Generosity of spirit is such an important human quality, and nowhere more so than in the arts. It floats quickly to the top when I think of what has defined great art dealers, directors and writers. Creating the connections - the warmth that makes everything else naturally take place.
I can think of no one more generous of spirit than Katy Corner, who passed away Friday 16 September, aged 59. A fine Wellington art writer (a former writer of Art News Wellington Postcard) and artist, yes, but what really defined Katy was the party. The way she enabled connections between people and made people feel special.
When I moved to Wellington in the mid 90s as a young 26-year-old freelance arts critic and journalist, Katy was the first great friend I made. That’s a story I’m sure I share with many. She sought out people with whom she sensed a connection, moving in free independent space between things. Her soirees - in the beautiful beloved Ernst Plischke modernist apartment that sits, solid and serene, between the world and garden at the bottom of Frank and Lyn Corner’s place in Thorndon - were legendary. Her recent funeral at Old St Paul’s was studded with Wellington art and media mavericks. Independent types who started or contributed to galleries, newspapers and curious enterprises. People, like her, who wanted to share their love of the arts of all kinds.
Previous to Art News, Katy worked from 1993 to 2001 as the visual arts writer for City Voice, that powerful collective voice at the heart of an emerging Wellington in the 1990s. To this day I think of it as one of our finest newspapers. Here Katy demonstrated her enormous knowledge but also love of artists and their art.
We shared a lot as we both wrote weekly to hard deadlines. Katy insisted she was never a critic but an appreciator. Her writing had such clarity, thoughtfulness and, yes, generosity. It was also honest, and in this respect it was in its own way critical. It had dignity and heart. We don’t seem to encourage art writing this human anymore.
Above all in work and life Katy was a friend to a great many Wellington artists. She gave support, warmth, and strange Asian bonbons to out-of-the-box people who received little professional recognition elsewhere.
Katy was always giving you things - and such unusual eclectic things. Life with katy was some gentle and colourful surreal festival. Japanese ephemera was central - a number of us recall receiving plastic racing Sushi (think clockwork mice, in a sushi disguise). Long before colouring books were the adult rage I received for my children a colouring book of the human anatomy, in intense scientific detail.
Katy had such an eye for intense colourful detail out in the world. It’s no wonder she was attracted to the art gallery beat, banqueting on such a phantasmagoria of different collected creative visions. Like the eclectic, fully laden coffee table of snacks at a Katy Corner party; like her embroidery.
Her last gift to me was one of her tapestries. These are wonderful pulsating icons, shown at Mahara Gallery Waikanae back in 2010. Unique and complex (as Mahara director Janet Bayly recalls them) they show the spirit of her great friend the late Gordon Crook; but these geometric colourful fractal creations constantly defy categorization - emblems for diversity and spontaneity.
Suffering for years from insomnia, she would craft late at night. One result was her accomplishment of the art of Japanese Kumihimo braiding. Just last year she had a collaborative exhibition with another great independent creative maverick and supporter of others, jeweler Peter Decker. At Avid Gallery. Katy did the braiding - Peter hung from them pendants.
Perhaps I should have sewn Katy’s tapestry on a cushion, or framed it and hung it on the wall, but instead it hung around on my dressing table for years. I could never bear to stash it away.
I liked that, like Katy, it didn’t quite fit in anywhere conventional. Until the day of her funeral that is - I decided to wear it to the service, pinned on the back of my blue suit jacket.
It seemed fitting for my friend the art writer that I made an exhibition of myself.
- Mark Amery