Kathy Prendergast’s art explores themes of Irish homeland, history, and emigration. She is known for her very large pastel and charcoal works on paper. Her sculptures reflect back to early Irish history and Ireland’s unique topography and geography as she aims to have viewers look again at the overlooked.
Born in Dublin, Ireland Prendergast studied at the National College of Art & Design in Dublin. In 1983, she moved to London and completed an M.A. in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art in 1988. Although she has made her home in London, she uses her early memories of Ireland in her work.
Between 1982 and 1983 Prendergast did a “Body Map” series where she drew a woman’s body as landscape. She literally mapped a female body using ink and watercolor on paper. The association between the contours of landscape and the contours of woman was made graphic.
This mapping of territory – where an explicitly female body became legible in relation to the ideas of domination and colonization – becomes significant in an Irish context. Furthermore the measuring of a land mass, in which a woman’s body is dissected and charted like an area of managed land, has always been the work of men.
Her 1989-91 sculpture “Stack” consists of cloth, string, wood, and paint. It is taller than head height and looks at first like a landscape or land mass. Its contoured layers of blue denim and felt replicates the physical geographical coastal feature of a stack of rocks. However, up close the piece could be a stack of denim material in a clothing factory where such work in Ireland has always been the work of women.
Her 1989 large drawing, “Hand,” shows grooves and furrows that resemble a landscape. This work is often paired with a related work, an oversized drawing, “Leaf.” When seen together there is the suggestion of the interchangeability of humans and nature. In her subsequent “City Map” drawings from the 1990s, the shift was towards the representation of geographical space through mapping and naming.
In 1992, Prendergast made “Two Hundred Words for Lonely,” a pillow inscribed with the word ‘lonely’ in 200 languages.
Her 2016 installation “Atlas” has 100 modified road atlases with each opened on a trestle table. She has taken the ordinary AA Road Atlas of Europe and transformed it into a statement about migration and displacement. Here – as in her earlier “Black Maps” series – she uses erasure to obliterate boundaries and borders.
She represented Ireland at the Paris Biennale in 1985 and at the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995 where she was awarded the Biennale’s Best Young Artist Award for her “City Drawings.” In 1997, an enlarged set of “City Map” drawings was exhibited at the Tate Gallery, London. In 1999, the Irish Museum of Modern Art gave her a mid-term retrospective. In 2018, she won the David and Yuko Juda Art Foundation Award.
In 1989, she was elected to Aosdana, an honorary group established by Dublin’s Art Council to honor those who had made an “outstanding contribution to the arts in Ireland.” She has exhibited in various group exhibitions at MoMA Oxford, Irish MoMA, Tate Britain, Sydney Biennale, and New York’s MoMA PS1.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the Tate London, Irish MoMA in Dublin, Contemporary Arts Society in London, and Dublin’s Municipal’s Art Gallery among others.