How To Knit A Nebula

Ahead of new Kate Jacob exhibition at Mura Ma this month, Nan Collantine explores the Sheffield based artists creative practice
Nancy Collantine
January 15, 2024

The paintings of Sheffield artist, Kate Jacob will be presented in a solo exhibition from 26 January - 10 February at Mura Ma art gallery in Marple, Stockport.

Jacob studied at Manchester Metropolitan University and after a long break from her art practice to work in arts management, she returned to the studio in 2019 completing a Turps mentoring Correspondence Course in 2021, and she continues to study with the Fine Art Mentoring course at Morley College London . This exhibition is the first major show of her work and a brand new series of paintings in over 20 years.

You’ve called your exhibition, ‘How to knit a nebula’, how did you arrive at this title?

A nebular is a giant cloud of cosmic dust and gas, is the former site of a star, but also its birthplace. The impossible idea of knitting together a nebula describes my process of articulating various states of being, in particular, my attempts to trace the voids, spaces and of loss and memory. Originally I studied textiles so there was also something poetic in describing paint as a substance to knit with.

How do you reach for this in your painting?

I see my paintings and drawings as investigative; I am working with ideas we see as abstract but are as real as the physical world we live in. In colour, mark, shape and gesture I find the fluidity and freedom to convey those spaces, trying to get to the bottom of something not always known; being fully aware and totally unsure.

Kate Jacob Artist, Sheffield, Mura Ma Gallery
Kate Jacob (Image Kate Jacob)

How would you describe this process, you are dealing with abstract concepts, but would you say you are an abstract painter? Or even an expressionist?

Only in that I think these are labels, and labels are a useful way for people to initially access the work; so when describing the work, the first way for people to imagine or understand it is as abstract as I’m not relating to known images or objects. Expressionism is possibly less fitting as the work is more about the experience of being, rather than the expression of it, it’s more layered than pure emotion. What is my ism? I’m not sure there is a box for the experience of an event, a place, a moment in time all at once? Take grief as an example, it’s not just sadness or anger, it’s a mass of thoughts, emotions and states of being, experienced over time. It encompasses many states including guilt, flatness, relief, euphoria, closeness, disconnection and melancholy; and we move and flow between them. It’s not linear, it’s layered and connected.

This exhibition offers a series of paintings, each with something different going on. Do you work on a few paintings at the same time?

Yes, at times I can have 20 - 30 paintings all at different stages, I’ve just done a count and found 40 canvases dotted about my studio. They rotate around, on the wall, leaned up on a surface or piled up by the door. Working on lots of canvases at once allows me to indulge my leaning towards an obsessive, immersive nature, if I like a mark of a colour, I want to use it everywhere. It also curbs my frustration when I can’t see a way into a painting, so if something it’s not working I can turn to another and keep things moving. It suits the way my brain works, I start with speed, a frenetic energy and slow down as I go along, so working on lots at the same time allows the fast process to flow, and the slower process to focus and consider.

Who would you say you paint for?

I am aware of an external audience during the process but that comes in and out of awareness, but even if I didn’t show my work, I’d still have a need to make it. It’s another language that I need to speak in to make sense of myself and this bat shit crazy world we live in. I think this need gets greater the older I get. This also talks about what function art has for us, and I think most artists at some point question who am I doing this for? What significance does this have for others? Painting has a history of being elite, and other, and I think a lot of modern art has been about re-evaluating this, in an age of raising consciousness. Contemporary painting can raise questions, and is often about the search for answers, whether that’s challenging political structures, cultural and social norms, race and gender identities. Like science, there is need to know why, to understand the how, the what the next, ultimately it’s what connects us to ourselves, our communities, the physical and other worlds we frequent. I think art does this but in a different language and speaks to us at a different frequency.

Press and Release, Kate Jacob
Press And Release. Kate Jacob

What sustains your painting, how do you keep going?

Put a pen in my hand and I start making marks. I don’t know what if it’s a physical need but the act of moving something around to some rhythm is instinctive. The more I make a mark the more it spirals into a connected pattern and out of that a drawing or painting emerges. I have notebooks full of odd doodles scrawled across pages, anything left on a table will get scrawled over.

There have been long periods when I’ve not been able to paint, times when too much has been going on externally and the space of the studio has felt overwhelming. That’s come in waves but its lead to me to realise that work takes different patterns throughout our lives. Now the studio is the sanctuary - it’s where I shut out the external and the space is just for me and that is a lot of what I need to sustain my practice, that room of my own. I also have rituals, for instance, I always work with clean brushes, I drink black coffee from a proper China cup, my paints and brushes are organised in drawers and I regularly reorder my materials and my surroundings, all of this distracts me whilst I process the work. 

How To Knit A Nebula

How to knit a nebula opens at Mura Ma Art Space on 26 February – 10 February 2024. Preview Thursday 25 January 7pm-9pm. Further information and catalogue HERE.

Talk and Taste event, hosted by art historian Sara Riccardi in conversation with Kate Jacob, with tasting menu inspired by Kate’s paintings, from the artisan chef Claire Woodier on Friday 9 February 7- 9pm, tickets £28 per person. Booking via the Mura Ma website.

Header Image: Slow Mo At Full Speed. Kate Jacob