It’s a couple of days before Christmas and things are slowing down but I managed to squeeze in a quick Teams call with artist Kathryn Maple to talk about her exhibition at Walker Art Gallery ‘Under a Hot Sun’. In 2021 Kathryn Maple won the 2020 John Moores Painting Prize (JMPP) with her painting ‘The Common’ so I wanted to know what life has been like between then and her upcoming exhibition.
It’s a bright winter's day. I am working from home with my black cat sitting right next to me. Like many others, I am wrapped up warm, reluctant to turn on the heating for an hour and pay a small fortune. I joined the meeting to see a notification ‘Guest woolly jumper and orange hat has requested to join the call’. I know immediately that Kathryn is waiting for me. As described, she is wearing a woolly jumper and an orange hat. She is sitting on the floor of her sitting room with a cute little Christmas tree right behind her and her Jack Russell lying on the sofa. Kathryn is jolly and excitable, she immediately beams at me commenting on our matching orange hats. After a quick catch-up and the usual British exchange of ‘how cold is it where you are?’ We get started with the interview.
Kathryn won the John Moores Painting Prize in March 2021, so it's been nearly two years since I last interviewed her. During that time, she has been working on paintings to go on display in her own solo show at Walker Art Gallery. This will be only the second time a first prize winner has had a display of their work after winning. Kathryn tells me how having this time to dedicate to painting a whole collection has been a real joy.
The best thing is seeing all my works together in one space, my studio. I've been trying to paint full time so when an opportunity to sell a painting comes by I have to take it in order to keep my studio rhythm in place and other bills paid. The consequence of letting a painting go disrupts the narrative, leaving a ‘broken’ and often discordant collection of paintings. Having this lasso around these works and anticipating the display, they can now talk to each other in the space which is exciting.
‘Arms wide open’ was one of the first paintings that really launched ideas and questions I wanted to try and focus on with the following paintings. I have really enjoyed seeing the works come from that and seeing them next to each other allowing for conversations to begin.
Time has gone so quickly as well. It’s been great to have a big deadline. I've been lucky in having a lot of energy. I don’t really procrastinate but I really enjoyed having the deadline set and having this concentrated time on these works, with no pressures coming from anywhere else.
Along with the opportunity to display a collection of works at Walker Art Gallery, Kathryn also won £25,000 to spend however she pleases. As crass as it may seem, I was incredibly curious to know what she spent the money on. Kathryn jokes when I ask her about it ‘I was hoping you would put on an Al Pacino voice for that question Ellie’. I laugh in response but avoid attempting the accent as someone who is no good at impressions. As might be expected of an artist, Kathryn spent the money on pretty typical things: studio space, paint, and artworks by other painters.
I share a studio with my partner Alison, our previous studio was getting very cramped, but the prize money enabled us to rent a new space. It’s a lot bigger and has storage which has helped so much, being able to put works away, so not always on display. I have enjoyed feeling a little safer too, the risk of rolls of paper and canvases falling on my head isn’t a daily worry here.
I bought a few pieces of art, nothing really expensive, nothing like a Cezanne. I bought some work from some people I have been following online for a while and hope to grow on this collection.
Kathryn shows me the works she bought excitedly holding them up to the camera, and tells me how she still needs to get them framed. This a feeling I can relate to, having bought a lot of prints that just sit in my flat waiting to be hung.
And omg the paint! Thousands of oil bars and pastels which are about £2.20 each so it adds up!
I had it on good authority that Kathryn also bought a dog with her winnings to which she said.
Yes, Little Mary. Ellie, do you know what, she is not a cheap thing this dog, her favourite thing is yaks' milk in a stick they last about a week but they are so expensive! Anyway she loves it! It’s definitely a dogs world out there.
After a good amount of dog chat, we move on to the next topic. The John Moores Painting Prize has been running since 1957 with a long list of winners that have gone on to be successful artists, including household names like David Hockney. So, I ask Kathryn how she feels the Prize has helped her career since winning.
Over the last few months there has been some amazing support from South Korean collectors. They saw the video about the initial win and reached out to me about my work, asking lots of questions, which is amazing. I haven’t really shown much outside of the UK so it's nice to know that my work is out there. What's really interesting is that they are all around my age, so quite young. One said to me recently ‘I’m really excited to see your career grow as someone from my generation’. The Prize has certainly broadened the view of my work on the world stage and I have welcomed several collectors and art enthusiasts to my studio, definitely boostered by the win.
Art if it is ready should be seen. So if you can get your work into a collection that is widely seen that is ideal. Having my work on display in the Walker is huge. Having the prestige of the walls of the Walker Gallery, amazing lighting, and a clean environment is brilliant. Because the collection is so large, when I visited recently, I realised I hadn’t seen a lot of them, like the Mick Moon, which is amazing. As the display is changed throughout the years, I think it's so great that my painting could have different neighbours. I would love to be next to the Jackowski, I really love the paint in that work. Also seeing the Alexis Harding painting (who is a judge for 2023) in real life is quite incredible. The physicality of seeing my work in the space with other artworks is exciting and makes them feel much more alive.
In anticipation of the display at Walker Art Gallery, I ask Kathryn to tell me about the works that will be on display.
Drawing provides me with all the foundations to take into my paintings. I go out on these sort of foraging trips. Kind of like an archeological dig, going out and then bringing back drawings into the studio. And then they get collaged. Using life as much as possible and then pulling out bits that I like. They can be people, shapes, colours. I want them to be a sort of immersive environment from things that I have seen.
About five plus years ago I never tended to include figures in my work. This has been an exciting possibility which I have enjoyed exploring in the works shown. There was something strange about living in a city with people everywhere, and I always struggled to connect them to the spaces I was painting. When I first included people they were doing activities, and then they sort of naturally started appearing. When I am looking at art, the works that attract me or I stay with for the longest are the ones where everything doesn’t surface at the same time.
Its been great to just walk around and stop and draw, I find it’s the only time I'm calm and still. Well my body anyway.
As Kathryn talks about her relentless sketching and collaging, it makes me think of her work as almost like a form of documentation so I ask her if that’s how she sees it.
Yes, I think so Ellie. They reflect something of the time or the mood of a place. We live near a graveyard and [her painting] Old Bones reflects the people visiting. It’s an in-between space.
When I've been out drawing you can see repetitive things, people walking the same routes. If you're static and people and cars are moving around you, you can notice these moments. I see it very much as form of cataloguing.
At this point, in classic home working style, my internet cuts out and I was booted from the call. When I managed to get back online Kathryn joked that she thought I was bored of her waffling, which couldn’t be further from the truth as you can’t help but be uplifted by her energy and enthusiasm. Finally, we get to the last question.
What advice would Kathryn give to artists thinking of entering the John Moores Painting Prize 2023? Call for Entries is coming up soon so I'm sure lots of artists are umming and erring over whether to enter and which painting to choose. Hopefully, Kathryn’s advice can give them some guidance.
Put your best work forward
She then follows up with:
Get one person who doesn’t know your work at all and one person you really trust to have a look if you are hesitant about what to put forward. OR completely ignore all of that and go with your gut! Haha.
Go in with hope. I am quite a positive person but when you enter a work, it can be quite gruelling. My advice would be not to let it get to you too much. You can have fifty people see your work and only five like it, then the next day enter the same painting and have everyone like it. It’s unpredictable, so you must stay strong. The John Moores Painting Prize is great because the jury is always varied. Plus it's a wonderful reward to have your work seen by the judges, that in itself to me is worth the fee.
In true Kathryn fashion before we end the call she shows us something she was gifted the other day, a woolen shrimp on a keyring, we then get a quick introduction to Mary the Jack Russell and we say goodbye with promises of lunch when she is up in Liverpool.
Kathryn is always a delight to talk to, she is full of positive energy and jumps excitedly from topic to topic. Her paintings in a way reflect her personality, full of colour, layers, and depth. Her show ‘Under a Hot Sun’ will be a brilliant display of all her hard work over the past couple of years and is sure to go down well with those who loved her winning painting‘ The Common’.