In Conversation: Kate Metten
With ‘The Thinking Eye’, Kate Metten brings her deep engagement with theory and modernism to a show of exclusively paintings – a bold departure for an emerging artist known primarily for ceramics. For this interview, we asked Metten a few questions about the works, her process, and her experience in the Burrard Arts Foundation Residency Program.
How would you describe your experience in the BAF Residency Program?KM
The residency provided me with everything I needed to dedicate myself fully to my work. The studio’s proximity to the exhibition space allowed a cohesion between the paintings and the gallery’s architecture to develop, since I was aware of the large scale I needed to work in. I learnt that I thrive under a deadline; the focused work period helped me commit to the work as it was evolving and gave me the courage to push compositions to completion in moments where otherwise, I may have abandoned the work or gone in an entirely different direction. I am so grateful for this experience!
Historically, ceramics have been your primary medium. What led you to explore painting?KM
I’ve been painting as long as I’ve been working with clay, but I found work as a potter early on. Ceramics is what I first became known for, thanks to the apprenticeship that I did with second generation potter Gailan Ngan in 2017, funded by the BC Arts Council.
In January 2019, I showed paintings in juxtaposition with my ceramic sculptures at Wil Aballe Art Projects and people were so surprised that I was a painter too! At that time, it made sense to show both histories together since many of my wall-based ceramic sculptures were made to address concerns found in painting, because I longed to be a painter. For example, I used Neodymium in my glaze chemistry, which is a rare earth mineral that has colour changing properties depending on its exposure to either natural or fluorescent light, to introduce the painterly concept of colour and perception into ceramics.
I love the shared materiality between these two mediums, like how Chrome Oxide is used in my paint and also in my glazes. Regardless, the materials speak to separate histories and I’m interested in exploring them separately for a little while before I bring them back together again. The BAF residency was a great platform to scale up in painting and to demonstrate how dedicated I am to working with oil.
How did you generate the colour palettes we see in The Thinking Eye?KM
The structure of my paintings begin with a burnt umber ground. Once I’ve established the initial underpainting, I work intuitively with a primary palette composed of Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow Light, Titanium White and Burnt Umber.
Pushing colour automatically, from warm to cool or light to dark, helps me settle into a palette that feels right for the moment. From there, I begin to reach for manufactured convenience colours that are pre-mixed and readymade. Right now, some of my favourite pigments include Williamsburg’s Graphite Grey and Zinc White. I build a paintings surface with many thin layers and often choose transparent pigments so light bounces through them for optical colour mixing and a sense of depth.
What’s next for your practice? More painting, ceramics, or something new?KM
What’s next for my practice is a ceramics residency in Denmark! I’m looking forward to working with clay again after focusing on painting in this show. Following the residency, I plan to travel to see the Bauhaus’ various Modernist landmarks scattered throughout Germany.
I’ll return to Vancouver in the summer to prepare for a group exhibition of ceramics at the Nanaimo Art Gallery. Back home, I may consider taking on some contracts to try scenic painting for film; I have a few friends in that industry and it sounds like a great way to get paid to practice precise colour mixing and painting at a large scale.