Art History seamlessly combine.
Turning again to look back at 'Audrey with Fantails' is a fresh new work painted for the exhibition called 'Tui after Walters'. It further investigates issues of appropriation as well as of leadership in art. Who owns the next direction? The Koru motif never 'belonged' to the iconic New Zealand artist Gordon Walters yet he made a new version of it that is now somehow 'his'. It could also be seen as a stick with a circle but in this instance the Tui (New Zealand native bell bird) is claiming it for its own. This painting also features a close up of a palm textile that was entered into the New Zealand Bolt of Cloth fabric design awards. The 'authentic wet paint look' within digital painting is particularly difficult to achieve and it is this 'blot and smudge' combination that ties it to the exhibition's theme of exploring 'new directions'.
'One only knows a spot once one has experienced it in as many dimensions as possible. You have to have approached a place from all four cardinal points if you want to take it in, and what's more you have to have left it from all of these points..." - Benjamin, Walter
On the final wall is another nod to more of what is familiar and homely by utilising and borrowing the Crown Lynn swan motif. In this painting the artist has added a camouflage background behind the line-drawn swans as commentary on why we need to look carefully at things. What else is there that we don't see at first glance? How is it that a ceramic swan like this can be so distinctively New Zealand? Who owns its image? The artist dives further into questions about 'the cultural weight of digital artefacts' and how they can carry meaning.
"We all have different memories, memory-cells that coalesce into a new organism' - Mieke Bal
Finally, a small work which is included due to the process behind the swan textile pattern. 'Whippet with Block Cut Swans' work was drawn with an effort to emulate block cut printing methods as well as to offer a further study in portraiture of the pooch variety. The lines of the textile pattern are deliberately smudged and the clarity is deliberately lost - just as if done by a child. Ever influenced by her children this is deliberately random and painterly which is in conflict with the perception of digital painting and computer aided drawing processes.
“Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there.” -Bruce Lee
Onwards! New Directions in Pattern is a timely record of some of New Zealand Artist Katrina Ward's latest works. Blurring lines between art and fashion and making lively connections between painting and pattern, the textile artist and teacher crosses the digital divide with confidence. She investigates painting traditions playfully and urges us to consider origins as well as destinations in her explorations of painting, fashion and pattern.
Find her work: www.katrinawardcreative.com
Catalogue Essay - KW Creative