TOAST Magazine

Artist in Residence | Kate Owens

ARTS & CULTURE

The annual TOAST Creative Residency is a three-day programme of talks and events, with an aim of fostering thought and bringing together a like-minded community of creative individuals.

Inspired by our seasonal campaign Flux & Flow, events with range from kantha embroidery and Japanese Kintsugi, to creating a sustainable kitchen, all commencing from Thursday 15th October.

This year, we have partnered with the Crafts Council, the national charity for craft, to invite an artist-in-residence to explore the theme Flux & Flow and showcase their work throughout the Virtual Creative Residency.

Textile artist Kate Owens has been experimenting with traditional block printing and the sculptural possibilities of the print block for the past four years. Her studies in sculpture at the Royal College of Art have informed her practice, which is evident in her approach to scale and her unique combination of print with choreographed movement.

Kate will be using an innovative print-block-show technique for the creative residency, walking across fabric using her body weight to transfer ink to the cloth. Through this printing method, the textiles will become an intimate record of the physical making experience, the flux capturing a sense of flow.

Kate’s completed work will be presented at the Creative Residency and later donated to the Crafts Council collection. 

We find a quiet moment ahead of the residency to talk to Kate about her inspirations and her journey so far.

Can you tell us a little bit about you and your background?

I am an artist based in Glasgow. My studio is in my home, where I live with my partner and our two children. I have tried in the past working in studios outside of my living space, but have come to realise that I need the distraction of other things going on to give my work perspective and momentum! 

There’s an energy that comes from this more chaotic working environment that helps me to keep the prints both lively and relevant. My immediate environment is also the main source material for my work, and has been since I was at college. A slide show of floors featured in my MA show, while my current project is documenting work surfaces in and around the home. 

You took a Masters in Sculpture at the RCA, how does this flow into your printmaking and movement of the body?

When I look back on it, I was printmaking the whole time that I was in the sculpture department at the Royal College of Arts, although in a less obvious way. I’d take one object and push it into another to make an impression. I used t-shirts and bottles to create a sort of chromatography print, and I squeezed used chopping boards through old print presses. These seemingly absurd activities hint at the performative side to my practice too.

I still think about my work as objects coming together to create print, but the actions I take to make this happen have become more visible more recently. I’ve since made printed works using indigo dye in the back pocket of my jeans, and a swimming pool sized screen print as part of my weekly exercise routine. The joy of moving my body motivates me, and recent works have become records of these physical experiences.

What themes and concepts drift into your work?

Since my MA, I have been developing the two areas of print and movement alongside a growing interest in pattern. With hindsight, I can see pattern-making in my earlier works, but in the past four years I’ve been consciously considering pattern construction. The patterns that interest me are bold with an almost unreadable logic, a looseness, a sense of movement and joy.

The visual content in my work is tied up with the conditions in which it is made. In 2017 I adapted my block printing method, replacing the block with a wooden sandal. Using this print-block-shoe, designs are walked across fabric using body weight to transfer ink to cloth. The pattern and choreography are restricted by the scale of my body, rigidity of the blocks and other practicalities of the process. Within these parameters I’m trying to find freedom for the body to move and create prints that feel untethered.

Does scale play a role in your work?

I’ve always been ambitious to work on a large scale. The only problem with this is that I am quite small, so I’ve had to find ways to take up space that is within my physical capability. Using my print-block-shoes as a way to efficiently cover larger areas is a satisfying solution.

As the work has evolved through the day-to-day experience of living, I’ve always imagined my prints as backdrops for human interactions. I think about the space in front of the print as part of the work, the interruptions caused by passersby bringing about different views and experiences. 

What is a usual day in the studio like for you, are there rituals and routines that you follow?

The best use of my studio time is to spend it printing. This is how I really make and develop new work. I line up a playlist of dance music and move my body for an hour or so while I print. I make decisions as I’m moving, it’s really tiring sometimes! I’ll have a coffee and write notes about the print, or I'll sketch out ideas for other prints and do some admin. I might spend a week working like this, with weeks in between where I’m sourcing and preparing fabrics, choosing inks, making print blocks etc. Before I start printing I often make scaled down test prints on paper using tiny blocks made from erasers. I use these to work out a pattern and as a guide for where to place my feet.

Can you tell us a little about what you have planned as TOAST’s Artist in Residence for the TOAST Creative Residency?

I’m planning to make a short film working with Glasgow based film maker Kimberley O’Neill. The film will frame my print-block-shoe technique in the wider context of my live/work space. The plan is to film me from above, printing outside in my backyard. 

In part, this references a 1973 film by Babette Mangolte called ‘Calico Mingling’ which documents four dancers from above, walking in a repeating routine across a paved plaza. The external setting of the proposed film is open to the elements, adding to the state of flux where the work is made in the midst of family life and multi-purpose spaces within our home.  

I’ve designed a set of new print blocks to create the print for the film. One block stays the same, while the 2nd block changes throughout the printing process. The film should capture a sense of flow as the print adapts and progresses amongst interruptions and diversions from external forces.

Is there an artist that you particularly admire for their craftsmanship, design or originality? 

I immediately think of three artists: Pauline Caulfield, Sonia Delauney and Pina Bausch.

Although Pina Bausch was a choreographer, I’m inspired by her material sensibility and constant invention. I love her piece ‘Vollmond (Full Moon)’ made in 2006, which starts with a dancer creating a loud whistling sound by scooping an empty water bottle through the air.

I admire Sonia Delauney’s knowledge of colour and her ability to translate loose painterly techniques into reproducible repeat designs.

I’ve recently discovered the work of textile artist Pauline Caulfield, but so far have only seen it in print or online. The work she made during her time at RCA in the late '60s feels so current, even today. I’m in awe of her daring colour choices and the movement she creates within a surface print.

Images by Kate Owens.

The TOAST Virtual Creative Residency starts on Thursday 15th October until Saturday 17th October. Kate's live print performance and Q&A with Crafts Council are both free to attend.

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