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Painter Kate Wallace’s small paintings depict fragmented snapshots of distance and memory

Portrait of painter Kate Wallace. Photographed by Rudi Lorimer.

Kate Wallace’s “the curve that warms” presented 11 new oil paintings that contemplated the nurturing qualities, and the state of stillness one can find at ‘home.’ In my interview with this incredibly skilled painter, I gained a deeper understanding of her personal interpretation of home, and learn more about the painting’s Gaston Bachelard’s 1961 text, “The Poetics of Space” influence, particularly from the author’s descriptions of “corners” as spatial signifiers, and the dichotomy between “masculine” angles versus “feminine” curves.

In many of Wallace’s tiny paintings, corners, along with doors and windows offer architectural potential as places of refuge or comfort. By incorporating cropping, blurring, glazing, repetition, and various levels of zoom in her compositions, Wallace constructs a distortion of details evocative of the murkiness often accompanied with the process of recalling past events. “the curve that warms” provided glimpses into a collection of photographic references the artist has amassed over time during her travels between Melbourne and New York. These deeply personal, and fragmented snapshots draw on the artist’s own encounters with sometimes sentimentally recalled scenes from inside and outside of ‘home’—wherever it may, or could be. 

“the curve that warms“ marked the artist’s debut New York solo show, which ran throughout February at Chinatown’s Leila Greiche gallery.

Clare Gemima: Kate! A huge congratulations on “the curve that warms,” your first show in New York. Your petite paintings dotted across the gallery’s curvilinear walls in a way so complimentary to your more angle, and interior-focused paintings. Were you aware of the gallery’s architecture before making this body of work?

Kate Wallace: Thank you, Clare. Yes, I was! Prior to beginning this body of work, I was aware of how the gallery’s curvilinear walls could offer a space of contemplation and pause when viewing the works. 

As you mentioned, I think the softness imbued within the gallery’s architecture worked in dialogue with the detail and petite scale of my paintings. In my conversations with Leila, I wanted the exhibition to reflect on ideas relating to home—the places that offer comfort, escape and/or respite from the everyday. Be they places once lived in or passed through, these ideas of distance and memory are particularly pertinent to ongoing explorations relating to the representation of past through painting.

A form of verisimilitude if you will, this kind of veiled subterfuge helps relay ideas of distance and memory, fostering ideas relating to the unknown and the precariousness of remembering.

Leila’s curation of the show and spacing between the works is a beautiful reflection of these ideas, and in turn, understanding of my practice. When commencing work for this show back in Melbourne, I was conscious of wanting to respond to the spaces and environments I had spent time in while living in Brooklyn last year. For the most part, the paintings in the exhibition are drawn from images I took during this three month period. 

While intentionally remaining unknown, the scenes depicted in the paintings are a mixture of places shared and private. Referring back to the architecture of the gallery, the placement of the works and the distance between them was incredibly important in relaying the transient qualities inherent in the paintings themselves.     

Clare Gemima: Your paintings reflected ideas of intimacy and space, the distant past, and isolation. How did your chosen medium of paint influence these specific areas of curiosity—both psychologically and practically through your artistic approach?

Kate Wallace: Painting for me has always been an incredibly intimate and absorbing thing. As I’ve come to realize more and more, the relationship between myself, how I paint, the materials, and the techniques I employ to represent something inexplicably mirror the ideas I am most drawn to exploring within my practice. Isolation, memory, intimacy, scale, etc. In this sense, the qualities intrinsic to oil paint have always been attractive. It is a time based medium, layers of paint slowly built up until a unified surface or image emerges—or doesn’t.

From its history to the way in which it moves across surfaces, it leaves an indelible mark that is very much a record of time. In utilizing what are relatively traditional methods, I am (in a small way) responding and contributing to the medium’s history. As a time based medium, I find it interesting how an oil painting can hold stories or retain memories through several layers of thin paint. In turn, I enjoy the ability to decide what the viewer can and cannot see, using techniques such as glazing, blur, detail, etc. A form of verisimilitude if you will, this kind of veiled subterfuge helps relay ideas of distance and memory, fostering ideas relating to the unknown and the precariousness of remembering. I very much see the processes involved as a reflection of my current explorations, and indeed myself and my own experience of place. 

Installation View, Kate Wallace, “The Curve That Warms”, Leila Greiche
Installation View, Kate Wallace, “The Curve That Warms”, Leila Greiche, New York, NY. February 2–April 1, 2023. Image courtesy of Leila Greiche.

Clare Gemima: Can you provide more insight as to how you began to think about these ideas in your studio? Are they a mix of personal and projected memories of your own, or perhaps of others?

Kate Wallace: The precarious nature of memory and how we remember has been part of an ongoing exploration of mine through representational painting. When recalling moments past, often details are absent or else changed in some way. In thinking about these ideas and how they can be relayed through imagery, I utilize techniques such as cropping, blur, glazing, repetition, and zooming in and out. I often think of my paintings as fragments or details of things, places once lived or walked through. The works are personal in the sense they are informed by my experience of place, drawn from images I’ve taken throughout the years. I feel they could (and hope) they’re perceived by the viewer as a place familiar also.

Clare Gemima: All 11 paintings in “the curve that warms” aimed to portray “protective and nurturing qualities of home.” When I think of “home,” I think of a geographic place, or origin in which I would return to. Some paintings, like “When Doors were Green,” 2023, depict different suggestions of home; inside a house, room, and in many cases, the corners of these types of interiors. What qualities of home are you referencing, and how do you personally interpret the term?

Kate Wallace: It’s interesting because the idea of the home is such a varied one. For many, the home can represent a space of refuge and shelter. For others it can be one of fear, a space where unwanted memories linger. In creating this body of work, I was very much thinking of the nurturing qualities of the former. As you mentioned, I too think of home as a place to return to, an escape if you will from the everyday. In this sense, I very much relate this space as one belonging to the past, a former childhood dwelling perhaps where one could daydream and/or be idle. In an interior setting, the imagery of doors, windows and corners have become a recurring motif in my paintings, becoming miniature portals to places or memories past.  

Kate Wallace. “When Doors were Green”, 2023
Kate Wallace. “When Doors were Green”, 2023. Oil on board. 5.9 × 3.9 in (15 × 10 cm). Right: detail. Image courtesy of Leila Greiche.

Clare Gemima: Your research covers a particular text by Gaston Bachelard. In “Poetics of Space,” (1958), Bachelard describes ‘corners’ as spatial signifiers, and further extrapolates curves—in distinction to the masculine sharp and straight angle—as more feminine. Why are corners an area of architectural potential for you, and how did you decide on the title for your show?

Kate Wallace: I’ve always viewed corners, much like windows and doors, as transformative in their ability to offer refuge, becoming places to hide and imagine in. Presented within the warmth of the gallery’s curvilinear walls, it seemed important to respond to this didactic when approaching the exhibition. Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space” has been an influential text since being introduced to it during my Masters. In this context it was apt to draw on this text again, the title of the exhibition stemming from Bachelard’s chapter on Corners. I was particularly drawn to a passage in the text where the author describes angular corners as masculine and curved corners feminine.

For it is a poetic fact that a dreamer can write of a curve that it is warm. But does anyone think that Bergson did not exceed meaning when he attributed grace to curves and, no doubt, inflexibility to straight lines? Why is it worse for us to say that an angle is cold and a curve warm? That the curve welcomes us and the over sharp angle rejects us? That the angle is masculine and the curve feminine? A modicum of quality changes everything. The grace of a curve is an invitation to remain. We cannot break away from it without hoping to return. For the beloved curve has nest-like powers; it incites us to possession, it is a curved “corner,” inhabited geometry.” (P. 165)

When thinking about ideas of the home, there is something in the potential of a corner to provide warmth and shelter during times of unease or stress. It is an incredibly private space, a place where one can dream of alternate or past realties.

I feel there is a grandness to New York’s urban landscape and living in a way there is not in Melbourne. Everything seems so incredibly big, loud and chaotic on arrival. And yet there is a great deal of intrigue that persists in finding solace within these spaces, exploring detail in a city so vast.

Clare Gemima: One of your more outside, and nature focused paintings, like “Through Leaves #1,”2023, borrows its composition from images you took in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. It made me curious as to where you were in the world at the moment you captured what would later influence “A momentary pause,” 2022. It looks like you could be in a different country altogether …

Kate Wallace: Yes, it definitely reads that way … painting, and imagery in general, can germinate such interesting readings. While these works stem from my experience of place, it’s important that the location or the specificity of place remain unknown. This largely stems from a desire to not impart a reading of personal biography on the viewer as they approach a work, instead leaving them to draw on their own experience of everyday or familiar environments. That being said, “Through Leaves #1” & “A momentary pause” are both separated in time and place.   

Kate Wallace. “A momentary pause,” 2022
Kate Wallace. “A momentary pause,” 2022. Oil on board. 5.9 × 3.9 in (15 × 10 cm). Right: detail. Image courtesy of Leila Greiche.

Clare Gemima: What are the biggest differences between Melbourne and New York’s urban landscape and living? What is the most attractive one to you?

Kate Wallace: This is a really interesting question. As someone who has lived in Melbourne for the majority of their life, I feel there is a grandness to New York’s urban landscape and living in a way there is not in Melbourne. Everything seems so incredibly big, loud and chaotic on arrival. And yet there is a great deal of intrigue that persists in finding solace within these spaces, exploring detail in a city so vast. At this stage, I’m not sure one appeals over the other … Melbourne’s urban landscape and living is familiar, offering comfort in the form of known walks or hideouts. There is an incredible liveliness to the streets of New York that I am drawn to however. It’s a place where one can get lost when they need to, akin to an escape from the everyday. I suppose this is something I would like to respond to, and explore further in the future. 

Clare Gemima: Within a contemporary art framework, is your connection between New York and Melbourne intended to be a long-term one? 

Kate Wallace: I hope so. Going forward, I’m looking at options to move overseas in the next year or two. I gained so much from my experience at NARS last year, and would love to foster further connections with the arts community in New York, especially with other painters.  

Clare Gemima: Currently, you’re also showing work in the National Gallery of Victoria’s 2023 survey show, Melbourne Now. Can you tell us more about the work you are showing there?

Kate Wallace: I have three paintings included in the second iteration of Melbourne Now. Held at the National Gallery of Victoria every ten years, the works were first exhibited last year as part of my exhibition “Memory of Place” at LON Gallery. Each sized at 10 × 15 cm, they formed part of a series of paintings made over a two year period. Exploring ideas of memory, distance and past, the works reflect upon the precariousness of remembering during times of such extreme ecological upheaval and change.

Kate Wallace. “A Mirror on a Wall,” 2023
Kate Wallace. “A Mirror on a Wall,” 2023. Oil on board. 5.9 × 3.9 in (15 × 10 cm). Right: detail. Image courtesy of Leila Greiche.

Clare Gemima: What’s in store for the rest of 2023, and do you have plans to show internationally again anytime soon?

Kate Wallace: Yes I hope so! For now, I’m working towards a group show at Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery in Melbourne. I am also working on a secret show planned for New York later in the year.

A special thanks to Leila of LEILA GREICHE for facilitating this interview. For more information on Kate and the gallery, please visit