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Kate Stehr: Art Picks You

Kate's Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.

Based in Illawarra on the south coast of New South Wales, sculptor Kate Stehr’s art is a celebration of history and memory, as she reinvents objects that would otherwise be discarded. 

Kate's creations dance on the fine line between contemporary sculpture and artisan craftsmanship, balancing abstraction with elements of realism. The forms she creates can appear organic, somewhat familiar and definitely curious. The touch by a machine or human is evident, but always relating back to the natural world.

A trained sculptor with a Masters of Philosophy and Creative Arts Research, as well as an Advanced Diploma and Bachelor of Fine Arts, Kate has been a visual arts teacher for over 13 years. This amazing artist took time out of her busy schedule to talk to Fibre Arts Take Two about her life and philosophy.

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From chef to sculptor

Kate started out studying to be a chef, but she soon discovered she had a different love. ”I would never have picked it,” she says, “but that idea of being able to work in three-dimensional forms. I loved both the reductive process of getting a lump of clay and sort of peeling that back and finding what lay inside it and the found object, I love repurposing the found object. I did photography as well for a little while. I got advanced standing into National Art School and did photography and sculpture in second year, but when I had to make that final decision, it was sculpture all the way. I was deeply passionate about it.”

Finding art was not so big a surprise for Kate. “My mother was an exceptional artist, she didn't really pursue it. But I've got some of her early sketchbooks, and she was very talented. So I think all of her three daughters' ‘making’ was certainly encouraged. Both of my older sisters, the work they did throughout high school, and you know, even past high school, I still think are beautiful pieces. So there was definitely a nurturing aspect there towards artistry, which made me more confident to jump into it.”


Size matters

Kate likes to work small with her art. “It's very interesting to me that I just have that natural inclination towards making smaller work,” she explains. “It is something that I've thought about, and I do remember sculpture lectures where they talked about ‘sculpture shouldn't be human scale’. So sculpture should be either much bigger than a human in order that it has its own interaction that we have with that three-dimensional form, or it should be something that's an intimate scale.”

Beyond this, Kate believes working small can hold peoples’ interest. “It's not that people aren't interested,” she says, “it's just that we have shorter and shorter attention spans. 

We like to look and then move on. I think the more experienced person who goes to galleries might spend longer or might do a quick run around and then go back, but predominantly, people don't spend a huge amount of time on viewing. And I think that the small scale, for me, may have been a bit of an obtuse response to that. The idea that with something smaller, you have to get close and you have to peer.”

This isn’t the method Kate uses to tempt people into spending longer with her work, “I'm also interested in making people wonder how things are put together. I don't think of myself as a highly skilled craftsman. I think that I've sort of fumbled and worked my way into proficiency. But the idea is that if people look at my objects, I'm hoping that they will go, ‘Oh, I can sort of see how she put that together with that. And how did she put that with that?’ and that makes them spend more time. 

So I'm hoping to encourage people to spend more time with the works by making them intimately scaled. And by making them a little bit absurd, I suppose.”


Carving timber

Kate had a little help when it came to discovering her love of carving timber forms. “I had the wonderful opportunity in 2023 to be a part of a group exhibition with two other artists, Haley A. West and Natalia Shin. 

That was just a great experience to be able to bounce ideas off to other artists working in two very different mediums of ceramics and painting. One of the collaborations that happened in the lead-up to that exhibition came in the form of Haley sending me down ceramic forms that she'd made, vessels that she'd made. I was really worried about what my response sculpturally would be, but it was just really enjoyable. 

That led me to thinking, could I carve my own timber forms? Or could I repurpose existing timber objects? So that led me down the path of both carving my own timber forms and repurposing things that I find in art shops.”

Art picks you

Despite the downsides, there is too much that Kate loves about making art for her to ever stop. “I talked to artist friends, and we'd bemoan the fact that we didn't pick art, art picks you, and it picks you for life,” she says. “You'll make art until you die, but particularly when you're trying to store sculptures, you think, ‘What on earth? Why didn't I get into hockey or something?’ Because you have these collections and collections of objects, what is the purpose? But I find that I just love that because I'm someone who walks the beach and I'm more interested in what interesting sticks are on the ground, and what rocks with naturally bored holes I can find. This is an object that 20 other people could have walked past and have literally no interest in, but makes my day when I find it. It's that idea of observing the world around us and finding pleasure in those small things. That's what making art is.”


About Kate Stehr

Kate Stehr is a trained sculptor with a Masters of Philosophy in Creative Arts Research, an Advanced Diploma of Fine Arts, and Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours). Her two key artistic pursuits are sculpture and collage, with each practice different and yet informing the other.

Her works range through a number of conceptual drives, including ladders and architecturally inspired works, scribing tools, mythology and most recently an interest in Zoo and Phytoplankton as a metaphor for environmental concerns.

In her ladder and architectural works, Kate enjoys creating absurdist structures. These playful works invite the viewer to explore. The use of ladders and stairs encourages the eye to move through and over the forms. Made predominantly from reclaimed timbers, these works reference the surrealist landscapes of Escher.

Kate has argued in previous work series that traditional narratives need to be retold and reinterpreted for contemporary audiences. These scribing tools belong as part of these artistic explorations, providing a link between story and the written word. Using transmedial narratology as a framework, she explores how narratives can be conveyed as sculptural forms. Transmedial narratology contends that narrative can be conveyed through all creative mediums, not just oral and written forms.

Predominantly hand-carved from timber, these works also feature found objects. Resembling giant, often disjointed brushes and styluses, the works encourage the audience to visualise them in use, in scrawling imagined gestures. What marks might they splash across the chosen surface, if picked up and dipped in ink? The abstraction of form and the desire to play with a sculptural ‘line’ can also be found in the linear wall pieces.


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