Emerging artist Kate Hallen grew up in Mooball, just North of Mullumbimby. She is now living in creative pursuit of sharing and exploring experiences through art. Before heading to Toowoomba to display her latest collection, Lay Down Your Swords, Kate welcomed BAM into her work space to learn more about her most recent work.
Liz. When did your professional arts practice begin?
Kate. When I went to uni in 2011 I started thinking about art seriously. As a child I had always been interested in creating and expressing creatively. My auntie was an artist — well I guess I considered her a serious artist at the time — and she did amazing paintings and was a huge inspiration for me to push it further.
Liz. Did you have any local influences?
Kate. I think a big one when I was doing my Year 12 major was a lady called Michelle Dawson who I first came to know in high school and I was super influenced by her work — she was sort of the start of it. There’s been lots of artists that have come and gone and I’ve had a couple good teachers who have pushed me in the right direction, they were all really supportive.
Liz. Do you ever get artist block?
Kate. Oh I always get Artist Block. I try not pressure myself too much, I know I have to make work but I also try not to be too cruel on myself. I know I’m going to have times where I’m not going to be inspired or as driven so I just allow myself to have that down time. I usually get artist block every year for about a month after Splendour.
Liz. Where do you find inspiration when that block is looming?
Kate. I guess I just look around and see what other people are doing. I often find myself in ruts where ‘I paint pictures so I am a painter,’ so I get locked into that thought. Whereas, with the collages, while they could be considered paintings in the elements they have about them, I sort of will allow myself to play a little bit more and take myself a bit less seriously. I think that is the way I find the biggest inspiration, just looking at different ways of making work and just going with it.
Liz. What is your personal process of producing work, start to finish?
Kate. Usually I would start with the idea, then source images to start to familiarise myself and get my head into that. From there I generally work with collage and be that collaging elements in drawings or in Photoshop, and just building elements and then slowly pushing it to the painting. The making is probably the most fun, I really enjoy constantly stepping backwards and forwards and seeing the process evolve. I don’t think I could really separate them to be honest though, they are all so imperative of each other that I can’t really have one without the other.
Liz. Does your work ever change from the original plan?
Kate. I’m a sucker for staying safe, so with most of my works I try to keep it as close as I can; but I also know full well that the image I have in my head is not going to be what comes out. In saying that, I look at some of the sketches I’ve done and they are all fairly close. The sketch is good because I can start to picture what it would look like on the canvas and I start to introduce myself to that image before I actually go for the big jump on to the canvas.
Liz. Do you have any ultimate dreams? Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
Kate. I’ve always had deluded dreams of stardom as an artist, like “in ten years’ time I’m going to be the next Ben Quilty,” or the next such and such and have more of a name for myself. I don’t know. I’d love to see myself being a lot more of a renowned artist in ten years’ time. I’ve definitely got the drive to do it and to constantly have an output and keep having them shown. Although, I still will probably have a part time job in ten years’ time to facilitate that and pretty much well prepared for that.
Liz. Is it a hard process to stick at when times get tough?
Kate. It comes in waves. I definitely notice times of doubt and concern with what I’m doing, or some of the woes that some artists may feel, but I still think I’m pretty driven. I’d like to think that I could keep going but I definitely don’t kid myself either. I know that it is going to take a long time for this to happen and it will happen as it happens so I just keep going.
Liz. Has there ever been a piece that you haven’t wanted to sell?
Kate. There has been one that I was in love with and very reluctant to sell but the person that wanted to buy it really really loved it and I couldn’t stop that because I couldn’t say no to the sell and she really loved it. For a while I felt a bit sad that I had lost the painting but I severed the connection. There are some that I will never sell. The fish head, I will never sell that one, it is really significant and it signifies a lot about where I started and that whole PTSD body of work and was a great symbol for it.
Liz. What was the inspiration for Lay Down Your Swords?
Kate. The inspiration took a lot of sweeping turns and changes until its final point. It was difficult to come up with it because it was the first show I had made outside of university. I didn’t have strict deadlines or criteria and I was a little bit unsure. It sort of came about after thinking about similarities between the way we act and the way birds act. I was thinking specifically about the masking process of birds, where if a bird is sick or injured, in order to survive, it will just look normal and be cool and then they will die because they don’t display that sort of adverse sickness. So I started to think about that and it developed into thinking onward about our strength and determination as people and our willingness to accept, or not accept, disasters or changes. I was very interested in that fine line between those two states of being, like fighting and surrendering. It reminded me of a manoeuvre that a fighter jet does where it will fly up to a critical point and then just disengage and fall down. That became a really pertinent image and it is one of the main images in the series.
Liz. A common theme in a lot of your work is animal heads. Why is this?
Kate. It comes from a complete lack of being able to draw people’s faces, but ability to draw animals perfectly fine so thought it was something I could work with. And with the fish, the whole concept was a soldiers who, when removed from the military, have an increased level of stress because they have been trained to respond to things quite aggressively. So we have a fight/flight thing within us where normally we would run away but soldiers can’t run away because they have to fight. So obviously when they don’t find themselves in that situation they can have that PTSD and stress out, the same as a school of fish. I was reading a study where if a fish is removed from their school they have an increased heart rate and are stressed. So I found it was a nice way to link those two ideas together.
Liz. What is your favourite part of displaying your collections to the public?
Kate. Great feedback and people really responding to my work. A lot of my PTSD shows got a lot of really good feedback and I think that is the biggest point for me. When people respond and have a connection to the work. I really like to watch people viewing my work. I want to make works based on my experiences and I want to see if you guys have a similar experience and that sort of connects us all together a little bit better.
Post by Liz Calligeros