Jasper Spires from FAD Magazine has reviewed Kate Bickmore’s In Season, the recent RCA graduate’s first solo exhibition in the UK, on show at Annka Kultys Gallery.

Kate Bickmore Studio Visit: Landscapes of the Flesh

By Jasper Spires

The quintessential characteristic of London’s weather is that you can never tell what it’s going to do next. Forming a myriad of patchwork seasons, and at once speckled by brooding rainstorms, bright sunshine and the acrid humidity that makes clothes stick to sweated flesh, the sky above is knitted together in much the same polyphonic manner as Kate Bickmore’s canvases. Sprawling across a simultaneously vast and intricate engagement with its environment, and covering all kinds of bodies, forms and sensuous textures, Bickmore’s work explores such multiplicities in a delineation of the relationship between such floral and feminine subjects as it portrays, and the gaze of the audience upon these images. However, as anyone who has had the pleasure of laying eyes upon them can assure you, her paintings are significantly more colourful than an English skyline. 

Recently I’ve had the chance to visit Bickmore at her Tower-Hamlets studio, ahead of an upcoming exhibition at Annka Kultys Gallery, titled ‘In Season’. Tucked away amongst the warehouses interwoven in the looming shadows of Canary Wharf, I was led spiralling through a series of passageways through one of these buildings, to her veritable floral arboretum. Immediately I was struck with the visions laid out before me, of Irises and Lissomes stretching several feet across, Hibiscuses that wrap around you with petals at waist height, and the sun streaming in through the cracked windows, catching mistakenly on the artificial dew drops of her piece ‘In the Shadows of Infinity’. A display of the most abundant sort, of course, I found it necessary to rest a moment and catch my breath, taking a seat on one paint-splattered stool. Jotting notes on my usual scrap of paper I realised this; that if I were to learn anything from the encounter at hand, it must be that size does indeed matter, staring down the length of some truly enormous stamen. 

Born in Albany New York, and presently finding acclaim across the pond, Bickmore’s art began with a collection of nude female figure paintings, set stridently amongst natural landscapes and surreal plant-life, but has struck up a more pinpointed emphasis on flowered forms as of late. Owing her inspiration to what I am informed in good humour is ‘an obsession with moss’ – referring subtly to her persistent aesthetics of verdant bodies, with their chaotic and dense consistency – the shift came about paradoxically with a desire to more deeply penetrate and represent the textures of human flesh. Having always seen feminine frames as aligned with a raw and powerful vision of nature, Bickmore’s Romantic transition to depicting flowers stands in this way as an outward intensification of her art, implicitly obfuscating the boundaries between each identity in play.

Indeed, examining the painting itself, her latest work has been cultured precisely to this effect, asymptotically approaching a feminine encounter with the sublime. The flowers’ details are immaculate, their curves finely tuned, and the forms themselves immense; outstripping the already enormous frames with their stature. The impression of depth to be found in these scenes is likewise arresting, sculpted through the subtle layers of gloss and all manner of styles and techniques, causing the petals in ‘Lissome Lovers’ to at once leap out and recede into the pigment, as the tiny flourishes on their lips play against the massive scale of the broader piece. Discussing this effect, Bickmore explained how she works microcosmically on various areas of the painting, bending the forms impressionistically and with intense focus according to her associative impulses, and so producing the overall force in the works, as the cumulative gravity of these minutiae gather momentum to the pieces’ completion. 

Surrounded by these works in her studio, the effect of these images was sweltering, and it was only when later clearing my head outside that a proper formulation of what she had achieved came to me. Languishing in a cool shower of yet another unpredictable deluge of rain, Bickmore’s practice struck as a multi-dimensional art. In exquisitely drawing the audience’s attention to more places at once that it can possibly follow, across the individual facets of a stigmata’s surface and through the temptation to plunge headlong into the hearts of her flowers, she has developed an avenue directly to the ‘overwhelming’. It is this powerful surreality made corporeal by her feminine bodies, intentionally blurring the lines between landscape, figurative and still-life painting, that so impressed upon my person during the visit. As I look forward to her show at Annka’s in the coming week, I can only anticipate the same feelings being stirred in her growing audience, after being saturated by the sensuous details and virulent colour of the work.

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