Natural History, Pollokshields Library, Glasgow, Commissioned by The Common Guild, 2023.

Kate Davis, ‘Natural History’, Pollokshields Library, 2023. All photos: Ruth Clark.

Kate Davis

‘Natural History’

Pollokshields Library, Glasgow

Commissioned by The Common Guild

Kate Davis has made a series of drawings that employ ‘frottage’ techniques. The frottages (or crayon rubbings) are taken from the interior and exterior of her local library in Pollokshields. These drawings are presented as a limited edition artist’s book which is freely available to anyone visiting Pollokshields library.

Davis’ frottage drawings take direct visual inspiration from the Surrealist artist Max Ernst (1891–1976) who developed the method in 1925. Ernst published a collection of his own frottage drawings in 1926, titled Histoire Naturelle (Natural History), several of these depicting animal forms. Focusing on the library as a site for exploring language, Davis’s ‘Natural History’ explores ‘woman as animal’ idioms – questioning how familiar phrases might be unpicked and reimagined. 

The term ‘high horse’, which is reclaimed in Deborah Levy’s 2021 book Real Estate, provides a key motif in Davis’s new work. A 1973 small press publication, An Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Dirty Words: Volume One of the Feminist English Dictionary, offers further animal metaphors which ‘Natural History’ explores. Max Ernst described frottage as a means of making the unseen ‘visible’. This idea extends Davis’ interest in reconsidering histories and representations which are often absent, overlooked, or perhaps hiding in plain sight. 

Davis has also worked with children from Pollokshields Primary School to create their own fantastical creatures and imaginary beasts using collage and frottage drawing techniques. Their artworks are also on display at Pollokshields library.

‘Natural History’ is accompanied by a short piece of writing, ‘On Her High Horse’,  by author and journalist Charlotte Higgins – available here. 

Kate Davis would like to thank: Effie Flood, Alison Nicol and all the staff at Pollokshields Library; Charlie Hammond, Patrick Jameson, Andrew Lee, Deborah Levy, Jonny Lyon, Mara the Storyteller, Katherine Mackinnon, Dominic Paterson, Yvonne Quirmbach.