This month we went to see Falmouth-based artist, Kitty Hillier.
Her studio is in an old shop, Woodlane Dairy, near the Observatory Tower. Kitty makes abstract paintings and drawings, works with earthenware clay, and creates small maquettes for sculpture. She is a familiar face here at Seasalt as she also works in our content team.
Q. What drew you to Cornwall, and how has the landscape here influenced your practice over the years?
A. I first came to Cornwall on a family holiday. I’m the oldest of five children so we rarely went abroad, but we would get down to Trevose Head on the north coast at every opportunity, especially during the autumn and winter months. It’s just a three hour drive from where I grew up, in Somerset. I have very fond memories of days spent on Constantine Bay, the freedom of that vast, open stretch of sand at low tide, and rockpooling on Booby’s Bay – it’s still one of my favourite places.
I studied Art Foundation at Falmouth University about 13 years ago, and I went on to Bath Spa University for my degree, but knew I would return to live in Cornwall. I made the move back to Falmouth almost 4 years ago.
Walking, being immersed in the landscape in all weathers and looking at nature is an essential part of my practice. I’ve always been fascinated with the flotsam and jetsam that washes up on the beach, and as you can see, I often pick up things I find and study them later. It’s like discovering treasure! There are so many peculiar things, different shapes and textures. It’s hard not to pick up lots of pebbles, I try to be selective and limit myself to one per walk but I don’t always manage it! I just love the smoothness and the weight of them in my hand, they’re a reminder of the enormity and power of water, of all the elements.
I want to create thought-provoking works that are full of tension and mystery, with perfect balance of form and colour.
Q. You chisel forms into your paintings to produce an unusual, textured effect. Can you tell us about the process you go through to create a piece of work?
A. Sure. The forms you see here, in my paintings, are filtered, or abstracted, from my drawings – a continuous documentation of everyday small details, of nature, found images and curious objects.
The painted shapes are usually flat areas of colour, and these can be layered, altered, covered, carefully revealed and reworked until a final resolution is reached. With chisels, whole areas can be obliterated, and the plywood itself offers hidden layers. Often forms emerge from the grain of the wood which can influence the final outcome.
I’m interested in creating a space for the viewer to be immersed in, for contemplation. The relationships between each mark on the surface, both conflicting and harmonious are also important. I want to create thought-provoking works that are full of tension and mystery, with perfect balance of form and colour.
Q.Which artists have inspired or influenced you the most?
A. Peter Doig, Fiona Rae, Laura Owens, Victor Pasmore, Hepworth, Matisse’s paper cut-outs…I’ve been obsessed with Sonia Delaunay’s colour palette lately, and loved seeing the recent show at Tate St Ives with Jessica Warboys’ huge paintings and all the ceramics, past and present.
Q. You also work in clay – is this something that you plan to explore more in the future?
A. Yes, recently I’ve been making dishes using earthenware clay. Again, the forms have come from drawings, mostly of plants found along the coast path. Rolling out the slabs of clay and cutting out makes me further simplify and abstract, and has really helped me to find new shapes to use in my paintings.
Q. You support your practice with a day job, working in the content team here at Seasalt! How do you balance the two?
A. At Seasalt, a big part of my role is researching and writing about the people and places of Cornwall, so I feel very lucky to have found a role that ties in so well with my painting practice. So many of the team at Seasalt are creative and passionate about art and design; there is a lot of talent and a really open culture of sharing ideas and inspiration. I especially love talking to our print designers about what’s inspired each unique print, and telling our customers all about it.
Having a dedicated space to work at home has made a big difference. I used to rent a studio space down at Falmouth Wharves, and didn’t spend as much time there as I would have liked. But now I have this space at home, I’m getting 20-30 hours a week in the studio, which is great. It is a juggling act, and I have to be organised, but I try to be in the studio every day, even if it’s just to sit and look at everything and write my to do list!
The forms have come from drawings, mostly of plants found along the coast path.
Q. What sort of clothes do you prefer to wear when you’re in the studio?
A. Chiselling and sanding can be quite physical, hot work, and I often move the panels around, working on a few at the same time, on the wall and the floor, so I usually prefer loose, cool clothing. But if I’m sitting, absorbed in drawing for a number of hours, a nice warm layer is critical. I’m always drawn to natural fabrics with texture and interest, I try to buy things that are well-made and will last. Most of my clothes have paint marks or small repairs, I’m a bit sentimental and find it hard to throw things away, they become old friends.
Q. What would your perfect day in Cornwall look like?
A. I had a brilliant day yesterday – I went drawing with a small group, led by artist Mike McInnerney. We walked along the Helford River, and explored the little villages and beautiful woodland (so green!) for a few hours, stopping to make very quick 2-4 minute drawings. For each sketch, Mike gave us a different limitation, such as using your opposite hand or not looking at the page. It was very challenging, and we had a good amount of Cornish mizzle to contend with too! We had a delicious lunch in the wonderful garden at Kestle Barton, before comparing notes on our favourite drawings. And we got to look at Mike’s latest paintings too. In the afternoon, I spent a few hours back at the studio, then went for an early evening pint of ale at our local pub, the Seaview Inn. Perfect!