Scratching our obsessive-compulsive itch for uniform perfection is Kate Vassallo’s exhibition Logical Alterations, a body of geometric artworks that, upon closer inspection, are actually made up of thousands of painstakingly hand drawn lines.
Most of us require ample room for error within our respective occupations. For Kate Vassallo, however, one mistake literally necessitated going back to the drawing board, and starting from square one.
We caught up with Kate to explore the pros and cons of process-orientated art, the political devaluing of creative industries, and the significance of art during rough times.
In a world that is increasingly automated and mechanised, Vassallo’s work offers a delightful, if not nostalgic, representation of the human potential for precision and systematic repetition.
HAPPY: Can you tell me a bit about the name of your exhibition, Logical Alterations?
KATE: Logical Alterations is also the title of the central artwork, a grid of fifteen drawings. Each drawing progresses on from the last, with a slight addition or alteration of colour and shape. It gradually shifts from very minimal in the first drawing, to very complex by the fifteenth. All the drawings in the exhibition are process driven. I develop an internal logic for each one and then (quite painstakingly) follow it through.
HAPPY: What feeling or meaning do you hope to transfer to your audience through your work?
KATE: I don’t have a literal meaning I want to pass onto the viewer. I think as an artist that works with visual abstractions and aesthetics, it’s dangerous to think that every person that looks at your work is going to see the same thing. I do hope people react to my work with a sense of curiosity. I want to slow people down; for viewers to question the method, material qualities and process of my work. My ideal would be for an audience to question the motives behind the labour intensive nature of the work and to unravel the details.
HAPPY: What’s your fascination with lines?
KATE: Repetition has always been a big element in my artworks, across all mediums whether drawing, performance or video. This method of drawing is a relatively new one for me. I’ve only been working with these fine ruled lines for a few years. Also, I think the use of crisp lines often suggests a digitalised or machine made process, so I like it when people are surprised that all the works are handmade.
HAPPY: Have you found the repetitiveness of drawing lines within this particular body of work cathartic or irksome?
KATE: That is a great question! To be honest I flip between the two. On a good day, it’s this totally meditative and engulfing process that does feel quite cathartic. I’ve had a lot of days though where it’s a struggle. Sometimes it is hard to get into that frame of mind, it just becomes a tedious chore that I have to finish whether I want to or not. I guess that’s the nature of working in a process-orientated way.
HAPPY: This exhibition has taken a year to come together, right? What was a typical working day like for you during this period?
KATE: Yeah, this body of work has taken a year (on and off) to finish. It can be a really slow process to get these drawings going. A typical day would be getting up around 7am, having a coffee with my partner and then heading to my studio at Wellington St Projects in Chippendale. Due to the nature of the work I try to take regular breaks, it can be a real strain physically, and mentally, if you don’t. I’d usually wrap up around 4, and avoid working later than that since that’s when I start to lose my focus and big mistakes can happen, which can be devastating if you’ve been working on a piece for months.
HAPPY: Was this body of work exclusively drawn with pencils? What’s the appeal there?
KATE: These are all coloured pencil on paper. I really enjoy the surface quality and texture this process creates. The fine pencil lines on smooth paper are quite unforgiving. Every fluctuation of pressure or slip of the hand is very visible. It almost creates a shimmering across the surface, just through the inconsistencies of the lines. It becomes like a timekeeping record and a reminder of the hand that drew it.
HAPPY: What do you think about Education Minister Simin Birmingham’s comments about training and work in the creative arts being a “lifestyle choice”?
KATE: It is a pretty devastating blow to anyone that works in the arts. The intentional, systematic devaluing of what we do is really unhealthy for both our culture and economy. Unfortunately, it is not necessarily a surprising thing to hear in Australia. Being an artist is really like running your own small business, in an extremely competitive field. It takes a lot of work and dedication, definitely not something you can do on a whim or bludge your way through.
HAPPY: Who are your favourite artists at the moment?
HAPPY: After a pretty dreadful year, do you believe that art is perhaps more important now than ever?
KATE: Sure, art and activism have always gone hand in hand. Art is seen as a mirror reflecting the time you are in, so it all sits together in a big mixing pot really. For someone like me, who proactively avoids political or social narratives in their art, the relationship is probably a bit more stretched. Perhaps it’s more of a distraction from the negative?
HAPPY: What are your plans for the future? Any projects planned for 2017?
KATE: I have some private commissions coming up, specifically collaborative artworks with James Lieutenant. We work together to make large-scale, site-responsive wall paintings. I’ll also have some work in the Wellington St Projects fundraiser in December this year. I’m just excited to keep drawing and making new work, and see what happens with this process. (I’m also super excited to have a bit of a break, if I’m honest!).
Vassallo’s exhibition is showing from November 16 to December 11 at MOP Projects in Chippendale.