Arts + Culture

Q&A with Artist Kate Bickmore

A conversation between painter Kate Bickmore and her gallerist, Andrew Reed, on painting like falling in love, the freckles of flowers, and finding the present in the Florida swamps.

Andrew Reed
November 14, 2023

This interview has been edited and condensed.

In 2022, I decided that it was the right time to open up a gallery in my hometown of Miami. I grew up here, and always knew I would return, but my career had taken me to New York, where I worked at a string of large art world institutions like Sotheby’s, David Zwirner, and David Kordansky. After four years, I decided that it was time to strike out on my own. I teased my new venture with three group exhibitions in a pop-up format in Miami, followed by a summer show in New York. I opened my new, permanent space in Miami with a two-person show of Dan Attoe & Anthony Miller’s works. My next show, and my first solo show, opens on December 5th—just in time for Art Basel Miami Beach. We are located in Allapattah, which is already becoming a bit of an arts district, just a block away from the Rubell Museum.

Kate Bickmore, As a Body Hers Was Perfection, 2023, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches.  Exhibited in ABR Contemporary's Horizon Line, March 3 — April 1, 2023, Miami Beach. Photography courtesy Zachary Balber.

My first solo show will feature paintings by emerging British-American artist Kate Bickmore, who is known for her colorful, hyper-realistic florascapes. In Kate’s paintings, large-scale plants recede and emerge from the surface of the canvas, creating an immersive world that is at once realistic and fantastic. I first met Kate through my partner, Cecilia, who befriended her while they were both living in London. It has been incredibly meaningful for me to form a friendship with Kate while also working as her gallerist, and I am honored to inaugurate my gallery with her first solo show in the United States.

In this interview, Kate speaks with me about her practice, inspirations, and provides some insight into her upcoming exhibition.  

Andrew Reed: Kate, tell me a bit about yourself.

Kate Bickmore: I am a British-American artist. I have been living in London for the last five years. But I'm currently at a residency in New York City. I graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2019 and since then I have been working on these large-scale florascape paintings.

AR: Thanks, Kate. And I'm Andrew Reed, founder of Andrew Reed Gallery. I have exhibited Kate's work in group shows in December 2022 and March 2023. Right now, I’m here with Kate at her studio. And we're sitting in front of three really beautiful approximately 60 x 48 inch paintings that Kate will be exhibiting shortly. I’ll start easy here. How do you start your day?  

KB: First off, I love these questions. I'm always really interested in learning about people's morning routines. I get up around 7:30, make myself a cup of tea, check my phone. And then I like to do a bit of meditation. I’ve been meditating for a while; it's a big part of my practice. On an ideal day, I’ll go on a run, come home, make a smoothie, and then try to get to the studio, I'd say, by ten or ten thirty. And then I paint until I can't paint anymore. And then I go home and have dinner. And yeah, watch something and call it a night.  

I like to get all my personal tasks out of the way in the morning. I think it's just a nice way to start the day, to respond to my emails, and get my work out in. You know, start on a good note. And then when I'm in the studio, I know that I get to paint for the rest of the day, of course.

AR:  Speaking of painting, do you want to talk a bit about your process?

KB: I think the majority of my practice is really process. It's so funny, because the paintings really come together in the final weeks of what sometimes is a two-to-three month long process.

All the work is inspired by how I see and experience the natural world as a highly sensitive queer woman. So I think the paintings are always very physical and sensual. There's a lot of attention to the flesh, and the physicality and the color and the lights and all these things that I feel and notice when I'm in a space or with someone that I love. I'm really attuned to the skin or the light or the atmosphere.

And then for the reference photos, it's a mix of things that I happen to just stumble upon. I might be walking down the street, and there's a flower peeking around someone's fence into the sunlight. And I'll take some photos. And other times, [I select the flowers] with a lot more control. I work with a wonderful florist in London, Samuel Thomas, who comes to my studio and helps me build a floral set, like a diorama, where we can control the lighting.

Recently, we had been thinking a lot about swamps because of this upcoming solo show in Florida. So I invited Samuel to the studio. And we got a bunch of plants and created a small bog which his brilliant partner Lucien then helped photograph for us.

And then I have also been very intentionally going to places and photographing them. When I was in Florida, my mom and I went on a hike to the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve [in Naples], and I got a bunch of photos of the swamp and the orchids we saw growing there. We also went to the Naples Botanical Garden and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and I got a bunch of photos from there. And so, between all of those things, I have been adding to my library of images, which oftentimes is really overwhelming. I was just reading about this recently—there's like, half a million different species of flowers. Not even plants, just flowers. So I have been working on this giant library of images, and then I go through and I see what I'm responding to. It really feels limitless. It's a really intuitive process.

I'll then create these digital collages from these images to kind of get a loose sense of the color palette and the composition. And then once I have that, I go to the drawing stage, which then develops usually into a watercolor. I like having a miniature reproduction of what I'm about to paint, where I'm able to really solidify the composition of the thing. And I also think with these plants, because they're all ones I've seen and experienced, that there is something very sensual about it. I depict every wrinkle, hair, and vein. It’s personal. If there's part of the petal that's torn off, then I want to articulate it.  

Historically, botanical illustration was something really scientific and objective, where they wanted to have the perfect representation of a plant. And I'm not interested in that at all right now; I'm way more interested in articulating this plant, as I see it now, as it existed in the moment, the way people exist in particular moments. Diverse, totally unique. And I love getting to know something over time, because I'm painting some of these plants over a course of weeks. And it's almost the same way as when you fall in love with someone right? You start to recognize certain freckles and the way they look in a certain light. There's something really romantic and beautiful about that. So I make the watercolors in a very long, roundabout way, but once I have the watercolor then I go straight to the painting. And that's a process of really layering to create this immersive space that's like receding and emerging from the canvas.  

AR: Yes, absolutely. Does environmentalism play a role in your practice at all?  


A florascape in Kate Bickmore's studio. Artistic director: Kate Bickmore; floral installation: Samuel Thomas; lighting and photography: Lucien Pinchon.

KB: It's interesting, I feel like at this moment, It doesn't have as much a direct influence yet. I mean, obviously, it's on my mind, especially with going to Florida and Fakahatchee, and seeing how some of these orchids are endangered and really rare.  Rather than being concerned with how my work can save the planet, I think I'm more interested in helping people have a newfound inspiration or relationship to their environment. Which is why I'm so excited about showing some of these paintings in Florida, because this will be the first time in my practice that I've made paintings about a specific geographic area, and then shown them in that same space.

And also, literally in the backyard of where we are doing the show is Fairchild Garden. And we got to go to Fairchild together recently, which was an incredible experience.  

AR: It was amazing. It’s a true gem. My father told me that Fairchild Garden is one of the few institutions in Miami that is quintessential old Miami, and is also on par with any other institution of its kind around the world.

KB: I totally agree. And they’re doing a lot of really important work, trying to reintroduce certain species that have stopped growing in the local area and bringing them back.

AR: Moving on a bit, you mentioned a few of your artistic influences earlier, but do you want to just maybe list a few more and give our readers a sense of what inspires you?

KB: There are parts of my painting that are very hyper realistic, but also parts that are quite impressionistic, and parts—like when I'm building up the atmosphere—where I'm thinking a lot about Rothko. One artist who I love to mention, because people don't talk about her much, is Marianne North. She has her own gallery at Kew Gardens, which is actually the longest standing permanent solo exhibition of a woman in the world. And she was an amazing Victorian painter. Basically she took the money her father left her when he passed and just traveled the world painting plants. When you go to this gallery, it's all hung salon style, which she designed. It’s organized by the countries she visited and it's hundreds of paintings of incredible plants. And a lot of them were painted on site—she would hike through the Himalayas looking for these plants.

AR: Of course in the history of painting flowers, we would be remiss to not mention Georgia O'Keeffe.  

Kate Bickmore and Andrew Reed at Kate Bickmore's studio in Rockland, Maine. Photography courtesy of Cecilia March.

KB: There are two paintings that come to mind that have really inspired me. One of them is Black Iris VI by Georgia O’Keeffe. It actually came up for auction at Christie's recently. My family had a print of that painting in our basement. And I love to think there's something really mysterious and beautiful about it stuck in my head. The other one is actually Ophelia by John Everett Millais. There's something a bit messed up about how the model was forced to sit in this cold bath. And it has this push-pull effect because on the one hand, the attention to nature and the landscape in the work is so detailed and sensitive. But then I'm also cognizant of how, when we think about women in relationship to nature, it has entered our psyche that a woman is just this beautiful, passive object that is strewn, you know, or floating down a river or whatever.

For me, my relationship with nature is active—there's an agency to it. And I think that's something that I really want my paintings to show, they're not just these little pretty flowers, they're alive and growing, breathing and breaking out of the canvas.

AR:  We’ve talked a bit about the Dutch Golden Age painters as well.  

KB: They're great, too. I think something interesting about them is that the bouquets they painted actually didn't exist, ever; those flowers were in season at different points of the year. And oftentimes, in my compositions, I'm putting together plants that you would never see growing in the same place. I love the Hudson River painters too, as I grew up in upstate New York. And they would do the same thing. They would travel around the world making sketches and get all this reference material from their travels. And then when they made their paintings, they would collage it together, which is why you get these insane compositions of a volcano and a sunset and a waterfall with a rainbow.

AR: Are there any contemporaries that you look to?  

KB: So many! Recently I've been admiring new works by Chris Ofili, Nicolas Party, Emma Webster, Sasha Gordon, and Jesse Mockrin.

AR: How do you feel like your practice has changed in the last couple years?

KB: I think moving in the direction of having some of my paintings be more geographically inspired is very new. And introducing more of the sense of landscape in the background is very, very new—just in the last few months.

AR: If you can, I would love for you to share more about the work you are making for your upcoming show at my gallery.

KB: Of course! When we first met back in September, I felt a synchronicity because I was reading Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, and that's all about Fakahatchee and orchid hunting. I knew immediately after reading that I wanted to be in that landscape. Little did I know that less than a year later, I'd be hiking through the foggy swamps, and making paintings and showing them in Miami. So it really is an example of manifesting. I will be showing a mix of works inspired by this experience, as well as my trips to the botanical gardens in Florida, and my time in Maine, where I'll be working over the summer. I'm very excited to build up this body of work and then exhibit it in Miami in your new gallery space.  

Kate Bickmore’s solo show opens December 5 from 6-8pm at Andrew Reed Gallery, 800 NW 22nd Street in Miami. The show will be on view through January 6, 2024, Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-6pm.

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