Kate Smith was born in Manchester, England in 1947. She immigrated to New Zealand in 1952 as a “ten-pound Pom” when she was five years old and was educated in Cambridge, New Zealand.
Her artistic talent emerged after being inspired by a friend’s creative family of musicians, actors, singers, play-writes and artists. Originally Kate made clothes for hippy boutiques, as well as working in textile fashion design and teaching ballet.
Then in 1973, with a young family, Kate was prompted by a desire to buy her first home. She took up drawing after her husband bought her a 99-cent “How to Draw” book from a newsagent. Within a year Kate had become Auckland’s first street artist, presented her first solo show and became the family’s breadwinner.
During her time in New Zealand, Kate lived between Australia and New Zealand for a number of years before moving permanently to Australia in 1979. Her career has flourished with many successful solo exhibitions in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Her artistic career has spanned 30 years and she is one of Australia’s finest pastel artists, and whilst she has worked in other mediums such as oil, acrylic and watercolour, her love of pastel is abiding, and she regards this as her favourite medium.
Working in the pastel, Kate’s technique with this soft and vibrant medium is masterful. Admirers of her work often marvel at the glorious and unbridled colour in her works. Thick and sumptuous, her pastels are often mistaken for acrylic or gouache works. Perhaps this is because Kate uses fine quality, hand-made pastels, which contain 100 per cent pure pigment. She says of the pastel medium: “People don’t realise that pastel is one of the oldest mediums. One just has to look at the Aboriginal cave drawings – same thing, pure ochre. Once protected by glass, pastel can outlast oil and will not fade or crack.”
Kate is a self-taught artist. In addition to her figurative works, for which she has become very well known, Kate also created a body of work representing the Australian landscape, which depict the atmosphere and the harshness of the Australian interior. In 1989 she was offered sponsorship by the state of Queensland and this resulted in the completion of her book titled “Alice and Beyond” featuring her work of landscapes in Central Australia.
Since the 1970’s Kate has exhibited widely in both group and solo shows in New Zealand, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. From the 1980’s to mid 1999 she worked mainly in oils and acrylics, and now focuses exclusively on working in pastel.
Kate’s signature pieces are her works of fascinating women set against a backdrop of rich colour. She also incorporates elements of glamour and surrealism in these works, both in the locations of her women and the witty titles she bestows on the works.
Blessed with a fertile imagination, Kate spontaneously interprets these visions in her stylish, witty and attractive pastels, which are striking both for their richness of colour and beautiful line. Classical and also contemporary, Kate’s pastels of women have proved to be a great success and are much sought-after. Arresting in their simplicity, they offer an insight into femininity and womanhood. The women are always mysterious and seductive, with elegant bodies and soft iridescent skin.
Kate says of her work: “Art is Life … Life is colours, texture and guts, with the magic of each stroke artists put together a dramatic image which travels through our eyes into our emotions. My goal as an artist is to bring it all together into one expressive viewable moment.” In all of Kate’s pastels, she aims to create a sense of intrigue so that viewers are taken “into a kind of fairy tale. My women have been woven into their own narrative, created both by their setting and by the viewer’s reaction. I love to take people on a journey into my paintings and surrealism lends itself to story-telling”.
Asked about her fascination for women which have been her main subject for over a decade, Kate jokingly points to the fact that for many years her home was an old converted school and that her studio, located in a lavender filled garden, originally housed the girls’ lavatory.
The stylishness of Kate’s women and their fashion inspiration arises from Kate’s forays to Paris, where she indulges a self-confessed addiction to scouring clothing shops for unusual pieces. Paris is Kate’s “shopping heaven” for food, fashion and art, and the artist’s interest in glamour is reflected in her admiration of European and Russian art from the 1920’s to the 1940’s. As well as living in Australia and New Zealand, Kate has also has lived in South Africa and London, and has travelled to Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Russia and France.
Kate loves colour and admirers of her pastels marvel at their gloriously thick texture and unbridled hues. When her children were young they would return from school to find their whole home decorated in a new shade of paint Kate was working with – bedspreads would be dyed a new colour and flowers on the table would match the theme!
Kate is a multi-award-winning artist with over 100 art prizes to her credit, as well as many resort and corporate commissions. However , like all artists has worked hard for success. She sees optimism as her secret weapon and tells the story of early painting days when forced to live in a squat, she hosted a wealthy client and her chauffeur in a room devoid of decor and conveniences, apart from her vibrant hand painted walls!
Kate Smith’s art prizes include: SGIO art award (1983); Moreton Shire Art Award, Queensland (1983, 1984 & 1987); Sunshine Newspaper Company Award (1983); Nerang Festival of the Arts Award (1983); Beenleigh City Art Award, Queensland (1984); Keith Stone Memorial Art Award, Queensland (1985); Aberdare Art Prize, Queensland (1985); Noosa Art Award, Queensland (1984); City of Toowoomba Art Awards (1985); Royal Queensland Art Society Award, Rockhampton (1987); Beenleigh Arts Festival Award, Queensland (1987); Burke Hall Art Prize, Victoria (1986, 1988 & 1991) and St. Kevins Art Prize, Victoria (1987).
Kate has also had her work reproduced in several publications, including: Readers Digest cover (1985); Outrider Volume 2, No. 1, feature article and front cover, (1985); Queensland Homes Art and Design (1989); Art in Australia Winter Issue, Volume 26, No. 4 (1989); “Alice and Beyond”, text and artwork, Kate Smith (1989); Boolarong Press Qld Pty Ltd; Belle Interior, December 2000; and Noosa Style Magazine cover, December 2004.
Paintings by Kate Smith are represented in regional art galleries in Queensland at Toowoomba, Ipswich and Stanthorpe and the Brisbane City Council Gallery as well as private and corporate collections, both in Australia and overseas.