Saturday, February 25, 2023

“Occupied” by Kate Stevens, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 19 Furneaux Street, Manuka, 11am - 5pm until February 26. By HELEN MUSA


Kate Stevens, Gaza#10, 2020. Photo: Brenton McGeachie

CANBERRA painter Kate Stevens has an extraordinarily beautiful suite of oil paintings on show at Canberra Contemporary Art Space Manuka until tomorrow, February 26, on an unlikely subject – bombed-out Gaza.

“Occupied” is a series of new works painted from news photographs of the bombing of Gaza, put together as a kind of paused frame telling a story that relentlessly repeats.

Stevens first came to my notice about 20 years ago when, as a new graduate of the ANU School of Art, she won and ASOC scholarship that took her to Japan, a journey that resulted in an exhibition and residency at Gorman Arts Centre and set her on the path to success.

At the time, she could be found out of Barry Drive taking pictures and videos of passing traffic then reworking them into more painterly works of art.

When I popped in on the show yesterday—little realising its short duration — I found that Stevens has never been to Gaza, although she would love to.

Kate Stevens with two of her Gaza paintings.

Rather, she has spent years seeing disturbing images in the media of havoc and explosions, often presented in such a way is to blur out the human element.

Disturbed by the evident imbalance of power in the conflict, she set about capturing the beauty and the terror of Gaza in the way only paint can do, giving life and humanity to what she describes as “bland media images.”

I asked her if she was beautifying horror, but Stevens is adamant that her painterly way is a way of inviting viewers into a landscape of conflict to think about what's going on.

“It looks beautiful and it lures you in,” she says, “Painting is the perfect medium for socio-historical comment.”

And she’s taken a leaf from the book of a master, having studied Arthur Streeton's paintings at the War Memorial and noted how he used the pinks and golds of the sky to create something evocative.

“ I just hope people will take notice,” she says.