“I can draw fish, lots of different kinds of fish” laughs AK my latest interviewee prior to explaining that fish were the first thing she ever really learnt to draw, egged on by a teacher who was particularly fond of them.
We are sitting in a pub in Shoreditch, having just completed our interview and AK otherwise known as Abbey Kayte is thinking of something to sketch in the black book that I’ve just presented her with. As it turns out it’s a pretty good fish but completely not like the work that we’ve been talking about throughout the rest of the evening and which she’ll be exhibiting in what will be her first ever solo show on London’s Brick Lane.
AK is a stencil artist from New Zealand but not in the way that we might be more traditionally familiar with stencil art on the street where the stencil is merely used as the mask through which to spray the image. Rather AK’s work is the stencil itself, and each of the stencils she creates are intricately cut. The works are then backed onto leather, all different types, to give a unique texture and feel to the work.
“One slip and that’s it” she tells me, explaining that there’s only one chance to get the cuts right. “I could spend ten hours cutting a stencil but if I go wrong on any part of it I have to start again”, it’s a painstaking process for sure but the end results make it all worthwhile.
We are having a bit of an impromptu street art tour. First popping in to see the space at the 5th Base Gallery where she’ll be exhibiting and then wandering up the street to see some of the best street art spots along the way. I ask if she’s ever thought of using stencils to have a go at a bit of street art, she hasn’t… yet!
“I love the idea of the way street art is made” she tells me. Initially starting out making stencils as a hobby and realising that spray painting may not be her thing she started to find different ways of using the stencil. Eventually coming across textiles and then more specifically leather, using that as the backdrop to her pieces and recognising that the different colours and textures fitted well to her style of work.
AK’s life prior to this point has been one of travelling, art and sport with the art having to take a back seat for a while as she pursued a career as an international volleyball player. Winning a scholarship to play the sport in New Zealand, she initially found herself on that trajectory winning caps internationally and travelling the world playing both indoor and beach volleyball for New Zealand before eventually retiring from international competition in 2012.
Now after five years of semi-retirement from the sport her passion for art has come to the fore. “I’m really interested in anything that shows what I perceive to be a character of strength or beauty or power” she tells me as we start talking about the subjects of her work. “It’s something that evokes an emotion in you when you look at a piece and you can identify a quality within the subject that you’re looking at.”
Of particular interest are subjects centered around nature, the human form and indigenous cultures “people in their traditional environment show other characteristics that maybe we’ve lost in at lot of the popular culture ways that I still find very beautiful” she tells me. “There’s a lot of heritage in those sorts of things and that’s what I like to show in my artwork.”
For a first solo exhibition, London is a fair way from home for an artist from New Zealand. “It’s a bit of a scary thing to leave your home country and try something completely new” she tells me “but London is a place where I feel I can do that”. The title of the show is ‘Made Visible’ and it has a dual meaning. First inspired by the sentiments of the written piece “On Work” by Kahlil Gibran she tells me that it is also about “making myself and my art visible to the public and the wider world beyond New Zealand, for work is love made visible”
Abbey Kayte was interviewed on 30 November 2017 in Shoreditch. Her show ‘Made Visible’ is showing at the 5th Base Gallery on Brick Lane from 7-8 December 2017. The opening event is happening between 6-10pm on the 7th.
Abbey Kayte Gallery