Ten years ago, Kate Banazi arrived in Australia without her silk screen or her friends.

“Moving to a different country, having no friends, being quite shy and awkward means you get a lot of work done,” the artist recalls of the unusually solitary circumstances from which her practice as it exists today would emerge. Without the substantial kit she now employs as part of her serigraph printing practice, Banazi bought a computer while she awaited the boat that would ferry her belongings to Sydney from the United Kingdom. It would turn out to be something of a blessing, bestowing upon the then-illustrator the space, time and quiet in which she was allowed to experiment with abstracting the graphic elements, linear structures and hand drawn forms with which she has made her name.

Today, that quiet is intermittently cut through by the sound of incoming aircraft, their distended bellies passing by above at a distance that feels comically, perilously close to our heads. Banazi has been here in her Sydenham studio for going on three years now. She shares the remainder of the building with an illustrator, an Indian wedding photographer and – in the lower half of their split level studio– Kate Baker, a glass artist whose studio is strewn with dismembered casts of body parts rendered in lurid candy-like colours.

“She’s the proper artist. I’m a pretender”, Banazi says with a self-deprecating laugh, staring down at the disembodied flotsam of another artist’s practice. “It’s almost that weird of, ‘Where do you sit within art and design?’

“People always ask where you want to position yourself. You’re going, ‘I’m just doing what I’m doing. I’m happy’.

Credit: Lester Jones

Banazi grew up in London near Hamstead Heath and evokes with fondness days spent getting lost wandering the heath with her sister and time spent in the company of a considerable extended family governed by “lots of incredible women, who were dynamos.” Banazi’s mother – an illustrator, graphic artist, and typographer – met her father, a graphic designer, at the London College of Printing at a time when the graphic arts were newly burgeoning. Together, they established a studio that they shared with a screen printer – details that all seem rather auspicious in hindsight. Banazi says she always felt comfortable with the idea of pursuing an art-based practice having grown up watching her parents not only draw but do everything by hand and concedes that there’s possibly a certain amount of inevitability to her having arrived at the place she is today – which, of course, is not to say that it has been an entirely direct trajectory.

“I think I’m very, very privileged to have the luxury, one, of having a studio and, two, [that] my commercial work is diminishing to the point where my finer art practice is able to support that.”

Which isn’t to say that Banazi approaches her commercial obligations as though they are a chore. In fact, she relishes the challenges that they present to her to learn new skills by, for example, working with architects to manipulate her work and extrapolate it into much larger scales and setting than the space of her studio might ordinarily allow for. “I do love working with other people,” she says. “Watching them work, learning their skills.” In the past, Banazi has also collaborated with Dion Lee on creating graphics for a resort collection; with Qantas on creating a new range of graphics for their business class amenities; and more recently, with a young designer Ryan McGoldrick on a series of sculptural lights that were exhibited at Salone del Mobile, the Milanese design fair with a reputation for being the world’s largest.

Credit: Lester Jones

For all of those disparate design elements and the multifarious skill sets that they imply, Banazi’s technical background is, of all things, in menswear. A graduate of the illustrious Central Saint Martins where she studied alongside contemporaries like Katie Grand, Antonio Beradi and Lee McQueen, she spent a decade ricocheting around the nascent London menswear scene, a time that was most enjoyably spent crafting bespoke clothing for clients with “that Saville Row feel” and relishing in “the structure of it all”. The process and exposure to tailors, filmmakers, and stylists instilled in Banazi a love of craft and process, and a deep respect for the craft and processes of others.

“When you look back on that, the design community has been very kind to me, in that the people I’ve met have been amazing. I’m very lucky to [have been] taken under their wing, really. I still feel the same. It’s being invited into the field: ‘Do your own thing, that’s fine. Just come and play. Come and play with my toys.’”

Credit: Lester Jones

Perhaps more interesting, however, are Banazi’s own toys and the work that results from her playing with them. Her work is bold, assuming often colourful and curvilinear arrangements that suggest the forms from which they’ve been distilled. Most of her compositions come from, “weirdly enough” she says, life drawings and figure studies; architecture, maps, science, space and floral arrangements also make appearances, albeit in remarkably different and perhaps almost subversive forms far divorced from their literal origins.

In much the same way that the photographic process creates a negative, Banazi creates a photographic positive from her digital compositions. A silk screen coated with photographic emulsion is left to dry in a dark room, before Banazi exposes the film positive onto it with UV light. It washes out, and leaves a charged void where the film positive is. The tripartite process straddles a divide between the artist’s hand and the computer, and the joy for Banazi lies in the deeply involved processes her work necessitates: in research and in composition; in abstraction and then oscillating between the analogue and digital worlds.

“We always laugh at it – when I die, my work is probably going to be down to one line left. It is trying to get it down to the minimum amount possible. I’d like to be able to show the original drawing [alongside the silkscreen print], so people could see where it comes from.”

Credit: Lester Jones

With another of her wry smiles, Banazi ventures that her process “is probably a really stupid way of doing it”, But in a way, in its many stages and its celebration of the flaws that sometimes arise in the process, it harkens back to something Banazi says earlier on in our conversation: that it’s always surprising to hear from one’s peers doing incredible things that they’re the ones most flummoxed by their own success. Even fewer have concrete strategies in place to guide them. An artist’s practice, after all, is exactly that; it entails a great deal of experimentation, trial and error, without which nothing new could emerge. There can be no positive without a negative, to borrow a phrase.

“I think because I’ve never had a really defined career path, it’s been very hard for people to invest in me. It’s that thing of, ‘Oh, yeah. You’ve had a kid, you’ve had businesses, you’ve worked, and you’ve done things.’ It’s never been a straightforward, ‘You’ve worked really hard all this way through.’ I’ve worked hard, but there have been dips.

“Since I’ve been in Australia, this mental fog’s really lifted. I think it’s the emotional space and sunshine. I feel that Australia has definitely changed me. It gives so much – I can give back, I think, as well. I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but I love that freedom of people willing to engage with me and push me.”

Credit: Lester Jones

One morning earlier this month, after sitting through a multiple choice quiz and the formalities of a ceremony, Banazi and her 20-year-old son became Australian citizens. They celebrated, appropriately enough, with a breakfast of pies and sausage rolls.

“It was incredibly moving,” she says of the moment, with a contentedness that is both poignant and palpable.

“Suddenly you realize you’ve chosen to be a part of this rather than just being born into it. Being with a lot of other people who, obviously didn’t come from the situation we did – being with them and seeing how important it was for them to be here and be safe. It’s a real privilege.”

Motion and stills: Lester Jones
Art Direction: Patti Andrews
Special thanks to: Kate Banazi