New Zealand born artist, Kate Charles, grew up surrounded by the influences of Māori culture, the natural beauty of her home country and the philosophical humour of a loving community.
After a career in fashion and a move to the UK, she now works as an artist, bringing her organic, thoughtful forms to life with the kind of skill and personal investment that almost makes them appear to live and breathe.
Her current collection, Out of the Blue, draws on those influences of nature, community and culture. As it sits on display at the Nicholas Anthony studio in Mayfair this month, we see the harmony between art and the daily, lived experience.
Here, she talks about her inspiration, her collection and the role that art plays in the home.
Your work is inspired by the natural landscape – what in particular fascinates you?
The sea and sky have always been a constant pull in my work, hence the title Out of the Blue, but I’m equally drawn to the forests and the hills and mountains! Walking barefoot in grass, the smell of rain on warm earth, the sound of wind through grasses and the surge of waves on rocks. I love observing the seasons and the cycle of life – the interdependence of everything around us. Feeling the connection. We are part of the natural world – not separate from it. We are a community.
It links back a bit to growing up in New Zealand, how the spirit of the country is very much about belonging to the land, so that’s inherent in my DNA. When I go home, the first thing I do is take my shoes off and almost hug the earth. Being absorbed in the earth is part of what we’re meant to be.
What do you want to convey through your sculptures?
A sense of spirit, of strength and calm, of being grounded. A respect for the past, the present and the future. Visually they have a sense of rhythm and balance and connection, with a tactile quality. I almost see them as friends and guardians – the totems have a personality to me – a nice, calming presence.
There’s also my paintings – nine of them are at Nicholas Anthony – and those are layered with gold leaf on top of canvas. Each one has a painted image of a special moment that stayed with me, and it’s covered by the gold leaf which preserves it but also nods to the thought of leaving it behind to explore the allure of new horizons. I think living on the other side of the world from home you do get these strong nostalgic feelings. It gives me separation to look at my homeland and what it means to me.
Some of your works for Out of the Blue are very evocative – was there a political element to pieces like ‘Coral. Grief.’?
I don’t see it as political. I see it as a statement of fact, with a sadness attached. I was moved to make Coral. Grief. after a diving trip. I had been to this particular spot 15 years earlier and had been desperate to go back because I had been overwhelmed by its beauty. When I saw it again I was shocked at the change. It is great that there is work being done to regenerate the reefs but I feel very sad about what we are doing to the earth – it’s as if we don’t like our home.
There’s also something very personal but relatable about ‘Figure.’ and your given rationale behind it – can you tell us more about that?
I tend to find humour in many things as well as being dramatically affected by many of the world’s problems. I’m quite whimsical and I like to think that the world is slightly magical. I was saying to my sister the other day (referring to my pieces), that all my friends are in London and I’m at home! We envisaged them having a wonderful time after closing time. I almost imagine that they are friends who may just speak or walk, that they have personality. They make me smile and feel safe and grounded. The piece you are referring to was sparked from something I saw that made me smile. It said:
“Sometimes I like to tuck my knees up into my chest and lean forward. That’s just how I roll”
I thought that was lovely. It’s fun and has a relaxed playfulness about it.
There’s a cultural element in your work as well, isn’t there? Tell us more about that?
I have spoken to friends and family a lot about this. I feel very blessed to have grown up in Aotearoa New Zealand – the place and the people have a special spirit.
Growing up with Māori culture and beliefs around you means you develop a deep respect of not only the culture and people, but the importance of community, your genealogy, and the strong connection to the land and sea. There are some particular beliefs and practices that have always stayed with me. One of which is the whakataukī or ‘proverb’ “I walk backward into the future with my eyes fixed on my past.’
This can be understood in the sense that you draw your strength from everything known, from the spirit of your ancestors and the gifts your ‘people’ (friends and family) give you, as you move into the unknown. A Māori friend, who’s an incredible textile artist, told me that to not believe in yourself is to dishonour the gifts you have been given. He says one can feel the hand of your ancestors going back to infinity on your shoulder, giving you strength and love, which I thought was incredibly powerful. I believe that making art is a way of sharing gifts with others.
My work draws on the sense of home and place. I create painted works that represent moments in memory of people and places that have resonated with me. My sculptural works are friends, ancestors, and guides. They have strength and presence.
What informs the materials you choose?
I seek texture – clay is a wonderful medium for me. I like having active hands – sculpting and thinking with my hands is a natural feeling for me.
My early career was designing and making clothes, often very sculptural pieces that transformed and extended the body. I have always liked expressing myself through creating new forms and exploring textures.
I use natural materials and clay could not be more earthy! The addition of silk thread and natural textiles are an organic fit with the clay. I started using gold leaf in my paintings as I love the way it creates a fine skin and the way light moves across it. I love the fact that it serves to conceal something precious, like a smile or a memory or a daydream.
What role do you think art has in the home?
As Tony Nicholas said on opening night at Nicholas Anthony, people have been decorating their homes with art since cavemen drew on walls. It is an integral part of human expression, and a form of communication like singing or dancing – what you surround yourself with reflects your personal story.
How do you think art affects/can affect our daily experiences?
I think art can affect us in so many ways. People are much more comfortable talking about mental health these days and art is often used as therapy both making it and as an experience. Art has the ability to take you out of your physical self. It is a form of expression and a natural response. If I’ve ever felt lonely in life I have tapped into creativity – it’s like my best friend. My experience of art is as a therapeutic form of expression.
What made you want to exhibit with Nicholas Anthony?
It’s interesting not showing in a gallery. Nicholas Anthony provides the perfect in-home physical experience of where art should be enjoyed. Their particular specialty is bespoke home interiors, which blends perfectly with unique pieces of art for display and for walls. It’s a great privilege to work with them.
Do you have ideas in mind already for your next collection?
Yes! I will continue to explore current themes and developments from this collection. I am looking forward to getting back into the studio and getting my hands thinking again.
Read more about how we bring personal style into home environments by incorporating art that reflects and enhances your lived experience.