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PHILLIPS: How do you see your practice in relation to the broader cultural landscape right now?


KATE GROOBEY: The story of art is being rewritten and diversified by artists. There are some great lesbian figurative painters now addressing the real need to assert the presence of queer womanhood into the tradition of figurative painting — think Jenna Gribbon or Ana Benaroya. Like them, I am portraying powerful queer females and their subjectivity. We’ve been aware of queer male subjectivity in figurative painting since Francis Bacon and David Hockney, and it’s so exciting to see a completely new perspective in the field of painting being retold by female painters of my generation.


P: Tell us about the work you’ve donated to this year’s Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon Charity Auction.


KG: Higher is part of my new painting and performance series, called Always Love, which asks what we can do in personally and politically heart-breaking times, and finds the answer is always love. Higher speaks about the importance of the basic need people have to feel supported and safe in their environments. The rose is the symbolic pick-me-up we all sometimes need at home, at work, from wider society, our institutions and state apparatus, and from beyond our national borders.


P: How does the work relate to the rest of your oeuvre? What is its special significance for you?


KG: Like all my work, the protagonists in Higher are me, as my alter ego the “female stallion” and my wife, the writer and poet Jina Khayyer. What is special about Higher is it’s one of two images in my Always Love series where a third protagonist appears. I think of this character as an extra place in the painting for the viewer to join us and enter into the narrative in order to practice empathy and solidarity, practices I believe are essential for a healthy society. Also special, it’s painted on a new small scale that replicates the intimacy of my preparatory drawings and watercolors and the stories being told.


P: Are there any movies, songs, books, or trends that inspire you or influence your work at the moment?


KG: My wife’s poetry and way of looking at the world is a constant source in my paintings. I often reach for my notepad when we’re talking. Always Love is built around our desires, philosophy, and poetry. It’s me speaking to all the things we’ve seen, experienced, and talked about everyday this last year and a half.


P: Describe a particularly meaningful or memorable highlight of your career thus far.


KG: One show that really helped me crystallise what kind of feelings I want my exhibitions to give rise to was Pure Pleasure, which was shown at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham in 2018. I had a lot of response from the public, who sent me messages on Instagram saying how inspiring the show was, and how good it made them feel. That was quite special for me — that a show I had made could really inspire people. Since then, I’ve wanted to create beautiful, safe, feminine, and queer spaces, which could inspire others and make people feel a bit stronger or a bit more empowered.


P: What does Whitechapel Gallery mean to you? Have any Whitechapel exhibitions resonated with you and your own work?


KG: Many exhibitions have resonated with me, but I think what they all give voice to is a kind of integrity that I associate with the Whitechapel Gallery. It’s the kind of institution that supports new ways of seeing and thinking.


Find out more at Whitechapel Gallery.


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