Katherine Hattam's new collection of mixed media paintings traces Hattam's preoccupation with drawing back to a formative moment in her childhood. On her tenth birthday Hattam was gifted a set of 12 Derwents, yet she pined for that glorious set of 72 – several layers deep with those perfect gradations from dark indigo to teal, dusky purple to golden yellow. At the age of 28 the artist came to a crossroads in her life, reconsidering her marriage and career, and it was then that Hattam finally bought herself that revered box of 72 Derwents.
The Derwent pencil thus metonymically embodies Hattam’s personal history and memory. In ’72 Derwents’ she uses this private chronology as a medium through which to filter broader socio-political concerns – something the artist has done since the late nineties. Growing up in her South Yarra home surrounded by an impressive collection of significant and edgy Australian art, Hattam looks back on her childhood as her ‘early unconscious art education’. Her parents, Hal and Kate Hattam, were close friends with leading Melbourne artists from the 50s through to the 70s, including Fred Williams, Arthur Boyd and John Perceval. Hal Hattam, an obstetrician and gynecologist, became an artist partly as a result of his delivering the babies of many artists including Fred Williams, Charles Blackman and Arthur Boyd, accepting paintings in lieu of payment.
Devoid of the figuration that once featured in her early works, the paintings in this exhibition operate via absence and intimation. Uncanny vignettes of lived-in domestic spaces and personalised objects form an expanded homage to Hattam’s upbringing. In many of the works the ubiquitous kitchen table is used to display Hattam’s familiar inventory of objects – the coffee pot, mug, armchair, reading glasses, clock, hairbrush, Penguin classics and modernist textbooks repurposed from her late mother’s collection. Rendered with the artist’s characteristic flat, vertical perspective, each object represents a complex constellation of relationships wherein the autobiographical mingles with the symbolic. Through this iconic visual lexicon, Hattam seeks to unearth revelations of universal significance buried in the minutiae of the everyday. More than a mere compositional device, the kitchen table – as the center of the lived-in household – also speaks of a broader domestic reality in which desire dances with mundanity. Other paintings feature the artist’s dogs Minnie and Olive, their black and white bodies a striking contrast to Hattam’s pop palette of flat reds, pinks, oranges and blues. Among the grids of book pages and book spines sit titles of fiction, philosophy, psychoanalytic and feminist theory, celebrating her mother’s love of reading and Hattam’s own inherited fixation with literature. These motifs endow the works with the same suggestiveness, substance, allusiveness and revelation imbued in modern literature.