Still in her twenties, Kathryn Dolby’s artistic career is off to a strong start. In 2014 she won the Lismore Regional Gallery Graduate Award for her final exhibition installation work, Fluid and Fixed. The Lismore-born artist gained professional placement time in Sydney with Archibald-winning painters Ben Quilty and Guy Maestri. She has since become one of the region’s most recognisable emerging artists, as well as a new mother.
Interview by Jamie-Lee Rowley
Jamie. What inspired you to become a professional artist?
Kathryn. When I was in high school the thought of feeling stuck in a profession I didn’t like scared me more than anything! So in a sense there was a kind of fear that motivated me to put my energy into what I loved. It never really felt like a decision to become a professional artist, it just felt like the most natural progression for me as nothing else ever really made me feel as myself, or as alive as when I’m creating or working with creative people. I think the inspiration began right back in primary school when we had guest artists doing demonstrations for the class and then through high school where my escape was the art block. My family were always supportive as they could see it was where my heart was, so it didn’t ever feel difficult in that sense. I know a lot of people struggled with family pressures but I was lucky to bypass that one.
Jamie. How has your work developed over time, and what are your influences?
Kathryn. The quality of materials for one thing; when I was young and starting out I'd raid the cupboard for tumeric, coffee and chocolate sauce to paint with! One of the first influential moments was when I was a teenager and saw an abstract expressive painting in a magazine, I don’t remember who it was by, but I felt the power of it leave the page and hit me right in the guts. So in the very beginning it was Abstract Expressionists like Pollock and De Kooning who excited me the most because of that sheer freedom in the expression. Over the years those influencers have changed after study and my appreciation for conceptual art grew. I fell in love with artists like Robert Ryman and Joseph Marioni and how they tease the viewer with a sense of space. So now, even if I’m painting in an abstract way I’m more conscious of loading the image with specific experiences or using the painting or installation to ask questions and challenge the eye. I really like to create a tension in the works. How simple is too simple? What happens if I just focus on this one colour? Or add a hard edge line next to all the gestural marks? It’s the most stimulating for me when each new body of work departs from the last and takes on new questions but it’s still steeped in your own experiences. I also spent some time over the last few years with some landscape painters who influenced my most recent paintings. I’d never perceived myself as a landscape painter but once you start looking you realise everything is a kind of landscape.
Jamie. Is there a representational aspect to your works?
Kathryn. Some work more so than others, but usually yes, although my work isn’t purely abstract or representational. They’re painted in an abstract way but subtly reference very real spaces, objects or encounters. I’m continually collecting and drawing from information in my daily life and then I return into the studio with it to pull it apart, deconstruct and reduce. It becomes a very intuitive process of reduction, where I might start with looking at a landscape, and by the end of the process the painting heroes just a single colour that I found most intriguing from that landscape. Abstraction allows much more freedom in the studio to be playful, to be able to mess with things and bend the rules so you’re not just creating a pretty picture. The works then become much more ambiguous and open for interpretation and I like that sense of not spoon-feeding the viewer but giving subtle clues.
Jamie. What are your influences?
Kathryn. I like looking to the poetry that is everywhere in the mundane routines of our daily life, the colours in the landscape and the spaces in the home. The repetitive action of washing and stacking the dishes, washing windows, moving house, walking, and sounds in the landscape. I’m very sensitive to the spaces I occupy and I think that really filters into the paintings. I’m a bit addicted to dramatising that sense of spaciousness in a lot of my work, as I love the quiet tension it creates. Like in music, the space in between the notes is often far more interesting that the notes themselves. An interest in that silence stems from being bombarded in our digital age with information and imagery, so it really began as a kind of reactionary respite to that.
Jamie. Has having a child affected your work?
Kathryn. It’s such early days to really see how she has affected my style, as she’s still so fresh, being 8 weeks old now! I’ve really just begun venturing back into the studio again, but having a child definitely shifts things and changes you in more ways than you can anticipate or ever be told. Artistically I think the whole experience has become rich fodder to work from and I feel like there will be a shift, even if it is in a subtle way … like drawing from the nature of sleep (or lack of it), of time and waiting. Throughout the pregnancy I had a lot of time to think and reflect on where I wanted my work to go. I love working from an intimate, personal and experiential level as I think it’s when you create the most honest and interesting work. I feel like this whole experience of becoming a mother has just given my practice another gear in that sense. But it will definitely be a time juggle. I was chuckling about it with another artist and first-time mumma friend of mine who said I’ll have to just go in there and throw the whole paint tube at the canvas and hope for the best! But really I think it’s a very interesting topic and I’ve been brewing some ideas about getting other artist mums together for a project or two.