If you’ve ever walked around town with your eyes open you will have seen artist Katie Noller’s signature shapes adorning walls as part of First Coat.
They wriggle their way down a 40-metre wall on Little Street, opposite Grand Central, and are splashed on another wall in Keefe Street.
So what are they exactly? The answer is: anything you want them to be.
Katie says you shouldn’t need to know anything about art to be able to enjoy it, which is why she loves making her abstract shapes so much.
Katie has been painting since she was young, and moved here from outside Bundaberg to study art at uni. In her day job she actually works as the manager at optometrist Bailey Nelson and has previously worked as a Vision Therapist.
Recently Katie went on a holiday to Hobart and loved it so much she’s moving there. So before Katie packs her bags, here’s some snippets of a chat we had!
What’s your occupation?
That’s a tough first question because I have two loves. I am painter and I work in optical retail as a store manager for an exciting new Australian company called Bailey Nelson.
I am always going to make art and Bailey Nelson are very supportive of that part of my life so it is a balance between both. There is always something on my plate and I fill all my spare time outside of the store with painting opportunities.
Art is actually made for everybody, not just for a gallery or to be critiqued, it’s made to say something, to connect with others, to make them feel something.
Have you always done the shapes and what do you like about them?
Through art school I did a bit of everything, which I think everybody does, and as I did I realised I really liked abstraction; I really liked pictures that looked like nothing.
They don’t give you too much. Anyone can look at it and feel like they can make it what they want it to be, especially kids.
Kids are my favourite audience; they’re the best. They just say what they really think it is, and what they really feel when they see art.
My view is you shouldn’t need to know anything about art to be able to enjoy it. Art is actually made for everybody, not just for a gallery or to be critiqued, it’s made to say something, to connect with others, to make them feel something.
When you’re making a big work like the one in Little Street do you map it out or let it happen?
A little bit of both.
I make a couple of different types of work, some of my work is really detailed with fine patterns and some of it is the big bold, colourful shapes.
So I kind of have to decide time-wise how long it will take me to do what I want to do on a large scale. After a practice run I realised my original design wouldn’t work so I was forced to change it.
And I thought “you know what, I’ve never made these shapes to be this big before, I want to make them bigger than me”. They start off to be child sized at one end of the wall and at the end of the wall they are bigger than the human form.
It is very poetic that the work is on a childcare centre and this was the deciding factor of the shapes I chose. The best changes to your design and your practice come from necessary challenges.
What is vision therapy?
Probably one thing that people don’t realise is the difference between sight and vision. Sight is being able to see clearly, vision is being able to attach meaning to what we see and use it to get through the world.
I can see a car coming, but my vision tells me how fast it’s coming, its relationship to me and if can I get across the road in time.
Vision grows as you do. From a baby right through adult life, vision is constantly being developed to keep you alive, basically.
Vision therapy is done with a behavioural optometrist. They test to see when someone’s visual development could be improved or if it has been delayed.
It could be anything from an eight-year-old needing a little bit more eye control to stay on track to finish their school-work or it could be somebody wanting to improve their golf handicap, or stroke victims that need to retrain their vision systems.
That’s kind of what art is, just navigating through life together.
If I had trouble crossing the road, what’s one technique you could teach me to improve my vision?
The best and worst part about vision therapy is it’s not a trick. It’s an intensive program of retraining your brain.
For young kids we start them laying on the ground learning where they are in the world. They have to learn how much space they take up.
Usually with adults it’s just being aware that they actually do control their vision. It’s not something you’re just dealt, it’s something you can work on and when I learnt that for vision therapy it was a game changer.
I started painting again. I started applying what I learnt in vision therapy to what I had learnt through my honours thesis in painting; which was expanding painting to be something that’s not just in a gallery but rather something that challenges your visual perception. The aim of both my art and vision therapy is to challenge how you see yourself in the world.
The reason I know I will always be involved in art is that I feel now that I understand why people create things – whether it’s a writer or a musician or an actor or an artist – they do it because they want to know the world better, collectively.
It’s like they want to explore the world, figure it out, but they want to share what they’re doing.
I think it is the best thing, because it’s so selfless. It’s like “I’m going to put myself out there, I’m going to use whatever skill I have, if it’s just pen and paper, or painting a building, and I’m going to try and figure out this stuff with you guys”. That’s my favourite bit.
That’s basically what vision therapy is and that’s kind of what art is, just navigating through life together.
Buy before she goes
Katie’s having a sale on all her artworks before she moves to Hobart. Follow her on Instagram at @nollerk to find out how to score your own piece.
Photos courtesy of Kirsty Lee except the Little Street photo, which is by Luke Shirlaw