Kate MccGwire on making sculptures from feathers

This interview is published in Ideas Magazine 

EVACUATE by Kate MccGwire

EVACUATE by Kate MccGwire

What are feathers like to work with as a medium?

There are certainly drawbacks. They are fragile. If I don’t wrap a piece correctly, or if someone were to ruffle the feathers, it can take time to mend them. Usually this can be done with stroking and preening, but occasionally a section of feathers may have to be replaced. That means they’re actually fairly forgiving as but it does involve quite a bit of time and normally with an installation that can be limited.

How do you choose which type of feathers to use?

I’m interested in the beauty of overlooked or disliked birds like the mallard, magpie and crow. I want you to re-examine your prejudices and look at the creatures afresh. 

SLICK by Kate MccGwire © Tessa Angus, courtesy of All Visual Arts

SLICK by Kate MccGwire © Tessa Angus, courtesy of All Visual Arts

What’s in your toolkit?

My toolkit is really very basic. All I need is a pair of scissors, some glue, tissue paper, felt and some long entomology pins – I find dressmaking pins don’t work for me.

Could you talk us through your creative process? 

I always start my piece by either finding a cabinet, dome or a specific site for my work. The piece responds exactly to the enclosure or environment; I carve my material to fit the dome or cabinet, and then carve away the least amount possible so that the piece can sit trapped, as if flailing around, in the enclosure.

Do you strive for perfection in your art?

My work relies on a leap of faith from the viewer. I’m asking them to believe in the writhing forms that I make, and for that illusion to work perfection is important. If you were to look at the pieces and find a mistake or a hole them, the flaw would be a total distraction and the illusion would be lost.

WREST by Kate MccGwire

WREST by Kate MccGwire

What’s the most challenging piece you’ve made? 

For my solo show, LURE, last November, I was delighted to have the gargantuan space of AVA, an old bus depot in London, Kings Cross. It was very daunting. Normally I carve all the pieces myself but this time the scale was so big that I needed to get it fabricated outside my studio.

The fabricator cut it for me –  the piece was fabricated in seven sections and it was their job to make it with all the steel connecting rods so that it would slot together. However, they experienced problems making the work and were late in delivering it. When it finally arrived, we slotted it all together but the structure wasn’t strong enough for it to stand. So I had to change the plan, which was stressful. But in retrospect I like the final piece probably more than my initial idea.

Which building would you most like to create an installation in? 

I suppose like most installation artists, I’d like to make a large-scale site-specific installation within a major museum. I’m also inspired by historic buildings and I’d love to make an installation in Hampton Court Palace, which I pass most days on my walk to work. I could even moor my barge-studio along side the palace for the duration of the installation! 

As an artist, have you been given any advice that you’d like to pass on? 

Although I achieved a certain amount of success from my MA show at the Royal College of Art, I found it hard to “get going” with my career – I just didn’t know how to go about it. I’d been very active initially but had been rejected with the proposals that I’d made, which dented my confidence.

An old tutor encouraged me to look through art magazines and enter at least five exhibition opportunities simultaneously. It made the inevitable rejections less painful as you always had another opportunity in the pipeline.

I always make the best work possible, even for a show that maybe I think is not that important – you never know who’s going to see it. Good work builds up over the years into a fantastic portfolio. And you meet amazing people along the way.





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