Flowers’ powers

Auckland artist Katherine Throne’s works explore what blooms have to teach us about connection, community and ourselves.

Growing up, Katherine Throne always loved creating things, but then she got sick and missed three months of school, and had to drop her art class. She thought that was the end of it, and ultimately went on to get a degree in journalism, but, of course, destiny awaited…

So Katherine, how was it that you came to be an artist? I kept my bag of paints and pastels for years, but the opportunity never arose to use them till my husband Craig and I moved to the US in 2006. I didn’t have a work visa, so I enrolled at art school to study interior design. I started taking painting electives — and I was in heaven. I’d found a new language and was totally enthralled by how marks and gestures could express all this energy and emotion.
Two years into the programme, I switched my major to painting, but then about a week later, after six years of waiting, we adopted our baby daughter. My second daughter arrived with an hour’s notice on the eve of my first major exhibition — my girls know how to pick their moments! — but we somehow muddled through. I got a Bachelor of Fine Arts, then went on to do my Master’s.

ABOVE Katherine says she heads to her garage-turned-studio the minute she gets home from walking her children to school and stays until pick-up time. “I invariably turn up to school with green paint on my face. Having a home studio is wonderfully convenient, but also a bit dangerous. I’ll get the kids into bed, then zip out to the studio to ‘quickly’ finish cleaning up. Two hours later, I’m frozen to the bone, have paint on my good jeans and am still making a mess.”

What draws you to flowers as the subject for your work? I think it’s the power of the motif. My Master’s thesis was about the history of interior design, through which I learned about the demise and denigration of decoration at the hands of modernism. Decoration is feminine, related to the earth, birth, nurturing and life, and its most iconic motif is the flower. At the end of the 19th century, this was a huge threat to the power-hungry, industrialised masculinity of modernism, and the feminine and everything related to it was pretty much eradicated from
design language. Painting the flower is celebrating and championing all that’s feminine — the beautiful, the emotive and our connection with the earth.

Where else do you look for inspiration? I’m a big reader, and at the moment I’m interested in theories of connection, belonging and mental health. I love being in gardens but am most drawn to the parts that are slightly overgrown and ramshackle, where the audacious, unruly spirit of nature is left to ramble. Flowers seem to be such a wonderful metaphor for the human spirit: the loud and gregarious say take me as I am, while the shady and quiet are just as happy going about their business. They are what they are and don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks, yet they exist and thrive as a supportive community. We can learn a lot from them.

What are the works we can see here? This body of work is for my November exhibition Of This Earth at Allpress Studio. When we moved back to New Zealand a few years ago, I was blown away by how all the houses we were looking to buy were painted white inside and out, and at the same time there was massive trend for houseplants. It seemed that although we love the clean lines and technology of all that’s masculine, we crave the organic and the natural.
My solo show Wallflower at Allpress Studio last year was about returning the flower to walls, but this year I wanted to further explore our connection to the earth. As well as a celebration of the feminine using the flower motif, it’s also about understanding our relationship with the earth — the grounding energy, soul-nourishing joy and rooted sense of connection and belonging it offers.

ABOVE With two or three paintings on the go at once to keep things moving between drying times, Katherine works across a spectrum of abstraction to representation. All of the works pictured here are from her recent exhibition, Of This Earth.

What’s your typical process? It’s always the same: laying down layers of blocks of colour that depict shadow and light — whether I’m working from an arrangement in my studio or from a photograph. At some point, I decide how the painting will go, and if I want to tighten it up or keep it loose. I know if I’ve tightened it up too much because the vitality dies — it can be a fine line.

How do you choose your colours? During my early painting classes, we had to use limited palettes in the traditional colours — siennas, umbers and ochre. I use a pretty wide palette now, but always mix in the neutrals, which gives my colours a deep, earthy hue that works well with my subject.

ABOVE Katherine uses oils but says she’s always enjoyed the challenge and freshness of watercolour, so has started using a diluted vinyl-based paint that she can use like watercolour to put down initial layers. “It dries fast and has a lovely variation to the oil layers that go on top.”

What do you enjoy about painting? Everything: the chance to research and formulate an idea, working out creative ways to express the idea, the thrill of making marks that totally encapsulate an emotion or energy, the challenge of solving a puzzle when something doesn’t work, then sharing that piece of creativity with someone who’s excited by it. It can be incredibly frustrating spending hours and days on a painting you’re determined to fix, only to cut it off the stretcher bars when you finally admit it’s a lost cause. But you learn from it and that’s what pulls you back to get it right next time.
I think my love of painting is also about the craft — the marks, nuances and personality of the artist that remain visible. I’m drawn to artworks where I can feel a connection to the artist; I want to relate to the work or think I know that or feel that too. I’d like to think that my paintings offer others a chance of that. Again, it’s about connection.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Larnie Nicolson

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