Total Work of Art: Katy Dove

The largest exhibition yet of Katy Dove's work opens in Dundee Contemporary Arts this month. Curator Graham Domke gives an insight into Dove's overlapping life and practice

Feature by Adam Benmakhlouf | 01 Sep 2016

p>The work of the much-missed Glasgow-based artist Katy Dove (1970-2015) joyously spanned different media and disciplines. From 17 September, Dundee Contemporary Arts will present their major new exhibition and ambitious attempt to represent Dove’s prolific and diverse interests and practice.

As one important part of the exhibition, there will be examples of Dove’s animations, which she generated by scanning drawn and painted elements to be edited into moving image work. In these, Dove was able to incorporate musical elements, often entirely composed, performed and arranged by Dove herself – or made in collaboration with others.

Interviewed in advance of the opening, DCA Exhibitions Curator Graham Domke speaks here about Katy Dove’s life and works.

How do the physical artworks – the drawings, collages, prints, paintings – relate to the animations?

“I love how Katy's work could shift between drawing, painting, printmaking, animating, making music, working with fabric or jewellery and it all felt inter-related. Her animations could combine all of her ideas at once. To me the practice was a Gesamtkunstwerk [‘total work of art,’ uniting different media, disciplines, or also the life and work of an artist or designer] and it is such a privilege to have had access to it. The DCA show is the largest survey of her work to date with elements traveling to Inverness, Wick and Thurso (near to where she grew up) in early 2017.

“Katy used to work at DCA when it first opened, she exhibited and performed here and also realised printed works in our studio so there is an added poignancy about it being here. I somehow think of her as being a Black Mountain [a highly experimental, hugely significant North American art school that ran for only 24 years (1933-1957). Attendees include Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage and Cy Twombly] or Bauhaus artist who actually studied here in Dundee. I always thought of her as a role model for how to live your life.”

Katy Dove was well-known for her active place in art and music, and her collaborative projects.

“Katy was a pivotal artist in the Scottish art scene for 20 years from being involved in early artist-run initiatives in Dundee while being a student in the city to having major shows at venues like Talbot Rice and Tramway. In between, galleries such as the Changing Room, Transmission, the Project Room and Collective nurtured her early promise as an artist. Her Full-Eye and Muscles of Joy projects reflected her open-minded and fluid approach to art and to life and friendship.”

Thinking of these different parts of Dove’s life and practice, what kind of influence did music and choreography have? In some works the speed and directions of movement feels as important as the different collaged visual elements themselves.

“It is tempting to link the movement of her drawn elements in her animations to that of a choreographer and a dance troupe and she was definitely interested in the intersections of these disciplines. The exhibition will feature a performance by a choreographer and educator who worked with Katy on a number of projects and also a gig with improvising musicians that she was friends with.”

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In some animations she does all music and editing, then has different collaborators elsewhere. What kind of balance is there between collaboration and independence?

“As a fascinated outsider it just seemed organic or maybe elastic how she collaborated and followed her own path. I like that some works have music by Dome, World Standard or Devotone and that others are composed by her. Katy was such a holistic person who balanced a pretty unique practice that also chimes with movements in art history. I can see the spirit of Hilma Af Klint [turn of the 20th century Swedish painter, often credited as one of the first abstract artists], Len Lye [20th century experimental animator and kinetic sculptor] and Harry Smith [Beat scene and esoterically spiritual pre-hippie filmmaker, artist and music collector] in her work.

“In the animation work Melodia from 2002 she incorporated a watercolour by her grandfather and laid her own animations on top. I like a quote from [media theorist] Marshall McLuhan that ‘We are all robots when uncritically involved with our technologies’ – I loved how Katy used computer software but retained the hand-drawn feel. The best artists are often collaborating with their peers but also with their forebears, and trying to be relevant in their own time.”

When landscape comes through, how does this interact with the abstract elements? There's an overlaying and transparency visually, is that a suggestion of an undefined boundary between these parts?

“Nature was very important to her work and the animations that combine landscapes with her hand-painted elements have such a nice sense of composition about them. One of these was a short she made for DCA in 2009 in a snowy landscape. I guess it stemmed from growing up on the Black Isle, and while living in Glasgow she would spend time in the Campsie hills north of the city. I love an early statement of practice by her – ‘I am interested in exploring the idea that nature can be seen as a state of mind or a form of culture.’ There is definitely a push-pull in the works that animation allowed her to explore multiple layers.”

It's often mentioned that Dove studied psychology, and that she thought of it as an important basis for her practice. What kind of relevance does it have to the meditativeness, the subtle association, the ambiguity?

“I think it was influential that she studied Psychology in Glasgow before she went to art school in Dundee. She wrote a fantastic dissertation on perception looking at James Turrell and Wassily Kandinsky and had an acute awareness of colour theory that definitely informed her own practice. Her work is that little richer for her being a few years more mature by the time of expressing herself as an artist.”

Is it right to think of the animations as having a certain softness, thinking of their colour palette, often repetitive and ‘meandering’ soundtrack? 

“I appreciate there often is a softness in the palette but not always. The repetition, the rhythm and drone is about invoking trance states and a head space. I find them gently persuasive and hypnotic.

“She was an improvisor and worked with producing automatic drawings and I have been going through hundreds of her works for the show. Katy's work will turn the DCA Galleries into a meditative space and I hope it will be inspirational to newcomers to her work.”

Katy Dove at Dundee Contemporary Arts, 17 Sep- 20 Nov. See our weekly column nearer the time for details of the preview