Thinking Out Loud
Mar 24 2023
I thought about this exhibition in a slightly different way than how I usually do. 3 East Street is a big, huge space. But it isn’t an institution, and it doesn’t carry the baggage of being an obvious commercial space. This was a chance to stretch out and make the things I wanted to see in the world. When I first saw the space, I was keenly aware of how much it is geared towards the front of the stage. I decided to create a new orientation, one that wasn’t as dominating and instructive. As a result, the work is pretty much all on one side of the building. It also fills an alleyway that is usually behind locked doors. This approach meant that my work could create its own version of the space, liberating me from feeling the need to fill or occupy anything in a prescriptive way.
A lot of the time I collaborate with fabricators and artists to help make my work. I have limited knowledge and big intentions, so working with others more skilled than myself means the work can do things I couldn’t achieve on my own. It also makes the process into an adventure, since I don’t always know how things are going to turn out. This is most evident in I know the sky is ready, the tile mural outside in the alleyway. Wanting to create something quite large and immersive in a short space of time, I worked with Duncan Shearer at Rahu Road Pottery to hand-make the tiles. This involved pounding out the clay and then individually rolling and cutting each one.
I then drove the work down to Nelson. The opportunity to work alongside my father was a huge motivating factor for me in making this particular piece. He has worked with clay since I was young, and I wanted the chance to do so alongside him as a grown up. Another motivating factor was the opportunity to wood-fire the work. Daryl Frost has an incredible Anagama kiln that he built himself at Frost and Fire Pottery, and we fired the work in there. There were pieces from my dad, Daryl, and Thomas Baker, but a huge chunk of the kiln was devoted to the tiles which had been stacked three-or-four high for loading. You can clearly see marks from stacking, and the different paths the flame took across the tiles.
Allie Eagle passed away last year. She was my friend and mentor. I grew up down the road from Allie in Te Henga. When I was about fourteen years old, I started assisting Allie in her atelier. My time was spent washing brushes, priming surfaces with gesso, and helping her with her encaustic waxes. Sometimes she would let me do small amounts of watercolouring on her large commissions. It was my first time inside an artist’s studio, and this had an enormous impact on me. Getting to see how an artist was living, spending her time, and constructing her life was incredibly valuable. She was an all giving, hugely supportive artist and role model—a believer in community like no other.
Allie was someone I wanted to draw into my project. Would I include one of her works? Would I do watercolours of my own in homage to Allie? In the end I thought about the space, light, and colour, and I thought about Allie's work—bright and clear—and this influence was more than enough. I’ve made many exhibitions in New Zealand, but somehow this one was different. I thought a lot about my upbringing, myself as a teenager, what art school was like, and how I felt about art back then. Allie passed on lots of skills that I still use today (watercolouring is my starting point for every exhibition) as well as some robust ways of thinking about an art career. I am eternally grateful to her for this gift.
My install playlist
My playlists are often titled by time of year and/or place. I listen to music all the time when I am doing physical work because it helps keep me mobile and helps balance out those highs and lows that I experience when making work. I don’t reinvent the wheel when I am making my playlists. I am often in new places so the familiarity of the songs I know is a huge comfort to me. The playlist I was playing in my Texas studio when I made the glass panes is pretty similar to the playlist I played in Paeroa making tiles, and then finally on Karangahape Rd installing the work. I can drive people around me a bit mad because I don’t listen to full albums, I skip around, and I also can also play the same song a few times in one hour.
Songs include: Steph Green, ’If Nothing Else Comes Along’; Melanie, ‘Look What They’ve Done To My Song’; Donnie & Joe Emerson, ‘Baby’; PJ Harvey, ‘The Desperate Kingdom Of Love’; Great Lake Swimmers, ‘Your Rocky Spine’; Vagabon, ‘Every Woman’; Chris Isaak, ‘Somebody’s Crying’; Arthur Russel, ‘I Never Get Lonesome’; Songs: Ohia, ‘Farewell Transmission’; The Beatles, ‘Cry Baby Cry - Anthology 3 Version’; Junior Kimbrough, ‘Meet Me in the City’; Palace Music, ‘Work Hard / Play Hard’; Silver Jews, ‘The Wild Kindness’; Slim Harpo, ‘Buzz Me, Babe’; JJ Cale, ‘After Midnight (live)’; Patti Smith, ‘Wing’; Amen Dunes, ‘Lonely Richard’; Aldous Harding, ‘Fever’; Talking Heads, ‘Love → Building on Fire’; Four Tet, ‘Lush’; ’ William Onyeabor, ‘Atomic Bomb’; Belly, ‘Feed the Tree’.
Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021)
I think a lot about time management. I want to find ways for better managing work and energy levels. Over the years I have found some great strategies for time management which currently involve lots of note-taking in various thematic notebooks. Recently I’ve also started using an app where I can keep a track of my hours for each project or activity. It’s too much information, but it helps me better understand what I am putting into a project, and with that information I can better plan.
Planning this exhibition was tricky. There were a lot of moving parts, multiple locations, and various deadlines. This is the second time I have arrived in Aotearoa ready to get to work but it’s the 1st of January and everyone is away, so I needed to be realistic about what was achievable, as well as my demands on other people’s time.
A friend recommended this book to me last year and it has been enlightening. Often there is a drive to get more done and to complete our never-ending lists. But, of course, the list is never finished, and it can end up becoming counter-productive. The average life is 4,000 weeks, which doesn’t seem like that much when you see it written out like that. So with my limited time in mind, I wanted to cut to the core of the work for this exhibition and let go of the rest.
My history on Karangahape Rd
I moved into St Kevin’s Arcade in 1998 during my first year at Elam, bounced around, lived at 155 K-Rd, bounced around some more, and then lived at 454 K-Rd until I moved to the US. I went through a huge amount of growth while I lived on Karangahape Rd. I made lots of work, and had lots of exhibitions. I used to do night-time excursions to experiment with putting work outside in public space. I’ve always been interested in art that could exist without some kind of official invitation, I didn’t want to only install artworks in the context of a sanctioned exhibition. I was very drawn (and still am) by the idea that work can exist in these in-between spaces—work that is not in an exhibition nor a public sculpture, but somehow still visible, viewed as a part of the existing cityscape, and not obviously as contemporary art. Some of these early works were posters that I would photocopy and hand colour, some were word paintings, some were bricks that I would mortar against buildings.
I also did one of my first big floor works on Karangahape Rd. When I was involved with Gambia Castle, I really wanted to turn the back courtyard of the building into a work of some kind. This was circa 2010. I cleared out the space and poured a large concrete floor. I painted this blue with watered down concrete paint and it became like a ginormous watercolour. I think I put some plants out on the roof above it, and I know there was a fuchsia wall involved somehow. The work was a part of an exhibition with Sarah Hopkinson and p.mule called Burnt house. A little later. In a very sweet connection, that work was made possible because of support from Michael Lett.
When I was on my knees in the rain making these blue and apricot coloured concrete puddles in the alleyway for Had us running with you, I felt aligned with my K-Rd art-making history. I couldn’t decide if I had come a long way, or no way at all.
Kate Newby, Had us running with you, is showing at Michael Lett, 3 East Street, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, until Saturday 1 April 2023. See here for details.
About the Author
Kate Newby (b. 1979) is an Aotearoa New Zealand artist based in Floresville, Texas (US). Newby received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2001 from Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland, followed by a Master of Fine Arts in 2007 and a Doctor of Fine Arts in 2015. Recent institutional exhibitions include YES TOMORROW, Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi (2021); I can’t nail the days down, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2018) and Let me be the wind that pulls your hair, Artpace, San Antonio (2017). SHE'S TALKING TO THE WALL, a major new acquisition, is currently on display at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Work by Newby has been included in the recent group exhibitions: Walls to Live Beside, Rooms to Own: The Chartwell Show, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki (2022), Réclamer la Terre / Reclaim the Earth, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2022), and The Flames: The Living Arts of Ceramics, Musée d'art moderne de Paris (2021). Newby has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant (2019), The Walters Prize (2012) and residencies at the Chinati Foundation and Fogo Island Arts.
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