Edmund de Waal:
Twenty five years ago, working in my shared studio in South London, my assistant passed me the phone. She had tried to tell the person that I was working, and that my hands were covered in clay, but the caller had insisted that I talk to him. It was urgent – most urgent – essential – imperative – that I take the call. I can remember standing with wet clay all over the phone listening to this extraordinary voice insisting that we meet. He had been shown a pot by his daughter, Timna, was only in London for a day, needed to see what I had in stock. And so the very next day, in a café in Islington, I met Joram Rosenheimer for ‘ten minutes': two and a half hours that became fifteen years – of wheeling conversation on contemporary art, on contemporary ceramics, on politics, on family. It was the template for these years of friendship – high octane, incisive, passionate talk about the two things that mattered most to him – and to me – art and family. And it soon became clear to me that Joram’s sense of these two things was deeply intertwined: if he loved someone they became family: if he loved someone’s art, someone’s ceramics, they too had joined the family. Not in a precious way, not in a sentimental way, but as a part of a dynamic of real concern. This meant that it was imperative for him to see everything that was made, all parts of your work, to have every cupboard opened, every box unpacked: he wanted, needed, to be part of the complete creative life of his family of artists, ceramicists. He wanted more than the edited highlights of someone’s work, wanted more than the tidied-up, contextualised and commodified, parts of what was happening. This was more than hyper-collecting, more than curiosity run amok: it was Joram’s profound sense of connection with art. He knew that he wanted to see everything, because he knew that it was only by doing so that he could truly understand that artist’s work. It also meant that he would tell you exactly what he thought. And not hedge his opinions and ideas. He expected this in return: it was very familial indeed.
Kate Blee is primarily known for her work with cloth. Hand-dyed or painted textiles – rugs and lengths of cashmere – reflect her sustained questioning of the relationship of colour with materials, and their engagement with each other. Throughout her creative life, Kate has expanded her knowledge of the visual and the tactile, experimenting with ceramics, oil painting, gouache, print-making, and even, in 2010 for an installation in the Artist’s House, lead. However, she has said that it is the “breadth of issues raised in architecture, from the most basic need to the most delicate emotion” that have informed the ideas and sensibilities driving her work. Appropriately, then, for her solo exhibition at the New Art Centre, the contingencies of domestic function and scale presented in the layout of the Artist’s House, provide the stage for her complex and multi-discipline installation.
The main space upstairs in the Artist’s House is laid out as a domestic scene of sorts, inspired by Blee’s observations made of home environments and some of the activities which occur in these spaces. The practical and unremarkable gestures of daily life – washing, hanging, cooking, laying out, folding, pouring, spilling, wiping – are reconstituted in simple materials: paper, clay, cloth, wood, and are alluded to in the processes used to create the works – dying, firing, painting, staining. The table after a gathering; areas for washing and drying out; the storage of utensils; arrested moments in the cycle of making, gathering, and consuming. These pauses in the action bring a temporarily sculptural nature to the continuum of effort and mess, and draw attention to Kate’s close conversation with materials, so we experience both her action on them and their action on each other, making visible the ‘push-me-pull-you’ of process.
Sarah Griffin 2018