The WOW effect
Two-time World of Wearable Art Supreme Award Winner and full-time painter, Kate MacKenzie is a multidisciplinary artist based in Hawke’s Bay. She sits down with Abby Beswick to discuss how WOW has impacted her career, what inspires her, and her hopes for the future of art in New Zealand.
How did you become an artist?
As a child I showed the qualities of an artist. I was very curious and creative but back in those days at school it wasn’t really considered a good career choice, so I never really pursued it. That part of me got hidden or pushed down and I think for the first part of my career I made decisions with my head rather than my heart. I went into accountancy. One day in my mid-30s after I’d had my second child, I said to my hubby, “I feel like I’m maybe in the wrong career.” He brought home the phone number of a lady who did art classes at night and that’s where it all started. When you discover you really love something, that’s when tenacity kicks in.
What inspires you?
I’m always experimenting with painting, portraiture and other materials. My art is inspired by politics, humanity, what’s happening in the world, technology and how it’s changing the way we think. It’s always about my concerns for the world. I’m one of those people who likes to think there’s always a solution to a problem, so my work is about searching for answers.
You’ve been very successful at WOW. What has that experience been like?
I’ve entered WOW eight times and have been honoured to win a number of awards, including the Supreme Award twice. My first entry in 2013, titled Hay Daisie, was awarded third place in the Open Section. It was a really big boost for me.
The following year I was incredibly proud when my two-piece entry, Poly Nation, won the Supreme Award. I was inspired by a suitcase I found in a second-hand shop and the garments tell the story of pioneer immigrants coming to NZ.
Last year I was in shock when I won the Supreme Award again, for my entry Wanton Widow. The garment is made from a repurposed china cabinet and antique Singer sewing machine drawers and tells the story of a widowed seamstress in the Victorian Era. I didn’t really know how special she was until I saw her onstage. When they named the winner I felt like it was an out-of-body experience. But the win is the icing on the cake. I don’t do it to win or get a prize; I do it because I love it.
How has WOW impacted your career?
t’s definitely increased my profile. There has been high demand for my paintings and I have been asked to judge more local art competitions, including a public commission. It was also very validating because I think I wanted to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke the first time I won the Supreme Award.
What advice do you have for young artists?
Winning awards is great for artists, but it’s not the be all and end all. What’s more important is the artist stays true to themselves and enjoys what they do. That’s really important because things can get tough. I think creatives need to come back to their core reason of why they’re doing it and that will give them resilience to keep going. It’s also a good idea to have another career to go alongside it.
What are your aspirations for art in NZ?
I think there need to be far more art awards. There are very few competitions that we can enter into. I’ve always felt NZ needs to value the arts more. Art is so important for humanity and our wellbeing. I think some people think it’s unnecessary but it speaks to so many people.
Kate Mackenzie’s exhibition Hot with a Chance of Normality will be held at Muse Art Gallery in Havelock North in November.