Kate Tucker, 'Tablets', catalogue essay by Amelia Winata

“How big is the Milky Way? Imagine that our entire Solar System were the size of a quarter. The Sun is now a microscopic speck of dust, as are its nine planets, whose orbits are represented by the flat disc of the coin. How far away is the nearest star to our sun? In our model, Proxima Centauri […] would be another quarter, two soccer fields away.”[1] - NASA

The unfathomable notion of the complex system of which we are but a microscopic spec is simultaneously fascinating and terrifying. Certainly, attempting to fathom the limitless, to consider, for instance, the vastness of the Milky Way, is an addictive, thrill-seeking exercise. But it is also a thought process which quickly hits a peak before sending one into a frantic sweat of existential crisis. This statement from NASA is a prime example of humankind’s attempts to understand everything by using systems and concepts that we are familiar with. The analogy of the planets of our solar system as a coin is an apperception of something that is so far removed from that which we know: it is but a bid to use the commonplace to overcome the arcane.

Kate Tucker’s paintings function in a similar way to this analogy of space, using an analogue medium to understand the ever-increasing dominance of the digital realm. The painter has said that her works come from a desire to control the infinite and unfathomable possibilities of the digital realm and, certainly, the digital continues to increasingly push the boundaries of our cognitive capacities. Having worked as a designer for many years, Tucker is familiar with digital image programming. Photoshop, in particular, causes simultaneous wonder and anxiety for the artist. While, the program allows its operator to build up endless strata, the subsequent result to the image’s configuration is restricted to the visual: the layers do not begin to form any measurable depth, a concept which is challenging to generations not born computer literate. Tucker’s paintings use weight and physical layering as a liberating antidote to the angst caused by such technological bafflement.  

Her tactile works begin with a wooden board which the artist then covers with digitally printed linen, cotton or hand dyed calico. Tucker subsequently builds up layers of any combination of acrylic emulsion, linen, flashe vinyl paint, acrylic and oil before finishing this topography with a topcoat of self-levelling gel. The resulting work is surprisingly skin like to the touch. Additionally, the individual weight of each work betrays the degree of layering that has gone into its making: those with many layers are unexpectedly heavy, while those finished with fewer layers are light. The combination of tactility and varying weight reifies the works’ physical presence in the space that they inhabit. Indeed, the weighted, tactile quality of these works is at odds with the digital.

Without doubt, Tucker’s practice also harks back to the discussion of painting’s resurgence over the past years and, in particular, its rise analogous to the digital onslaught. Without question, Tucker’s work inextricably works as a bridge between the two sides of the discussion between the digital and the analogue. David Joselit has theorised contemporary painting as a negotiation between the digital picture and the temporal “procedures of painting,”[2] This is what he calls “the externalization of painting,” whereby painting now points to its environment and context of making: a concept at odds with the modernist (and, more specifically, Greenbergian) notion of medium specificity where painting was characterised solely by its materiality.[3] Joselit writes: “Rather than marking sensation, such painting exhibits a properly spatial anxiety characteristic of globalization and digitalization, which are both deeply involved in questioning what is an edge and what is a centre.”[4] To summarise Joselit, contemporary painting acts as a post-structuralist way of understanding the intermingling of materials, objects, subjects and environment specific to the present day.

It is only correct to read the history of abstract painting through a social art historical lens. Mondrian’s work, for instance, attempted to distill the spirit of post-war consumption and was, therefore, never hermetically sealed within the frame. Tucker’s works are no different. Perfection and the need for resolution plagues our culture. This is, of course, the long-winded hangover of modernity. It is safe to say that we look for endpoints as a signal of success, of having achieved something. Tucker’s practice works against this impetus. Any body of work is derived from previous works. For Tablets, Tucker has taken digitally printed linen from earlier projects, which have then formed the basis of this one. In future projects, this series will inform some aspect of the next. If we are to come back to these exhibited works specifically, it is not about appearance: rather, it is about a record of process. Her oeuvre is like the practice academic research, where with each reading comes a bibliography, which points to an even larger pool of readings and, as such, begins a process that, if one chooses, can be ceaseless. In this sense, Tucker’s physical layering of materials represents time, an intrinsic quality of her work and one which embodies process over polish, and which ultimately resists the need for resolution that we are increasingly inundated with. Indeed, coming back to Joselit, and his musings on contemporary painting, Tablets represents the essence of contemporary painting whereby “the MARKING and STORAGE or ACCUMULATION of time are simultaneous and ongoing.”[5]

For Tucker, the potential to create and hold something of weight and material quells a fear of that which can not be directly conquered. But her practice speaks for the multitude rather than remaining a personal project. Because while our ever-increasing reliance upon digital technology is the cause of significant anxiety, Tucker demonstrates that the implementation of apperceptive techniques allows us to co-exist with the unknown. The works in Tablets embodies the essence of contemporary art practice insofar as they mine a breathing space – and offer a moment of respite- in our current way of living.

-Amelia Winata



[1] How Big is Our Universe?’, accessed 24 September 2016

[2] David Joselit, ‘Marking, Scoring, Storing and Speculating (on Time)’, in Painting Beyond Itself: The Medium in the Post-Medium Condition, eds. Isabelle Graw and Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016, pp. 16

[3] ibid, pp. 17

[4] ibid, pp. 19

[5] ibid, pp. 12