Untitled watercolours on paper by Katy Dove, no date, photograph by Ruth Clark, courtesy of the estate of Katy Dove
The current retrospective exhibition of Katy Dove’s multimedia abstract art at Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) in Dundee can only really be understood in the context of her death last year from cancer. As an active member of the Scottish art scene, it’s understandable that her friends and family would want to remember her work using the resources available to them. As an outsider, however, it can be difficult to appreciate the impact these subtle, childlike drawings, prints and animations are supposed to make.
As a study of multimedia practice, or a deconstruction of a particular style of animation, the exhibition is of some interest. Dove developed particular motifs that reoccur in different media; first in felt-tip sketch, then sewn into fabric, then screen-printed, before being incorporated into her abstract animations. The effect is reassuring, meditative, and instructive from a technical point of view – while also providing the viewer with a small thrill of discovery when a pattern is spotted or a visual idea reappears.
Whether the experience of the exhibition is altered by the context surrounding it is hard to say. It may be the curation that gives it a melancholy, almost religious tone, or it could be that the pieces themselves evoke that response. Maybe there would have been a similar effect were Dove still here to lead the visitor through her process and sit beside them while they watch the colourful images dance and weave in the quiet stillness of the gallery setting.
A small sadness is the placement of the painted silk curtains, which were previously used by Dove as a practical framing device – literally as curtains – when visitors would enter her animation showings. Now, after her death, they are placed reverently on the wall to prevent potential damage from sticky fingers. There is a sense that the canonisation of the artist has begun, a disconcerting impression amongst such light, colourful work.
And yet, all of this is entirely understandable. As the exhibition guide and introductory text explain, Dove was a peer and friend to many at the DCA – including curator Graham Domke – and this particular exhibition was never intended to be posthumous. Dove had been involved with the gallery since its inception, was active in the print studio, and had been featured in an exhibition of artists educated in Dundee only a few years previously.
As Graham says: “She was an incredible collaborator and my big sadness about this exhibition is that I am doing it without her. I am doing the exhibition for her and the family and the DCA audience. She will be remembered with absolute love from her family and friends. I am also convinced new admirers will be entranced by her work each and every time it goes on show.”
by Ana Hine
The exhibition will run until Nov 20.