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5 Minutes with artist and illustrator Kate McGuire

Kate McGuire Fern photographsArtist and illustrator Kate McGuire’s Seed to Table exhibition, currently on display in the Terrace Gallery, is an insight into the plants in the Walled Garden.

Q – You spent a year’s residency in the Walled Garden, can you tell us more about this time?

In 2013 I was looking for a traditional walled garden to spend a year developing my knowledge and experience of plants in my practice – primarily plant studies or plant portraits, as I like to call them. The invitation for the residency at Harewood House gave me unlimited access to the gardens and the glass houses which are normally off limits to the public. I had the ear and the eye of Head Gardener, Trevor Nicholson, whose knowledge is second to none. I was generally at Harewood one or two days a week, and often on those days I would snatch Trevor from his busy schedule, to walk with him in the grounds, talking about the plants, the history of the garden and the buildings, and usually securing a new subject for my studies.

Q – Kate, you describe your exhibition as a 3D sketchbook, can you explain more about this?

I do have a sketchbook fetish, borne out of my art college training at Harrogate and Central school of art. Both art colleges were big on the importance of documenting process and development and that has stayed with me. Previously I had kept my studies to beautiful bound sketchbooks I’d bought in Berlin. Perhaps it was the scale of the garden which allowed me to open up to the larger studies you can see in the exhibition. There was no plan as such for how I would work during the residency and no pressure to create ‘final images’, so my objective was simply to observe and document line, shape, colour and capture some of the ‘personality’ of the plants. I would start with one A2 sheet and the plant of my choice, and add pages as the drawing commanded. What you see in the Terrace Gallery is the primary sketchbook work (which I would normally keep tucked away in plan chests) from which I created some limited-edition prints, and the range of cards, mini prints and notebook specifically for Harewood.

Fig in Fruit House (002)

Q – What do you love about what you do?

I am constantly in awe of what nature provides – I spent a lot of time on my bike in Berlin, looking at what wild plants were thriving in the city streets, and along the banks of the waterways in industrial and neglected parts of the city. The beauty and tenacity of wild uncultivated plants, which many people would consider to be weeds, is for me a source of inspiration and joy. For example, the simple dandelion – what a plant! It’s so successful as a species, so exquisite in its method of reproduction, every leaf on every plant in existence this minute, is unique…. I could go on. Looking at nature like this creates a reverence in me which sometimes demands that I really take time to look at something, find out about its history in folklore, it’s common and botanical names, its medicinal and nutritional properties. At Harewood, I had the opportunity to look at more cultivated plants, and access the beautiful fruit houses and greenhouses which are tucked away behind the garden walls. I got to find out about how little fireplaces along the exterior walls were used to heat the glass houses, and see original plans of the garden site. What I do feeds my mind and my senses and literally, leads me down the most unexpected garden paths!

Q – Do you have a particular favourite part of the exhibition?

It would have to be the fly posted piece – It’s a rare treat to have the space to lay out so many pieces of work in one room, and an extraordinary experience to be given the opportunity to fly post directly onto the walls of an 18th century stately home! Having spent many years in the fly posting trade I like to bring that into my work where possible. There’s a quality about it which I find beautiful and I love the shift of scale it allows. I did some new studies with this in mind for the exhibition, which show the development of a broad bean from ‘seed to table’. I’m fascinated by what is going on underground as well as above and get an insight into the ‘private life’ of the produce which we see in our supermarkets all picked and packaged. Installing it was fun too – I made a little time lapse film which you can see on my website shortly.

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