Assholes of Ambition

Assholes of Ambition, UHD Video, 20:10mins, 2019

Kate Groobey has an intoxicating way of combining her own painted backdrop, dance moves, comically flat costumes, rapped words and music - thoroughly confusing levels of reality. In 2018 she saw the legendary statue of Senju Kannon, the multi-armed goddess holding symbolic instruments for the protection of her followers, in Japan. In Groobey's version a woman protects herself against the threats – whether internal or external is ambiguous – of Asshole and Stink: ‘Hey queen of poo / Whatʼcha gonna do? / Comb your soul? / It’s knotted though and through.’ Nine vignettes and nine imaginative kits see the heroine defend herself with such symbols as a giant pencil, arrows, stars and hearts. She ends as a triumphant owl: ‘Lightning strikes across my thighs / And all my enemies will die.’

-Paul Carey-Kent, Super Flatland, White Conduit Projects, London, 2020

Installation view, Assholes of Ambition, RIBOT, Milan, 2019


by Maria Villa

Kate Groobey is a British artist who passes her life in both Yorkshire and the south of France, but the inspiration for this show was even more distant. In 2018 the artist was awarded the Daiwa Foundation Art Prize which gave her the possibility of going to Japan, a land that she was fascinated by and the visual culture of which – as Groobey knows well – has also been echoed by modernist European culture.

A visit to the temple of Sanjusangendo in Kyoto was the determining factor for the creation of this new series of works. It was there that Groobey saw the legendary statue of Senju Kannon, the Dea della Misericordia dalle 1000 braccia, the thousand- armed goddess: she has multiple limbs that hold symbolic instruments necessary for the protection of all her followers. The vision of this female goddess and “multitasker” moved the artist to deep, almost ancestral, thoughts about the theme of being a woman and of the need to protect oneself from others, but also from oneself. Together with the artist on this visit to the temple was her companion and muse, the writer Jina Khayyer, the protagonist of the preceding series of works, Pure Pleasure: she is the focal point of this new show.

Assholes of ambition is an art project that is difficult to put into focus: it is a woman’s perspective of a woman which reveals to us absolutely new aspects which overflow with fascinating and, at times, undervalued aspects. More than narrative painting we could almost define them as an “epic drama” since they stage the events and adversities that the heroine, Khayyer, has to face in order to fight the two main antagonists of this story, Asshole and Stink, and not to fall into their numerous traps.

The story is developed through works characterised by a use of strong colour with well-defined marks – almost expressionist paintings activated by the actions of Groobey herself who exhibits herself in front of them through a series of improvised sketches, bringing to life the various characters illustrated through a video performance transmitted on a vertically placed screen, as though to create a formal analogy with the paintings.

The originality of her work can clearly be seen in the details: the features and costumes of her characters; the music she has personally composed; but also the conception of an unusual iconography that leads her to imagine these details.

In this show of particular importance are, not only the characters, but also the tools, needed by Khayyer to defend herself. These are a series of objects, emblems of sagacity and protection, at times imagined and at others inspired by experiences actually undergone by the artist. The motif of the owl, for example, derives from a genuine experience of a Great Grey Owl, the largest species of owl in the world, which Kate Groobey and Jina Khayyer saw in the United States. Other recurrent symbols are a large pencil, arrows, lightening, the sun, the moon, the stars, hearts, and the oversized and emphasised hands that have a central role in the organisation of this epic. We are dealing with unusual defensive weapons of great value, potentially indicated by ambivalent marks that lead us to the question that, on closer view, is at the heart of the whole project: does the greatest danger come from without or within?

Installation view from Super Flatland, UHD video wall projection, painted canvas soft-sculpture 20x25cm, White Conduit Projects, London, 2020

Wow, 30 x 19 cm, watercolour on paper, 2018

Wow, acrylic on canvas, 146 x115 cm, 2019

Power tools, The Hands of the master, soft sculpture, hand sewn acrylic on canvas, 2019

Power tools, The Hands of the master, Power tools, soft sculpture, hand sewn acrylic on canvas, 2019

Power tools (pen), soft sculpture, hand sewn acrylic on canvas, 2019

Song Lyrics, Assholes of Ambition
By Kate Groobey


You stink
Thatʼs what I think

Your ass begins to humm 
Coz itʼs attaché to you, scum. 
Down there in your darkest hole

Your stink is gonna grow and grow and grow

Until it reaches to the sky

And stifles all the things that fly. 

Hey queen of poo 
Whatʼcha gonna do?

Comb your soul?
It’s knotted though and through. 

Hey asshole 
Youʼre not king of no castle 
You back track
Like a hack

And youʼre gonna catch some real flak. 

Born rich
With your ass in honey

And now you’re using me

To make more money ?
Did you just steal my idea 
And make it cheap like IKEA? 


Iʼm under siege- 
Your arrow quivers 
Straight, release
It always delivers. 

You’re under siege- 
My arrow quivers 
Straight, release 
It always delivers. 

Like Keanu in The Matrix

Dodging arrows like Iʼm made for this.

Stop those arrows mid-sky 
Catching you in a lie
I pick them, put them in my quiver 
Now the arrows are ready 
Straight, release

You probably will shiver.
As they shoot
Right back to you
One catches you 
Right in the liver
And with all those

Years of drug abuse

It hits you hard
Itʼs just no use

You’re going down

Youʼre under siege
You lose your crown

You already lost your hair 
After combing away

The years of despair. 
But those arrows are fair 
They only kill the unjust

So if youʼre not subsumed 
With your own dark lust

Youʼll be okay, youʼll be able to trust 
That they wonʼt turn you into dust. 


She wants power 
Youʼd better allow her 
This is her hour.

Persist without fear
My rocketeer
Grow power here.


Never had an enemy before 
But it seems like you, actioned a war.

For a buck or two 
You sold me out
Through and through.
But who are you

To your doom and your gloom my heart’s immune
I wear it on my sleeve
Like you wouldnʼt believe

You chew me right up 
With your lies that disrupt
But careful now
My heart’s so big
You’re gonna hurt yourself on its nib.







Under siege-they fire arrows 
Under siege- I fire arrows.

Under siege-they fire arrows 
Under siege- I fire arrows.

Under siege-they fire arrows 
Under siege- I fire arrows.

Arrows fly 
Hearts quiver 
Heads roll 
Targets shiver. 

Arrows fly 
Hearts burn 
Heads roll 
Bodies quiver. 

I let my arrow go
You quiver like a lost soul
Pierced by my sharp heart
You’re wishing for a new start.


Eyes wide open
Eyes wide shut.


Did you know,

Youʼd be persona non grata
If you didnʼt deliver

What they were after?
Did you know,

Youʼd be dead on the ground
If they decided that
They didnʼt like your sound?
Did you know,
Better not bend down 

Better not show hurt

Or they tell you itʼs all over 
Push your face in the dirt. 
Tell you this
Tell you that

Tell you not to bring your hat.
They say like this 
They say comme ça 
And youʼve become persona non grata. 


Walked into to a cafe

To buy a creamy latte. 
Handed over money

The girl said “Listen honey: 
“Thatʼs a great hat! 
You should know about that. 
In that hat,

You can do anything.”
Now everyday Iʼm king of zing 
I’m Queen of sheen, 
Iʼm ding-a-ling 
So ladeez, put on your hat
Be radical

That’s where itʼs at.

Donʼt back down 
feel the power 
Wear the crown. 

Donʼt back down 
Feel the power 
Stand your ground. 


Lightening strikes across my thighs

And all my enemies will die. 

I give birth to a thousand hearts 
They will lead you from the dark.

Written and performed by Kate Groobey

Power tools (howl), soft sculpture, hand sewn acrylic on canvas, 2019

Installation view, Assholes of Ambition, RIBOT, Milan, 2019

All my enemies will die, live performance, RIBOT, Milan, 2019

Under siege, costume painting sculpture, mixed media, 251 x 150 x 87cm, 2019

Power tools (arrow), soft sculpture, hand sewn acrylic on canvas, 2019

Under siege, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 80 cm, 2019

Always delivers, mixed media, costume painting sculpture, 228 x 150 x 100 cm

Always delivers, watercolour on paper, 30 x 19 cm, 2018

Always delivers, acrylic on canvas, 146 x 115 cm, 2019

Power tools (howl), soft sculpture, hand sewn acrylic on canvas, 2019

Assholes of ambition, watercolour on paper, 59 x 42 cm, 2019

Assholes of ambition, acrylic on canvas, 162 x 130cm, 2019

Installation view, Assholes of Ambition, RIBOT, Milan, 2019

Eyes wide open, acrylic on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 2019

Eyes wide shut, acrylic on canvas, 92 x 73, 2019

Eyes wide open, eyes wide shut, watercolour on paper, 30 x 19 cm, 2018

 © 2019 Kate Groobey

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