Reviews/Visual Art

Printmaker spreads her wings on fantastic journey

7 June 2022

Kati Thamo’s stunning solo exhibition has an old-world sensibility, but its themes of displacement and journeys are pertinent for our times, writes Craig McKeough.

‘Wingspan – taking flight, taking shelter’, Kati Thamo ·
The Goods Shed, Claremont ·

Kati Thamo’s flights of fancy and the fantastical are embedded deep in the real world of her family history and her artistic practice.

She sets all of them free in her new solo exhibition, “Wingspan – taking flight, taking shelter”, where she examines the big picture of journeys, both human and avian, as well as her own personal journey to understand her heritage.

Two etchings sit on one page, one above the other. The top one shows animals in a forest, the bottom image is similar except it is upside down and a person floats mid air. The effect is whimsical but also dark.
It is fascinating to try to piece together a narrative from the clues in the artworks: Kati Thamo’s ‘Tales from Afar/ Of secrets and stories, in whispers retold’, etching a la poupee, 53 x 39.8 cm, 2021.

Thamo’s parents escaped Hungary for Australia during World War II and the artist mirrors this idea of taking flight and taking shelter with her explorations of migratory birds that embark on extraordinary journeys to land on the harbour shores near her home and studio in Albany.

Everything in this collection of printmaking, drawing, stitching and multimedia is a story, and it is fascinating to try to piece together a narrative from the clues in the artworks.

We see a multitude of forest and rural scenes with people, birds and animals, and some odd hybrids of animal people. Some of them could be straight from storybooks; others hint at something a little darker.

To an Australian eye, these scenes appear to be somewhere “other”, a fantasy place or perhaps the Eastern Europe of Thamo’s family, a place that she returns to consistently in her work.

The printmaking itself is of the highest order. Thamo has built a strong reputation over an extensive career and here she has gathered examples of her etching (a la poupee), linocuts and collagraph, sometimes combining more than one technique.

The result is a magical melange of line and colour, with wonderful detail and evocative imagery.

In Kati Thamo's Shifting Hemispheres we see a series of silhouettes of people, birds and trees, all interacting. The silhouettes are created by shadows from a series of papercuts, displayed on a disc.
Another work that registers off the charm scale: Kati Thamo’s ‘Shifting Hemispheres’ shadow projection, cardboard, record player, bicycle wheel, torches, audio, dimensions variable, 2022.

Also included are deftly rendered and downright charming drawings of some of the migratory and local birds of the Albany area. These realistic pencil and graphite works are enhanced with decorative flourishes which recall European folk art stylings.

Kati Thamo's 'Stitching Lives Together' is made of 20 panels which show a wonderland of people, animals, houses, tree, gardens, music making and farming, as well as human-animal hybrids, printed onto fabric.
A triumph of technique and storytelling: Kati Thamo’s ‘Stitching Lives Together,’ collagraph, 2 x 1.75 mtr (20 individual prints comprising a single image), 2001

Another work which registers off the charm scale is Shifting Hemispheres, an installation put together from a record player, bicycle wheel and cardboard cutouts, but which transcends this makeshift construction style with its beguiling collection of moving characters projecting larger than life shadows on the wall.

The highlight of the collection for me is Stitching Lives Together, an imposing 2 by 1.75 metre collagraph which is nothing short of a triumph of technique and storytelling.

The 20-panel piece uses a limited palette to harness the visual elements that are scattered through the exhibition, and the result is a veritable wonderland of people, animals, houses, trees, gardens, music making and farming. There are figures floating and flying through the landscape, people leaving and settling and then flying again. And the mysterious human-animal hybrids, a motif that Thamo has employed in different forms over many years. The panels are linked by a background image of lace-like fabric which, although frayed and unravelling in parts, still provides a solid support to hold this story together.

Many of the works in “Wingspan” are imbued with an old-world sensibility, a combination of folk tales and imagery from rural Transylvania and an odd but gentle humour that brings to life the people and places from another time and another place.

These may seem a world away from modern day Western Australia but the themes of forced displacement and longing for things left behind are universal, and again in 2022 seem sadly pertinent.

As has happened repeatedly since Thamo’s family made their own life-changing journey, people continue to be displaced by conflict, and lives are uprooted and relocated to unfamiliar places. The theme of “taking flight, taking shelter” is unending, as the echoes of a troubled past continue to be heard and instability seems to be the only constant.

The art that comes from this is unavoidably melancholic in nature but the sheer beauty of Thamo’s creations adds a sense of light that signals hope at the end of the journey.

“Wingspan – taking flight, taking shelter” continues until 10 July 2022

Kati Thamo will be giving an artist talk and launching her monograph at The Goods Shed, 11am Saturday 11 June.

Kati Thamo’s solo exhibition ‘Wingspan – taking flight, taking shelter’, The Goods Shed, 2022. Photo: Sundae Studio.

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Author —
Craig McKeough

Craig McKeough is a writer and visual artist, with a lifetime’s experience in journalism, covering everything from the arts to horse racing, politics and agriculture. Craig has always been drawn to the swing; an egalitarian, grounding piece of equipment where you can go as high and wild as you want, but you’ll always return to where you started.

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