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Re-Launch in conversation – artist Kate Keara Pelen

By Jenny M Wedgbury, on 2 June 2015

Kate imageIt’s been great working on the Re-Launch exhibition this summer term. To give you more of an insight into the artists whose work is included in the show I’ve interviewed some of them to find out more about their practice and connection to UCL Art Museum and the Slade School of Art. Below is the first artist interview with artist Kate Keara Pelen.





Can you tell us a little about you as an artist and your current practice?

I’m currently working mostly with needlework, painting and drawing. The works tend towards abstraction, but the colours, textures and forms are derived from the natural world, from the geological to the astronomical.

Jolly Rancher, Kate Keara Pelen, 2010

Jolly Rancher, Kate Keara Pelen, 2010


When were you at the Slade and what was your experience of studying there?

I was on the Fine Art Media (MFA) course between 2007-2009. Gary Woodley, who has made the beautiful bespoke furniture for the new UCL Art Museum, was my personal tutor and helped to keep me grounded during what was quite a tumultuous time for me. I had applied with a few video works, some split-screen and highly edited pieces exploring iconography, meaning and faith but eventually moved in to wood and needlework when I began to make work in direct response to sacred spaces. I became drawn to the furniture and furnishings, robes and ritual objects far more than the paintings and sculptures in sacred environments. The ergonomics and haptic qualities inherent in these more humble things, , rather than the remote and precious nature of the ‘Art’ in such spaces appealed to me.

How did you make a connection with the UCL Art Museum and the Re-Launch exhibition?

I had shown in the first collaborative show, Sequel and produced garments and accessories for characters in reference to a selection of Old Master prints including a ‘happy hat’ for Durer’s Melancholia and a soft, felt crown of thorns for Mellan’s Head of Christ. I also made 3 pieces of soft armour, inspired by a passage in Ephesians ch.6. and Cranach the Elder’s Passion Prints. I completed the set with 3 more pieces for the 2015 Re-launch. They formed part of my Welfare/Warfare collection.

Soft Gauntlet, detail, Kate Keara Pelen, 2009

Soft Gauntlet, detail, Kate Keara Pelen, 2009


How does your work tie in with the theme of Re-Launch?

I try to re-imagine and re-configure given iconographies and conventions in new, perhaps more abstract and paradoxical ways. I want to loosen the bonds of art-historical and ideological givens, trying to relate to key moments and ‘blockbuster’ stories, such as the Passion, with an open mind and with fresh eyes.

What do you think is special about the UCL Art Museum, what’s unique about it?

Its openness to new ideas, eagerness to evolve, to adapt and think beyond its physical size and location. It comes across as a kind of incubator, or hub.

What’s your favourite piece of art in the UCL Art Museum collection?

Claude Mellan’s Head of Christ on the Sudarium – which is drawn in a single line spiralling out from the tip of Christ’s noseis technically awe-inspiring and full of pathos. I made the Softer Crown (in a single line) for him.

Mellan, Claude, (1598-1688), The Sudarium of St. Veronica, UCL Art Museum

Mellan, Claude, (1598-1688), The Sudarium of St. Veronica, UCL Art Museum

Detail of Mellan, Claude, (1598-1688), The Sudarium of St. Veronica, UCL Art Museum

Detail of Mellan, Claude, (1598-1688), The Sudarium of St. Veronica, UCL Art Museum


Can you tell us any exciting projects you’re working on at the moment?

I’m nearly halfway through a year long project called #OnePotPerDay. I’m making one soft hand-held vessel every day this year. It is partly a sort of ritual process, and partly it symbolises commitment to my practice, even when I cannot spend a full day or even a few hours in the studio. It’s the very least I can do, and I’m committed to doing it. I’ve just passed the 150 mark. I hope to show the full collection as it reaches its completion in November and December of this year. Then in January, I’ll need to decide what happens to the 365 pots next! I had actually thought they might be very much at home among the casts in the Art Museum for a while…

One Pot Per Day, Kate Keara Pelen, 2015

One Pot Per Day, Kate Keara Pelen, 2015 -150

One Pot Per Day, Kate Keara Pelen, 2015

One Pot Per Day, Kate Keara Pelen, 2015 – 150


You can find out more about Kate’s work at www.katekearapelen.net

Re-Launch is open until 12 June at UCL Art Museum. To find out more please visit UCL Art Museum exhibitions.

Jenny Wedgbury is Learning and Access Officer for UCL Art Museum

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