Artist Kate Shaw has an enduring fascination with interplanetary colonisation and what it might mean. Through a series of vibrant, psychedelic landscapes, she suggests these yearnings are a complicated combination of hope for new beginnings and a sense of hopelessness about a planet we seem certain we’ll lose.
“My practice re-interprets notions of what constitutes landscape painting, both within an art historical context and a contemporary social context. The paintings deal with the tensions and dichotomies in both the depiction of the natural world and our relationship with it. I am currently exploring the sublime in nature whilst imbuing a sense of toxicity and artificiality in this depiction. The intention is to reflect upon the contradiction between our inherent connection to the natural world and continual distancing from it. My paintings aim to convey ideas of nature, alchemy and creation by operating on one level as a landscape another as abstraction.”
In Kate Shaw’s work what we see, and what in fact are facing, are two distinctly different things. A viewer may immediately recognise a glacier, an alpine ridge, a snow-capped mountain, but we are equally witnessing a montage of abstract chemical reactions.
In a Rorsach test a patient is gently encouraged to make sense out of abstractions, to see a rabbit in a black and white ink-blot. In experimental pursuits in the 1960s patients were administered a healthy dose of LSD to respond to these monochromatic abstractions. It’s not hard to imagine the poten- tial hallucinogenic blast of such a process. The Surrealists were also enamoured of such shifting notions of reality, utilising their technique of ‘de- calcomania’ in order to find subconscious form in abstract materials.
Shaw’s work has a similar interaction with the viewer, the patterns we recognise through her deft manipulation of coloured chemicals leads us into a world we immediately recognise, even if that world is pure fantasy.
This realm of signs becoming synonymous with what may be dubbed the ‘real world’ was best ar- ticulated by Roland Barthes in his exploration of semiotics. Signs and perception become blurred, the same way a swoosh on a sneaker now clearly reads as the word Nike. In Shaw’s work the notion of ‘landscape as product’, as an inevitably read sign amidst abstraction, blurs reality.
What makes adroit patrons think Kate Shaw’s works are worth acquiring? That’s in the eye of each beholder, but I’m enthused because her paintings, and now videos, signify the spirit of the emerging Earth observations (EO) movement, where space imaging and sensing technologies are ubiquitously deployed to monitor and manage environments. (The goal of climate scientists is to build a global ‘autopiloting’ system to answer Buckminster Fuller’s 1968 call for ‘an operating manual for Spaceship Earth’.)