Kate Metten, Artist – Vancouver
Kate Metten works in both ceramics and painting. Her current exhibition, The Thinking Eye at the Burrard Arts Foundation until December 14, features a series of geometric abstractions that structure themselves around the Modernist grid to generate optical illusions. Past exhibitions include the solo show Untitled at Wil Aballe Art Projects in Vancouver and NCECA’s annual group exhibition The Form Will Find Its Way: Contemporary Ceramic Sculptural Abstraction in Minneapolis, both in Spring 2019. She worked with a physicist at the TRIUMF particle accelerator in Leaning Out of Windows: Art and Physics Collaboration and 88 Artists from 88 Years. She holds a BFA from Emily Carr University and also studied at Concordia University in Montreal and Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. She received funding through the BC Arts Council’s Early Career Development Program to undertake a formal ceramic apprenticeship with second-generation potter Gailan Ngan.
I work within the intersection of painting and ceramics, aligning with a type of object-making that was revived after the industrial revolution at the Bauhaus school, which promoted avant-garde modernist interventions within the handicraft genres. To acknowledge Bauhaus’ influence on me, I plan to visit the Weimar campus in the new year following a ceramics residency in Denmark. If I could go back in time, I would study with Walter Gropius, Gunta Stlozl, Joseph Albers, and Paul Klee. The title of my recent exhibition The Thinking Eye comes from Paul Klee’s journals and draws on our shared interest in colour theory and the way abstraction can create optical illusions by directing the viewer’s eye.
Read a little, paint a little. Thierry de Duve’s collection of essays Kant After Duchamp was recommended to me by my mentor Mina Totino. These essays present ideas surrounding the motivation to paint, as well as modernism, the avant-garde, and conceptual art. I especially like the essay “The Readymade Is to Art in General What the Tube of Paint Is to Modern Painting.” Knowing the histories that I’m speaking to is important in painting and in any medium. Balancing a studio practice with theory informs the logic of my art making. I find my work feels most genuine when I look to history rather than looking to contemporary trends.
Another text that influenced my exhibition was Eric Kandle’s Reductionism in Art and Brain Science. When I’m not reading about art, I’m reading about psychology. This book discusses the brain’s response to abstraction. Many of the paintings in The Thinking Eye are directly related to research done in neuroscience on our brain’s perception of form and colour.
- The Kalm Report
The Kalm Report YouTube channel is a portal into the NYC painting scene. It showcases weekly uploads by art critic James Kalm, who films exhibitions in Manhattan and Brooklyn. He gets super close to the paintings with his camera, which can help decode their structure in a way that photographic documentation can’t replicate. I appreciate Kalm’s eye for material and his knowledge of art history and the New York City community. This channel has been going strong for years and I would recommend it if you don’t have the funds to travel to New York regularly. One of my favourite recent uploads includes Abstract, Representational, and so forth at Gladstone Gallery.
- Oil paint
I’m addicted to high-quality oil paint by companies like Williamsburg, Old Holland, and Rublev. Coming from ceramics, the mineral and geological aspect of pure pigments interests me. Right now, I’m obsessed with Zinc White’s transparency for its ability to mute out an underpainting while subtly maintaining the presence of whatever exists underneath. Williamsburg’s Graphite Grey is a tube I’m reaching for regularly these days too, since it is semi-opaque and leaves a suggestion of the underpainting but is matte enough to reflect back the flatness of the support. In my last series of dark nocturnal paintings that I showed at Wil Aballe Art Projects in January, my favourite pigment was Rublev’s Maya Blue, which falls in the indigo family. When I’m starting a painting, I usually begin with a ground in Burnt Umber, then I slowly compose a palette based on mood and a colour relationship that I want to explore, like broken colour, discords, or tertiary arrangements.
Painting requires stillness, solitude, and quiet. Rooting myself with meditation at the start and end of each day influences my thought and art making. I like to experiment with chance-based compositional strategies and meditation helps me decide where the work should go because the pause allows me to see my ideas clearly. One of my favourite painters, Agnes Martin, was a Buddhist too. After reading her biography by Nancy Princenthal, I was inspired to adopt a mindfulness practice. If you’re curious about it, I recommend starting with anything by Pema Chodron.