Kate Piekutowski brings her Polish culture to Sandy Bay
A rtist Kate Piekutowski’s love of pattern, decoration and vintage style brightens the charming, symmetrical, Federation-style house she shares with two housemates at Sandy Bay. Her casual yet “just-so” approach to interiors brings cosiness and highlights the elegant home’s period features.
But for Kate, the concept of home is a complex one that fuels ideas for her art, crossing cultural and geographical lines from Hobart to Poland and beyond.
With Kate’s birthday falling the day before we visited, we are treated to some of her mum’s chocolate birthday torte – served with cups of Aeropress coffee – on a lounge draped with Kate’s much-loved crocheted ‘nanna blankets’. We drink from folk-art cups decorated with intricate Polish patterns, which leads us to her cultural background.
“I have a sort of mixed background, because I was brought up speaking Polish and lived in a traditional Polish household at Taroona,” she says. “It took me a while to realise I was a bit different from my friends, that we celebrated different customs and traditions.”
Kate’s vivid imagination and childhood fascination with her Eastern European roots created a fantasy-fuelled picture of Poland that was both confirmed and shattered on her first trip there at age 12. Despite the shock of experiencing a society very different from Tasmania, it opened her eyes to rich cultural traditions of art-making – particularly etching – that ultimately led her to pursue a career as a printmaker.
“When we were there my parents took me to every single museum they could. Really, I blame them for me becoming an artist,” she laughs. “My uncle also had a collection of 300-year-old etchings that are incredibly detailed, which we brought back here.”
Subsequent trips to Poland yielded coffee cups, an embroidered tablecloth and other Polish folk art, all symbols of the connection she has felt with the country from a young age. “For many years I just wanted to be in Poland, I wanted to go home,” she says.
“I felt like I was floating between two worlds, not belonging here or there.”
This yearning for a sense of place and permeates her etchings, which she refers to as “semi-autobiographical, dark and emotional”. She often places a version of herself in her images, along with motifs associated with travel, history, the natural environment and architecture, with the latter featuring strongly in her latest series.
“I’m really interested in the constructed world and my printmaking is also very much about the construction of an image,” she says. “I’m questioning how society works, what we’ve built and how we identify ourselves within a community.”
Ruby shoes appear in many of Kate’s works, clearly referencing Dorothy’s yearning for home in The Wizard of Oz, but in a personal, Polish-Australian context.
We conclude our conversation in her pale-blue bedroom, which is bathed in morning light from the bay window. It’s a nostalgic scene with displays of patterned vintage dresses, old suitcases, ceramics and handpainted guitars she customised during artist residencies in Greece and New Zealand.
While Kate regularly travels abroad to create new work, her love for hometown Hobart has grown stronger. She explains a turning point when she genuinely started to connect with her Tasmanian surroundings.
“I started including Tasmanian flora in my work, and realised there are things here that are so beautiful and that I can’t see anywhere else in the world,” she says. “That was when I really started to appreciate what I have here.”
Clockwise from top left, artist Kate Piekutowski at her Sandy Bay home; some of Kate’s guitars, which she painted at residencies in Greece and New Zealand; the exterior of the Federation-style home;a guitar Kate decorated and plays; a vinyl record; and one of her artworks, Nostalgia For Home.