Kate Morgan RI discusses blending the fantastical with the real to create enchanting naturescapes and her recent collaboration with H&M Kids.
Hi Kate! Tell us about your practice? What materials do you use? Do you paint from photographs, life, a mix of both?
Kate Morgan: I work in watercolour. I find that this is a medium that offers maximum flexibility for expression. It gives scope for precise detail (which I need in my work) but also gives me the freedom to be playful with colour and texture. It’s also an unforgiving medium - which I really enjoy! Watercolour painting keeps me on my toes and makes every painting exciting. There is no room for error, so my planning begins before I even begin to apply the paint. It has to be exact to create the effect that I want.
Even though I have the references in front of me, I enjoy imagining (and sometimes inventing) creatures and their surroundings too. The overall painting then becomes an almost dreamlike place to escape to, depicting a familiar, yet, unfamiliar world.
Have you always been interested in nature?
Kate Morgan: Always! One of my earliest memories was looking for newts and frogs in ponds. My dad loved his garden and had plants with huge leaves (like castor oil plants and palms) which, at the time, seemed giant to me. I imagined, even then, being in a jungle and from an early age wanted to be an explorer discovering new creatures and inventing new species - all from my morning’s expedition in the garden!
This love stayed with me into my teens and later into my 20s. Now, in my early 30s, when I’m painting in my studio, I love to use a mixture of the passion and interest I have for natural history with an imaginative world that I want to see and create. I'm aiming for a mix of the fantastical, enchanting, magical with the real.
Are there any artists you're influenced by?
Kate Morgan: I couldn’t answer this question without mentioning Henri Rousseau. Though to be honest, I view him more as a kindred spirit than as an “influencer” of my work. What inspired him connects with me - bright and characterful worlds inspired by the natural. I love his naive style that personifies his animals. I also love the fact that he never visited a jungle but it was his imagination that sparked his creative ideas of these unseen worlds. It always intrigued me.
Another artist who has always inspired me, is Maria Sybilla Merian. A German artist and one of the first naturalists to observe, study and paint animals, birds and insects from life. For a female artist/scientist of the 15-16th century this was almost unheard of. She travelled to Suriname to study and discover these incredible species. Her paintings are exceptionally exquisite in their detail and full of colour and celebration of the natural world.
How did the H&M collaboration come about?
Kate Morgan: In summer 2018, they got in touch about doing a potential children’s clothing collaboration for their 'Kids' range. I was intrigued by the offer as I’d always intended to translate my paintings onto fabric one day but was then concentrating solely on my painting. This, however, seemed like the perfect collaboration. I particularly loved that it was a kids range, as my audience up to then had been a little older!
Also, at a young age, this is when you develop your passions and imagination. The idea of creating something fun, a little magical but with an emphasis on all the animals that I love and inspiring this interest sounded like a wonderful opportunity to me.
How has it been received so far?
Kate Morgan: The response has been really wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for more. What I have enjoyed the most (highlighting the benefits of living in an age of social media), are the photos and messages I have received from both kids and parents alike, saying how much they love the range and modelling the clothes on various adventures.
How has becoming a member of the RI impacted your career?
Kate Morgan: There is the best and most inspirational group of artists associated with the Royal Institute of Paintings in Watercolour. Rosa Sepple is a wonderful president, who is great to talk to and her own work is imaginative and dreamlike - so I always come away feeling inspired.
There is such an eclectic mix of work from its members. Whether it be the beautiful abstract paintings of Jean Noble, the dreamy and beautiful work of Aimee Birnbaum or the incredibly intricate draftsmanship in Lillias August’s work – they offer so much inspiration.
The RI membership encompasses artists with so many different skills - all seeing the world differently and helping others through their work to see things with a new perspective. This, to me, is one of the wonders of what art can do.
It has had an incredible impact on my career - not just through its inspirational artists but also in influencing the way people perceive watercolour as a medium with its richness and diversity.
What’s next for you?
I have an upcoming solo show in London, just behind the Mall, from June 21st - 05th July at Panter and Hall.