My interest is in the relationship between things, as Graham Little says in his essay Seashells and Porcupines referring to DW Winnicott quoting psychoanalyst and painter Marion Milner in On not being able to paint when he talks of ‘tremendous significance that there can be in the interplay at the edges of two curtains or the surface of a jug that is placed in front of another jug’.
Feminist art history sees a tradition and perspective of women artists viewing the landscape as peopled, framed - from the verandah. My landscapes are that and my interiors often look out through a window onto an aspect of the outside world but I have never been able to locate myself in that tradition. My view is one where the inside and the outside world colour and inflect one another, coexist: perhaps a psychoanalytic one where the past can pop up in or affect the present. Time and space are not linear and cannot be cleanly compartmentalised – we all have little of Raskolnikov’s capacity for projection in us. Or as Morag Fraser in her essay Layering the Drawing Biennale Drill Hall, Canberra 2000, ‘Hattam doesn’t frame a feminine interior (her interiors are androgynous) or look out to the world through a window. Rather her exterior and interior worlds coexist, in tension on the same plane.’
As Jenny Long states in her catalogue essay for Perfect Day (an exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery with Angela Brennan), ‘the house of Katherine Hattam is open to the world, open to networks of information, emotion, energy and culture…Hattam maps the world flowing through her home’. Long argues ‘that in the culture of the twentieth century the house is increasingly an unstable, unsettled and complex location. The onslaught of the information age further troubles the domestic space that has sustained the modern idea of the home as a place separate from the world. It is now inside the house that issues of landscape and power are defined.’ This does seem to describe my pictures to me but I come back to something Eva Hesse said, ‘the desire comes first’. I can’t recall where I read it but it has stayed with me – my intuitive desire is to depict something and understand why: after the fact.
In his catalogue essay Bookworksfor the exhibition held at Deakin University’s Stonnington Stables, Rob Haysom gives a compact biography. ‘The Hattam house in suburban Canterbury’ (and later at Cromwell Road, South Yarra), ‘include works by her father and an impressive collection of both figurative and abstract works by prominent Australian artists, sometimes acquired in exchange for delivering babies [see Patrick McCaughey,Art and Australia,Melbourne Humanism in the Hattam Collection Art and Australia vol 6 no 1 Winter 1968 & Hal Hattam Heide Museum of Modern Art, The Landscape of Longing 2003]. Such an environment created a distinctive exposure to art for Katherine. However, at the University of Melbourne she did not study art, rather English Literature and Politics. Books and reading were a passion for Katherine’s mother, who read Freud as a young adolescent. Freudian references abound in Katherine’s work…some of the books used in the artworks are from her mother’s extensive collection whilst others are scoured from second-hand stores…the recurring image of chairs was one… explored by Katherine since the mid 1990s. Her obsessive large black and white charcoal drawings as a sixteen year old incorporated domestic settings and representations of family members symbolically portrayed as objects. Much of this work was lost in the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983 in the Adelaide Hills…Hal Hattam died in 1994. Two years later Katherine’s mother found four of the early drawings that featured symbolic representation of the family, the interior of the Canterbury home and, in particular, the motif of the chair became the focus and still resonate in Katherine’s new work’.