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Where's the frame

Maribelle Bierens

February 8, 2023 4:40 PM


At first glance, everything about Kate Burling’s paintings looks soft: the subject matter she depicts, as well as the soft-edged shapes in soft hues that are made up of blurred lines. But when you look closer, you start to recognise that these colourful paintings conceal a more anxious subject matter. Sharp, metal-like objects puncture bodily forms, slice them up or rip something apart. Keen to discover what’s happening and how she creates them, where’s the frame? had the pleasure of visiting Kate in her studio during her residency at Pictorum to talk about her practice.

Kate Burling in her studio

In her most recent body of work, you see that it’s becoming more figurative than abstract. You’re able to recognise propellors, the stretcher and shaft of an umbrella, fingers, nails, and even faces. Most of the time, there is some sort of puncture, some sort of visibility of an inside look into something with some bodily forms. While in her studio, Kate explains how her work is a reaction to her fear of the ability of sharp hard objects to puncture the body. ‘I’m interested in the difference between the soft inside of the body and the hard outside.’ It reminds her of the fleeting nature of time, the inescapability of the materiality of the body, and the possibility of the outside coming in. 

Kate Burling, ‘Swarm’, oil on linen with aluminium frame, 95x125cm

Showing and thinking about the degrading nature of the body might make Kate’s paintings a contemporary vanitas. This type of painting was particularly popular in the Dutch 16th and 17th still lifes, in which painters would refer to the passage of time, the ephemerality of life and the certainty of death. So in a way, Kate’s work is a contemporary interpretation of a very similar theme. 

Kate Burling working on a painting in her studio

In these paintings, she has been inspired by objects such as a very old saddle and the propellor of an old ship. ‘They all have bodily qualities’. The saddle, in specific, embodies this duality of the body and the material thing; it generates this feeling of losing the distinction between the subject and the object. ‘The saddle is an amalgamation of flesh and object. It is the site of a relationship between two sentient beings and a membrane between the human-made and organic.’  

Kate Burling, ‘Level Recoil’ (Diptych), 2022, 21cm x 30cm each

Kate creates these soft, hazy images by rubbing paint with her hands into the canvas, using a latex glove. By only using her fingers, the distinction between the object, subject and surroundings becomes even more fluid. ‘The only time I use a brush is when I prime the canvas’. She creates the neon background and then works her way up. Most of her contours and highlights are not the last layer but parts of a layer that are left bare. This way of working makes the objects and subjects seem to have a halo effect but also creates an even more out-of-focus feel of them. 

Recently, Kate’s work has been presented at Christie’s next at their exhibition of works created at Good Eye Projects, one of London’s newest artist residency programmes. She has also recently completed a residency at Pictorum Gallery

To find out about Kate’s future projects, you can follow the artist on her Instagram and website.

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