Kate Groobey can dance. Kate can paint, make video and compose music. I mean, Kate doesn't just do that, she does that and everything else besides that, just so perfectly well. If you ever wanted a thoughtful excellent friend (who also dances) but you don't have one yet, Kate would be the one.
In 2018, Kate won the Daiwa Foundation Art Prize, the first woman to win that award.
When we first encountered Ms. Groobey's current show, Pure Pleasure, in a jam-packed IKON Tower, of course we swooned. Of course. What else to do? Pure Joy. It felt like it does when the needle drops onto Dej Loaf's equally supremelyserious + irresistiblefun 'Liberate' (This for the girls that don't need no makeup when they wake up... For the introverts, no, we don't gotta say much... ) So much, so instantaneously said with shiny suits and wigs, and so it goes, so simply, so quickly, with the Kate Groobey show, one of the most joyous surreptitiously subversive fun 15 minutes you're going to have inside a gallery.
Just had to talk to her about it and we never feel like talking to anyone about anything ever...
OUTSIDELEFT: Let's start with your series of videos currently on display in the Tower Room at the IKON gallery in Birmingham. How did the videos, the music, dancing, costumes, masks and shoes, (I was visiting the show with a shoe designer, Warren the Shoe and he loved them...) come together?
THE ARTIST KATE GROOBEY: The masks, shoes, props and backdrops are hand-made & hand-painted. The faces, feet, and bikini are made from paper and attached with safety pins, the props made from paper or cardboard. The costumes are hand painted. I make the music on my computer. It’s me inside the costumes, the dancing is improvised, I blast the music through my headphones so I’m really inside it. They’re filmed in my studio with my iPhone.
OUTSIDELEFT: Help us to understand Art. We're super big fans of Greta Alfaro, her video was 'collected' by the Saachi Gal. How does that work - do I get a file, a tv monitor with a loop, what would I get if I attempted to purchase one of your videos?...I suppose I could ask one of my laid-off former arts council friends, but am asking you...!? How does that work?
KATE GROOBEY: There are two editions. One is video only, you get a USB stick in a hand painted box. The other is a video with a costume-painting (same installation you’ve seen at Ikon), again the video is stored on a USB stick and comes in a hand painted box.
OUTSIDELEFT: I can never understand the economics of art. It's a crap shoot, right? Or is there a methodical rise...
KATE GROOBEY: It’s uncertain, like life is uncertain.
OUTSIDELEFT: You're best known as a painter, and somewhere I read that part of your workflow, process, whatever better term, method, I can think of later, whatever it's called, that that is no straight forward business for you...That the canvases can take multiple attempts--sometimes previous versions of paintings peek through...
KATE GROOBEY: That was an old interview so not so relevant.
GIVE ME WHAT I WANT
OUTSIDELEFT: I love your paintings... But still we have to get back to those videos at the IKON... The videos are a sideways jump from your painting but not by far perhaps, I could see a costume party inhabited by characters from your videos and your canvases...
KATE GROOBEY: The year I started performing and making the videos I changed my whole life. I started to question everything: the city and country I lived in, my sexuality, the way I live. It was the most natural thing to question painting in that time. I moved to Paris to live with my girlfriend and discovered the worlds of fashion and French electronic music; it developed organically that these worlds, of costuming and music, came together in my performances.
For my first two performance series - “Perfect Potatoes” and “The Good Life” - I collaborated with the amazing French musician and DJ Jackson & His Computer Band. Since “I’m made of milk” I have composed the music myself, on my computer.
OUTSIDELEFT: The outfits, well the masks and the gloves so charming - Warren said something like they pushed the line of beauty to the grotesque. I didn't see that at all, your dancers were superheroine-iconic or something. Do you do all of your own cutting out and stitching too?
KATE GROOBEY: ‘Warren the Shoe’ has a point. They can be said to flirt with the grotesque, which is a feminine terrain that reclaims the depiction of the female body from male ideals. My characters do have super-hero(ine) vibes. In the pure pleasure series her superpower is pleasure- this is true to life, I’ve yet to meet anyone so able to spin pleasure out of thin air and in any situation like Jina, my partner.
Some of the fabric-work is hand cut and hand-stitched: all the head-pieces and the long arms in “Bird Dance” (which portray the idea of her arms growing longer and longer with desire). The rest are pre-farbricated clothes that I painted on, but I have plans to do more of my own tailoring for the next series.
OUTSIDELEFT: And at the party, you'd only have to play your own music for your party-goers to have a good time... Is there anything you can't do well?
KATE GROOBEY: The first party I DJ’d was the birthday of a friend, Francesco Russo, also a shoemaker. I liked the experience of how you can make people stand up and dance or, with a bad choice, clear the dance floor...
I like to believe that I can do anything I chose to do: In L.A I went into a cafe to get a coffee and the girl behind the counter said to me “In that hat you can do anything”. Her comment stuck with me. Since then I always wear a hat!
OUTSIDELEFT: We love hats and think they are made from magic... Have you ever read that interview with Beatrice Dalle where she won't have it that she has ever had partners, she has lovers. I liked that a lot. I also loved the exchange about Rupert Everett, her former lover... "But he's gay?" "And I am Beatrice Dalle..." Maybe you're too young to remember her, or too old to have known about her. I start with the teeth, they're like mine.
KATE GROOBEY: I think we’re not used to women who frame their own desires. My pure pleasure series is about women expressing and framing their desire, manoeuvring beyond the male gaze, asking what a female vision of desire might look like in figurative painting. In one of the “Pure Pleasure” films, “Give Me What I Want”, my heroine challenges us, telling us she’ll give us what we want but only if we give her what she wants. She’s making sure that we know that her pleasure is as important as ours. The male gaze, on the other hand, is a strictly one-way street, requiring a passive female. Perhaps paintings are vulnerable to the male gaze because they’re still but in my videos where she jumps out at you from the painting, confronting you with the full force of all her dreams and desires, she is far from passive.
OUTSIDELEFT: Let's talk about California, I lived in Echo Park & Los Angeles and around Southern California for 20 years, I miss the place so much. Let's hear a travelogue-y story, so that I can feel worse still, for being marooned in Birmingham, UK.
KATE GROOBEY: I’m from Yorkshire, not so far away from where David Hockney grew up. Hockney famously left Yorkshire to go to L. A and didn’t come back. When I first went to L.A I understood why: It’s so sexy, superficial, sunny and cheerful and absolutely at odds with my native Yorkshire roots which are rainy, down-to-earth and grumpy.
OUTSIDELEFT: Finally - What's next for Kate Groobey?
KATE GROOBEY: I’ve been traveling around Japan which is mind-blowing, thanks to the Daiwa Foundation Art Prize. It’s another world away from Yorkshire, although Japan also has a lot of rain. The same way my Pure Pleasure series was based in California, my next series will be based on my impressions of Japan.
Okay, that's it. I wish I'd asked about that picture, but didn't, so that's for you to ponder. It's a great one...
Kate Groobey's Pure Pleasure is at the IKON in Birmingham until November 18th, Don't miss.