In Conversation with Kate Hill
This week we spoke with our resident printmaker, Kate Hill! Kate has been involved with our Tairua gallery for several years, as both an artist and volunteer. Her works have captivated many with their mysterious, almost-psychedelic take on familiar local landscapes, as well as the delicate intricacy of her woodblock stitched monoprints. We talked about her background, life in the Waikato, and her approach to the medium of printmaking!
Kate with her work, 'Stop' (above)
Can you talk a bit about your background in art, and how you came to focus on printmaking in particular?
When I moved to New Zealand from London in 1981 I was working in the field of fabric, fibre and stitch. Winning a major award enabled me to embark on a journey of further study and led me into fabric printing with Lee Trustumm. This kindled an enthusiasm for printmaking in general and at that point I was fortunate enough to meet Waikato artist Joan Travaglia and attend her classes in experimental printmaking. Joan was a wonderful teacher, mentor and friend.
What drew you to move to New Zealand from the UK?
On returning to the UK after living for three years in Nigeria we took the opportunity to move to New Zealand as a bit of a gamble and adventure. We were feeling restless in London, our first daughter had just been born and our inner city life felt extremely restrictive. That was 37 years ago and we’ve never left!
You've talked about ideas of place, connection, and the relationship between the land and its people being significant in your work. What draws you to these themes, and how do you explore them in your work? Do you think your personal background and having lived in several different countries has come to influence this?
My home base is in Hamilton and I also spend a lot of time at our bach in Tairua. Both locations were originally bare, weedy paddocks which we developed and replanted into bush. I really enjoy this close proximity to a huge variety of plant forms and also the pleasure of learning the ways of native New Zealand vegetation, the manner in which it thrives or fails and reforms the landscape and its occupants – possums, pukekos, rodents of every hue, rabbits, insects and in my case dogs and cats. All of this provides inspiration.
Living close to the Waikato River means that every day I am travelling back and forth over various bridges and these too have formed the foundation of a series of works which began with the Fairfield Bridge – my own personal Bridge of Sighs when I get stuck on it in the morning rush hour. The Kopu Bridge into Thames, another bottle neck, used to cause major delays but these can also provide thinking time and lead to ideas to be worked up later.
I grew up close to the Peak District of Derbyshire with its heather covered hills, rocky outcrops and millstone grit edges. Living in the north of Nigeria allowed me to experience huge vistas, barren red laterite in the dry turning to lush green in the wet. These rich experiences most definitely inform the way I see the world.
What do you enjoy about print as a medium - say compared to painting?
Printmaking encourages the making of surprising marks which would be impossible with a paintbrush. It’s also a risky business. Sometimes plans for a work are immediately derailed when the piece emerges from the press looking entirely different - and if I’m lucky, better than my original concept.
I love carving blocks. It’s a very meditative process and the biggest challenge is knowing when to stop. Stitch began to creep back into my work about a decade ago and I now realise that it’s here to stay. It references a pencil line and also connects with thoughts about fragility, strength, protection, restoration and care as well as adding a delicate texture to the surface.
Stylistically you have some very different avenues of work - the digital manipulations, stylized pattern-like flora pieces, stitched collages with birds and other animals - also your jewellery and scarves - and I really enjoy the different textures, depths and nuances of each. How do you approach these differently?
In some ways I regard my computer as a companion to my press. It surprises me in a similar way. With the digital work I frequently take existing monoprints or photographs and almost interrogate or deconstruct them in order to discover routes for reassembly and reinvention. Completely new work can emerge or new elements might appear which lead to the development of further pieces.
My block printed silk scarves developed from teaching a fabric print course some years ago where I needed an idea for small scale pieces which the students could complete in a weekend. However, the scarves became so popular that I am still printing them today.
The story of the jewellery is a little different. Our eldest daughter was living in London and we really didn’t want her to stay there forever. I developed the idea of a Navigational Necklace which would remind her of home and possibly even draw her back. For that original piece the ribbon was a printed map of the Waikato River – and it worked.
What kind of experience do you envisage your viewer to have with your work?
It is just wonderful when the viewer connects and can understand the story I’m trying to tell.
Can you talk about your connection to The Little Gallery? What do you enjoy about working here as a volunteer?
I have been exhibiting with the Little Gallery from the beginning of Sarah Holden’s leadership and before that with the previous owner. I have watched the gallery’s reputation expand over the years under the guidance of our hard working curator and artist Paula McNeill, and especially since Sarah developed her business model which is a perfect fit for the Tairua region.
When some recent American Visitors showed me the itinerary which has been professionally prepared for them in the US, I was delighted to see that The Little Gallery featured as a 'Must-Do.'
Sarah is always planning ahead for new ways of integrating the gallery with the community as well as stimulating attention from art lovers and visitors. For such a small gallery the reaction from visitors is 100% positive and they often express astonishment at the range of high quality work on show. This is why it is always such a pleasure to be a member of the volunteer team.
What are you currently working on? Any upcoming projects or events?
Yes there is always something new in the pipeline. Recently I was very excited to be a finalist for the 2018 NZ Painting and Printmaking Awards. The work for this exhibition is a stitched dry point etching on the subject of bees and our global responsibility to ensure the safety of their environment.
You can see Kate's new work at our upcoming exhibition '35km Road Trip' at The Little Gallery Tairua and Whangamata this weekend, Saturday 21 April! View her full range of work available in our online gallery here.
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