They say the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. Well, Brighton-based artist, Kate Jenkins has taken that sentiment and run with it.
“My niche was always being able to make anything out of wool,” Jenkins explains, and it truly seems there’s nothing she can’t whip up with her trusty knitting needles and crochet hook. Everything from sequinned sardines to knitted kippers has received her magic touch.
This week, as we launch a charming collection of Kate Jenkins artworks at Enter Gallery, we’re chatting to the artist about her lifelong love affair with yarn, and how her creations have captured imaginations around the world.
Jenkins first picked up the tools of her trade at the urging of the women in her family, “My mother and my grandmother were both expert knitters and crocheters, so they taught me everything I know. I love the way yarn can be sculpted and manipulated to any form you want.”
Her love of the craft led to a successful career as a knitwear designer. Over the years she’s been the brains behind knitted and embroidered designs used by everyone from Marc Jacobs and Coach, to Missoni and Donna Karan. This talent for weaving beautiful items has been instrumental to her art. Kate explains:
“I use the same techniques I used on these garments in my artworks. All of the sequinning you see on my sardines, for example, is the same technique that you would find on a couture item, like a Chanel jacket. It’s high fashion techniques put into a different format.”
From high fashion to knitted fish and chips is quite the leap, so we were fascinated to understand how that change in career direction came about. How exactly did Jenkins get started knitting everything from insects and cigarettes, to an entire fishmongers? Jenkins reveals:
“The first thing I made was a fried breakfast back in 2007. I held a mini exhibition at my studio and show room as part of Brighton Fringe’s Artist Open Houses. I created a mini collection called, ‘Comfort Food’, which included the fry up, along with bangers and mash, fish and chips and beans on toast. People really connected with it and my art career kind of took off from there! It felt great to be taking the skills I’d honed in the fashion world and using them for something that took me out my comfort zone.”
Since the success of her first exhibition, Jenkins’ career has taken off, with commissions coming in thick and fast from all around the world.
Over the years, people’s requests have spanned everything from bagels to breasts. Kate tells us: “It was all very funny. We had a lot of back and forth over the right coloured yarn to perfectly match her nipples. I had to send a lot of photos of crotched nipples before we found the winner!”
Jenkins’ first London exhibition took place in 2008, for which she created a Greasy Spoon Café complete with knitted saucepans and sauce bottles.
This was followed by a supermarket, a life-sized fish counter - ‘Kate’s Plaice and Stitchmongery’ featuring an array of sequinned lobsters and prawns, a fancy dinner party – ‘Come Dine With Kate’ - and a bakery at Harbour City Shopping Mall in Hong Kong.
In 2022, Jenkins brought colourful scoops and nostalgic lollipops to Atelier by the Sea on Brighton Beach as part of her ‘Kate’s Cones’ installation. Visitors were treated to knitted creations, including her Elton John and Dolly Parton inspired treats, a Rocket ice lolly, and a vanilla ‘Lolly Parton’.
Spinning a good yarn
It’s clear from pieces like Beware of Spam and Funta that Jenkins likes infusing her creations with her sense of humour. She tells us: “All kinds of people can relate to food really quickly and it makes them smile. If you can make them laugh too that’s a wonderful bonus.”
“If I can squeeze a word or visual pun into a piece, people love that. I made a Greggs vegan sausage roll once, so I depicted the sausage roll coming out of the bag, flipping the v’s.”
Jenkins reveals that her work is inspired by international travel and her exploration of galleries, museums, and flea markets. She reveals: “I’m obsessed with visiting supermarkets when I go abroad, and always ask my friends to bring me tins back from their travels. There are so many good tins to be found – sardines, olives, anything with a fancy tin! I have mountains of them at home.”
Next on the menu…
The world’s appetite for Kate’s art seems to know no bounds, and her upcoming exhibition sounds tastier than ever…
“In 2021, I was delighted to be selected by Museum Rijswijk in The Netherlands as one of 25 artists from around the world chosen to be part of their Textile Biennale ‘Food for Thought’. As part of the Biennale there was a public vote, and my work was chosen to have a solo show, which starts in November 2022.”
For Café Kate, Jenkins is transforming the new wing of the museum into a ‘knitted and crocheted food universe’. Her food plaza will include a bakery, Kate’s Cones, and a Dutch café, where all of the tables will be laid up with plates of Dutch food, including stroopwafels and Oliebollen (Dutch donuts).
Explore our collection of wonderful woven works from Kate Jenkins here.