by Caity Reynolds


The solemn geographies of human limits[1]


Gentle blushing light, sweeping vacant panoramas – a solemn but seldom melancholy visual journey through a world othered, Kate McKay’s New Horizons sees the familiarity of forms bleed into saturated alien spaces. McKay creates landscapes of introversion, deeply sedated optical poems, a tender reprise for her viewer to consider the position of their feet in relation to the ground. Knowing that we are not immune to the natural, with a tender and yielding hand McKay’s painting pay an unintentional homage to the romantic works of the late conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader.


Both the products of a modern world with little room for rumination on the sublime McKay and Ader find solace in a return to the wilderness. Ader’s Farewell to Faraway Friends (1971) reads as a dark forecast for his inevitable end at the impervious hands of nature. The photograph is reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich’s seminal and oft cited (within theories of the sublime), painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818). These works see a solitary figure penetrate the middle ground of an expansive view. Figures within McKay’s work are few, which suggests in a canonical fashion that we as the viewer now occupy the role of the lone contemplative human vessel navigating the seas and planes in front of us.


Jorg Heiser[2] in Romantic Conceptualism describes Ader’s work as a contingent response to an innocuous disconnect between wilderness and metropolis. Unable to exist without its antithesis the wilderness provokes a scrutiny of the ways in which our life is constrained. Heiser maintains that Ader’s brief life and modest body of work was an act of reconciling these differences. And in many ways McKay’s work attempts to do the same. Contained within the realm of a gallery but borne of a lived experience in the remote domain of an uninhabited landscape these paintings are a transmundane voyage between two worlds.  


Frederic Gros[3] in his deeply romantic text A Philosophy of Walking, qualifies wilderness as being a call to home. Here the unbridled space of a scarcely touched landscape is a reminder of our origins, “an obscure starting point.”  Ader’s final work saw him likely engulfed by a thankless sea. He set sail on a dinky boat in a fearless act of acceptance to the powers of nature and allowed the wilderness to complete his journey. If we accept Gros’ idea that the call of the wild is inherent, for all intents and purposes, Ader finally returned home: a self-imposed intimacy with wilderness.


In the ebb and flow of paint on canvas and pooled water lapping at the shore, we find a similar poignant but negotiated intimacy between McKay and her surroundings. Though not literally overwhelmed in the same fashion as Ader, McKay accepts the immensity and power of the natural world. Through scale and a subversion of conventional colour theory the paintings beguile our expectations, both of how landscape paintings are supposed to behave and how we are supposed to behave in the presence of a landscape.  McKay’s works do not attempt to contain the wild, but let it spill outwards. Though beautiful, their aestheticism pales in the shadow of expanse. Merely reciting what was spoken to her by the landscape, New Horizons is a reminder that when we return home it will not be to a warm bed, but the vague and unsteady waters of the wild.


[1] Paul Eluard in Bachelard, Gaston, and Maria Jolas. The Poetics of Space.   Press, 1994. p. 211

[2] Heiser, Jörg. Romantic Conceptualism. Kerber Verlag, 2007. p. 139

[3] Gros, Frédéric. A Philosophy of Walking. Verso Books, 2014. p. 100

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