West Australian artist Eveline Kotai’s practice has evolved and transformed in her 40-year career. But through it all, the artist says there’s one thing that underlies all her work – simple intuition. Invisible Threads, a retrospective exhibition at Art Collective WA, Perth, ties together the artist’s varied practice. It features some of her early portraits, more traditional landscape paintings, and her more recent fabric-based work.
Kotai’s work is richly coloured and patterned. Whether working on canvas, paper or with fabric, her colours hum and sing in dizzying combinations, and this is especially so in her more recent work. Although they are abstract, the patterns that feature in these works actually come from the natural world where they are abundant and ripe for interpretation.
Kotai was born in Perth and spent several years living in Margaret River, a place that features prominently in her work. Now based in Fremantle, Kotai says it has been a while since she has spent much time in the countryside, but the memories remain. In fact, memory serves as the basis of a lot of her work, and photography is used sparingly, mostly as a “memory jolt” rather than as reference points.
“I don’t really see patterns as such, I kind of feel them, rather. It’s a rhythm,” Kotai says. Her practice, she explains, is an experiential and intuitive one, and not a conceptual one. It’s all about the process, and in Invisible Threads viewers can trace the progression of her artistic process over the years. But the retrospective also shows what has remained consistent throughout.“I see all my works – whether it’s portrait, landscape or abstract – I see them all in the same way. I don’t separate them,” she says.
Invisible Threads places emphasis on Kotai’s more recent fabric collages, a technique she happened on by chance in the early 2000s. While stretching canvases and trimming them to size for paintings, Kotai found herself becoming more interested in the excess canvas trimmings than the paintings themselves and she began experimenting with these off-cuts.
“I started cutting them up and playing with them and turning them into different things. And then I thought, well, if I can do that, I can actually cut up pre-existing paintings and treat them the same way,” she says. These strips are meticulously arranged and assembled onto a canvas with a sewing machine, held in place with literal “invisible threads,” which are actually nylon threads. Invisible from afar, but strong and definitely present.
From a distance, Kotai’s fabric collages could pass as paintings, and the artist actually sees them as paintings, and refers to them as such. It is only on closer inspection that her method becomes clear, and the threads are revealed.
While Kotai admits that working this way does limit the palette, she says it creates new ways of thinking. And this, for her, is always important.“It’s a magical way of working,” she says, “because you don’t actually know what you’re going to get until it’s finished.”