Paul Spalding-Mulcock, Features Writer

'The World Of Reality Has Its Limits; The World Of Imagination Is Boundless' : Interview With Kate Lycett

Kate Lycett
Kate Lycett
As an inveterate maverick, I gravitate towards that which eschews normative convention, a trait which is especially true in respect of my aesthetic predispositions. Artistic competence can of course produce images of exquisite beauty, yet however pronounced the artist’s dexterity, without an innate stylistic singularity, such works can blend into the muddied waters of the indistinguishable, and therefore unremarkable.

For me, fine art combines an almost haptic sensibility on the part of the artist for their materials, and something profoundly idiosyncratic as the quintessence of its creative form. I hunger for art which tells a unique story underpinning the symbiotic relationship between an acutely sensitive observer, and that which is being observed. Nature as ubiquitous afflatus is fine, but I crave personality, authenticity and scintillating individuality.

Kate Lycett is an artist whose work is a deeply personal response to the world around her, nature lovingly caparisoned in gold leaf, verdigris and animated by an imaginative mastery of pattern, tone and art nouveau aesthetics, all sumptuously vivified by unfettered éclat. Her art is simultaneously innocent and delicately suffused by technical aplomb…more importantly it is breathtakingly beautiful and unique. I caught up with Kate, seeking insights into both her, and the gloriously enchanting art she makes.

Lycett’s studio is based in Hebden Bridge, the surrounding hills, mills and canals duetting with her vibrant imagination, animating her fascination for pattern, structure and mixed medium as a form of visual intertextuality. Her journey to the bohemian delights of Hebden, the soil into which her talent is indelibly rooted. That journey began with her Grandad:

‘Grandad didn’t live close by, so visits were rare. But I do remember the visit where he recognised something in me to nurture. I have a postcard, framed on the studio wall where he says “now you have a paint box, you must learn to use it and become an artist” - he had bought me a proper Daler Rowney paint box. Mostly I painted little Suffolk cottages, to please him I think. I did stay for a night at his house once and had hours in his studio learning perspective drawing and how to plan a building. I would’ve been 9 years old’.

‘He was stern. I remember being ticked off for using a sketching line rather than a draughstman’s line, and for not keeping my pencil point sharp enough! He made me a drawing board, (which I still have) and a T-square, (which I lost)’.

‘I spent most Saturdays in my early teens at an art class at the high school that lasted all day. The tutor there taught me silk screen printing and batik. Things happen by happy accident when working with textiles, in a way that happens less easily with paint on paper. When I carried on studying textiles at university it was all about creating texture and effect. We used inks that ran into each other, bleach, layers of wax and threads. I built delicate layers of resin with butterflies wings suspended on gold threads. Feathers stitched in rows. I had a lovely time!’.

Anyone regarding a painting by Lycett may well be reminded of Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh, and see Gustav Klimt’s influence subjectively embedded as a goldleaf leitmotif dancing playfully in dynamic juxtaposition against architectural precision, before softening into rich Rococo-like ornamentation.

‘My A-level special study was on the interiors of the Brighton Pavilion. I discovered ‘Owen Jones - The Grammar or Ornament’ and my love of pattern really all stems from there. Klimt, unsurprisingly, is probably the greatest single influence. Initially it would have been Adele Bloch-Bauer, the famous figurative works and the Beethoven Frieze in particular. But then Dad bought me a beautiful book of Klimt Landscapes. I’d never seen anything like them. My boyfriend, (now husband), took me to Paris to see an exhibition of them when we were students. They were astonishing’.

‘My dissertation was ‘The origin of the Art Nouveau Line’. Art nouveau lines have an energy about them that was new and instantly recognisable and I wanted to trace it. Just pre-internet, my research took me to all areas of the university library: electricity, engineering, Jazz, dance, discoveries in science, the capture of movement in photography. It was a fleeting reaction to time and place. Those curves and lines appear all over my work’.

Lycett’s study of textiles is a signature element defining both her vision and her artistic practice. ‘I settled on textiles because creating beautiful, pretty things was absolutely encouraged. I think everything in my work now stems from that decision. Pattern, texture, layers of colour. The careful choice of a colour palette to convey mood and temperature. These are all the skills a textile designer’.

‘My palette is always very considered; I’m very careful with colour. It’s very easy just to go bright and vivid, and I try to be much more subtle than that. Colours go under colours to create depth. And contrasting colours are used to create tone. The more familiar I am with a place the better the understanding of the colours that make up a particular landscape. Local moors, local stone, Yorkshire light - it’s all about the colours underneath’.

‘I bought my first spool of gold thread from Boyes in York as a student. I stitched it through felt and hid it under layers of transparent wax. I loved the way it would disappear and reappear. I loved the way it draws your eye. I’ve been experimenting with gold paint ever since A-levels and my first encounter with Klimt. Dad bought me gold leaf as a Christmas present one year, and you can never go back to gold paint after gold leaf! I want my paintings to glow. I want the colours to make you catch your breath’.

Wanting to understand the creative well from which Lycett draws her inspiration further, I sought further insight into her relationship with Hebden Bridge: ‘We moved here initially for Daniel’s job. I knew Hebden, by reputation, as being a town full of artists. I was working as a commercial textile designer when we moved here and I commuted to Leeds every day on the train. We’d lived in Sheffield before’.

‘I’d been painting small decorative and abstract pieces to sell in galleries and local art markets. Partly because we were newly married and broke! Partly because I was frustrated by the limitations imposed by commercial design briefs. At my little desk in Sheffield I gorged on opulent colour, where at work I’d be limited to 3 Pantone shades and corporate logo’.

‘When I moved to Hebden Bridge I was struck. Growing up in Suffolk, studying in York - it’s so flat. Sheffield was industrial. Hebden Bridge was amazing! The steep sided valley means the town has been built as a flat pattern, with buildings all on top of one another. The light and the skies change fast’.

Lycett often produces paintings orbiting or refracting a distinct theme, individual images atomising the quintessence of place, whilst simultaneously capturing her theme’s totality by dint of their collocation to form a cohesive body of work:

‘Galleries demanded a title with which to advertise an exhibition. So my first solo show titles are quite generic. But then I realised that the words can act as a guide, and be quite inspiring in themselves. Sometimes there’s a theme from the start. And sometimes I’ll paint one or two pieces and then decide on the direction from there’.

‘The Lost Houses was a particular stand-alone project though. It grew out of a throwaway comment by someone about a ruined house. The exhibition was in 2016, but I’m not finished with it yet. I started with the grand houses and now I want to follow those fortunes and the industries that made them. I want to begin with a map of the watercourses and see where the stories take me’.

‘On September 25th I launched a big exhibition at Bankfield Museum in Halifax called ‘Woodland Paths and Grand Days Out’. It’s one of two halves really. Over lockdown I created a series of small paintings of trees, based partly on little studies taken from the permitted ‘daily exercise’ with my children, and partly on Traditional Persian Tree of Life designs. This was the ‘Woodland Paths’ bit. This project grew and I put the whole thing together into a book called ‘The Nightingale Project’:’

‘The largest of the walls in the hall at Bankfield holds all 43 of these paintings. It’s a joyful response to being locked down in the beautiful Calder Valley. I appreciate that not everyone was as lucky. The ‘Grand Days Out’ fill the other walls. The Museum Manager requested ‘A celebration of Yorkshire’ when we were planning - and this is what we came up with’.

‘I am a resident artist at Heart Gallery in Hebden Bridge, and they always have a big display of my work. The Yorkshire Gallery in The Piece Hall, Chantry House Gallery in Ripley, Hawksbys in Haworth and The Bingley Gallery also always stock my work.

My response to Lycett’s work is unashamedly biased…a couple of her diaphanous gems grace our walls…the maverick within me, entirely and gratefully satisfied!