Interview With Kate Cuthbert

Kate Cuthbert’s art making process is organic and free flowing. Sharing her workspace with her cat, she lets her works happen naturally and makes a note not to over complicate them. All her works are hand cut with absolutely no subjection to digital manipulation. “I work with anything and everything, primarily paper. Nothing collagable is safe! I love vintage magazines, mainly for the advertising, and National Geographic’s magazines are always a great source. I can't pass an op shop without looking through the books. I cut with both scissors and an exacto knife, depending on the image and paper quality”.

We recently caught up with Kate in her hometown, Adelaide.

When did you start creating collage?
I’ve always done it. I was always into arts and crafts and that sort of stuff.

With collage, I think a lot of people relate it to primary school age. I started with books of my different experiences. Big things in my life would come out in these little zines. Of course these were really personal, so I never shared them with anyone, until one day I was making one piece that stood out. I showed my friends and they encouraged me and convinced me to enter the piece into YEN arts awards. It didn’t get anywhere but it ripped the bandaid off. So then I started an Instagram account and hid behind Satin and Tat (@satin_and_tat_collage).

Have your studies been much of an influence?
I studied interior design and furniture design and I had a jewellery business. I dabbled in jewellery because it was a quieter thing to do, all the while doing collage... I guess I just associated it (collage) with kiddie craft (laughs). Yes, I’ve dabbled in a few things but collage is where I feel most comfortable.

How do you start your collages?
It’s really the materials - I’ll see something that really inspires me. Something sparks a little something. I can see a background in that piece or whatever. In fact, I’ve got micromanaged files of collage material in my workroom. I have space backgrounds and landscapes and water. That’s how I find I work best. I’m so lucky I get people donating magazines all the time. My sister-in law goes to op-shops and just picks them up.

So you're naturally organised?
What’s your work space like?

My workshop is organised chaos! I’m ripping pieces of paper and there’s scraps everywhere that I think I can’t throw that out because that might be the little piece I need so my desk is just covered in stuff. All in all, I’m organised by necessity, as it can get frustrating and overwhelming otherwise.

Your work is often described as whimsical - would you agree?
I like having a bit of humour in my work. It often reflects me, so sometimes there are darker pieces. For example, the series on Art Pharmacy was a study into the different sides we all have. So one is strength, whilst another is quite happier. All the different facets people have and different faces you put on for the world to hide what is really going on. It started off with one piece for the 100 Day Project (a piece every day for a hundred days) and it morphed into this series. I was finding different expressions and it came that they were emerging from flowers. I actually did an exhibition with this series at SALA festival (South Australian Living Artists).

Do you ever feel a need to apply conceptual basis behind your work?
Depends on the mood I’m in. I recently went through a period that drew out all these frustration collages. One, for example (which I’ve actually given to a friend) was a fist coming out of the Great Wall of China and it’s called the Great Wall of Frustration!

What would you say inspires your art practice?
Instagram can be really inspiring. I love getting up in the morning and looking through the feed. Something on it will set something off. To be honest though, I’m not sure what inspires me. I just have a need to make. It’s kind of the way of sorting my head out. It’s like art therapy. If everything’s too much I’ll go and make something.

How do you feel about using other people’s images in your works?
I think collage is really interesting because you are using and be really careful with copyright. Anyone can ask you to pull an image. But you can use the vintage stuff. Recently I did a David Bowie series after seeing the Bowie exhibition in Melbourne. I bought a catalogue to cut up (my most expensive material ever!) That stuff I can’t print and sell, as that would be breaching copyright. As I understand it, you’re allowed to exhibit a piece, but once you make it a digital file for Instagram it becomes a problem.

Do you play worth the original intentions of the original maker?
Yes, you can get a bit of humour out of those vintage magazines. Some are ridiculously sexist. I just got a whole lot of post-war magazines. They’re just amazing. All about keeping your hubby happy. Put your lipstick on make sure the kids are well behaved! Yes, every now and then you’ll come across something like that that you think you can play with, but I won’t purposefully seek it out. Again it’s the materials that lead me. I won’t sit down and plan to make a ‘happy’ collage’ - it’s just what I do on the day - though I get commissions as well.

What sort of commissions do you do?
I get album covers. There’s a local Adelaide band, The Vanity Cure who got in touch with me through my website. I’ve just signed a licensing agreement with a greetings card company and they want Fash Cat but with Australian native animals.

You don’t use digital with your copying and pasting?
I like the challenge of having that material and having to work with it that size as it’s presented to you. Also I’m rubbish with computers! I don’t even own Photoshop! I think it’s more of a challenge when you’re only working with the material you’re given. It can almost be seen as cheating in the analogue community! Having, said that there are really amazing digital artists such as Eugenia Loli.

So there’s there a collage community?
Yes, they’re very supportive and without any competitiveness. I don’t know about other artistic circles, but with the collage community, people aren’t there to one up each other.

Your aesthetic seems to deal with images over text- is that correct?
I don’t use text a lot, which is funny because the zines I started were predominantly text. However, now I seem to be moving towards it. Before, I just couldn’t make things easily. Absolute creative block, which is why I’m playing around with the ripped, more abstract and moving away from scenes of people in some kind of setting. Now it's more the ripped up stuff.

What would you say has influenced your course of work the most?
The SALA exhibition kind of set me going to pursue art. There are actually certain influences that are very apparent in collage art that I’m trying to stay clear of. For example, formulas - vintage, space and colour - and they’re winners every time. If you look at peoples work you can see waves of everyone exploring the same thing. Space, for example, is really popular as you can access the Hubble site and download the images, which are free.

What are you up to at the moment?
I'm doing this thing called Los días contados (a collaborative collage project @los.dias.contados). You get an image and everyday you have to use that image in a collage. You get the book so a whole heap of people are given the same image everyday and you have to work around that restraint of what you’re given. I got stuck in a rut and decided to mix it up a bit and go in a different direction.

You can see all of Kate's works for sale here.

Words by Kate Bettes