River Language

Ascham Old Girl—Kate Dorrough (1982)

‘Being creative is a more poetic way of living in the world. Art gives layers of meaning and depth to everyday life — it enriches your life.’

Kate Dorrough’s approach to life is testament to her respect and appreciation of the joy that creating art brings to all aspects of her existence. It is evident that being an artist is more than just Kate’s day job, it is her life’s passion. According to Kate, all she always wanted to be was an artist. Given her mother was an artist and her favourite memories from her days at Ascham were ‘hanging out in the art rooms with Mr Minns, Mrs Dowe and Mrs Shannon,’ this comes as no surprise. Her life since School has been a steady development in her craft, starting with study at COFA in Sydney and Art School Canberra in the 1980s and 1990s, then 17 solo exhibitions and s residencies overseas and in regional Australia in recent decades.

In May this year Kate exhibited in Old Girl Ali Yeldham’s (1985) Arthouse Gallery in Rushcutters Bay. It was her most successful exhibition to date, a sign her work is consolidating and finding its own momentum. Despite the covid-19 lockdown in Sydney in April limiting movement and ongoing restrictions around visitors to the gallery, her exhibition sold out. Kate proudly mentions that a coincidentally a few Ascham Old Girls were the lucky beneficiaries of her work!

The exhibition was titled ‘The Language of the River’ with its main subject matter evolving from Kate’s ongoing exploration of the concept of the river within her art practice. Working in both the discipline of painting and hand-built stoneware ceramics, she explored and created a conversation between paint and clay. The works were not a specific landscape but an evolution of inner recollections and culmination of experiences, some of which include art residences in Hill End and Mildura, on the banks of the Murray over a decade prior. Others delved deeper into personal memories from childhood.

Kate’s fascination with rivers is multi-layered. She explains that rivers are iconic in Australian landscape, they are also an unconscious symbol of renewal, giving and fertility. Kate says, ‘For me the river is a place of connection, a journey undertaken and a vehicle back to a slower place and sense of place’.

Increasingly, Kate sees her focus on the river as important for environmental as much as poetic concerns. As our understanding of importance of water and the significance of the impact of farming and climate change on our natural river systems deepens, we can see that caring for our river systems is vital to our natural ecology.

Kate has most recently started a monthly Zoom call with several Ascham friends where they discuss books on regenerative farming. She says these books are more ‘text book’ than novel with Kate laughing while acknowledging she feels like a ‘diligent Ascham girl’ whenever she joins the call. The self-titled Yam Daisy Book Club consists of girls from the Class of 1982 including Abby Parkes, Sally McLennan (Johnson), Diana Corlette and Nicola Meares. Each participant has their own personal interest in attending and Kate says, ‘we are all inspiring each other from different angles — one of us owns a farm, one of us wants to buy a farm and I naturally have an interest in river systems and our ecology.’

Moving forward, Kate is expanding her art practice exhibiting experimental works within a regional gallery context, creating installations of cement sculptures, large fabric hangings and videos, alongside her paintings and ceramics. In 2019 she had a solo exhibition ‘The Lyrical River’ at the Manning Regional Art Gallery and in 2022 will exhibit at the Manly Regional Art Gallery. This will be an exhibition celebrating a female artistic lineage, with Kate responding to her mother’s work, a conversation between a mother and daughter focusing on the river and the female body. Kate will also exhibit at Art House Gallery in September of 2022. Living in Sydney’s inner west, close by to the Cooks River, with her husband and two small boys, she has more than enough to keep her busy.

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