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GILDING THE LILY ~ Redefining a moment in time February 16 2017

At the start of the millennium I was living and painting in Paris. It was my dream city for inspiration with its rich history steeped in the 1920s. Like the artists that had gone before me I was hungry to paint, and at times I couldn’t imagine myself ever leaving the magical City of Lights.

However, it wasn’t long before a gallery in California discovered my Art Deco influenced paintings, and our collaboration strengthened over the next twelve months. As my work began selling, it became apparent it was important that I relocate to the Golden State.
 
Living as an artist in California is not as glamorous as it sounds and money was often tight. I was sharing a tiny one bedroom apartment with barely enough room to move, my easel set up in a tight corner, but I was happy. I was consistently producing painting after painting and California’s bleached Art Deco environs gave me all the inspiration I needed.

One painting in particular stands out from that time.

I’d had the vision to create this painting since Paris. And when the moment of inspiration struck I simply had to act. On that particular day, I had enough money to buy the stretcher bars, but not enough for the canvas on which to paint.

Like many artists before me, I had to improvise. Some, when compelled by the bolt-strike-urgency of inspiration have used cardboard, wooden boxes, or even the very walls of their abode. In my case, a scrap of black cotton fabric was sourced, and sitting at the easel I breathed life into one of my most admired pieces: Cubist Lilies.
 

                                                 CUBIST LILIES ~ the original 2002

Six months later, I moved back to Australia. The painting, rolled up in my suitcase, came with me.

Across the 14 years since it was painted, the infamous black cotton has proved an unstable surface for the oils, and the painting, rolled up and relocated across oceans, cities and time zones has cracked and is damaged beyond repair.

                               
 
Rediscovering this piece again recently, I was struck with a sense of loss… So much of being an artist is the deep satisfaction you feel, knowing your work is being appreciated by others, yet this original was never afforded that opportunity. I felt that something should be done, and immediately I experienced that same sense of urgency I’d had all those years ago; the urge to breathe life into my Cubist Lilies once again.

GILDING THE LILY  is now complete. The new work is a rich reworking of the original. The lily - a classic Art Deco motif - is revived and refined. A clarified palette offers a new depth, and sensuality to the piece. The composition is more succinct, with greater definition in the detail and complex tonal graduation. The lilies are rejuvenated and more finely rendered, with warmer tones, luscious deep greens in the leaves, delicate silvers and luminous yellow in the sensuous blooms. This affords the piece all the elegance of the Art Deco era, with smooth surfaces and sleek lines, it exudes the balance, opulence and grace of this timeless age.

This confident reworking of my original composition pays homage to a time in history that has greatly inspired me throughout my career. It reflects the reverence I hold for this era, and my evolution as an artist.
 

ISMS, ART DECO & ANYTHING GOES December 31 2016 11 Comments

"I’m NEVER going to get away from my reputation as being an Art Deco painter!" she sighed.

Just when I think it’s time to leave it all behind – make a clean break – move on to greener pastures for good, it grabs my wrists tightly, gives me a good shake and says NO WAY GIRLIE. People are ringing, writing and messaging me from all corners of the world saying “I want one”.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that I don’t have any left. I’m not kidding - there’s no more of my Art Deco paintings for sale. Aspects Of Love was the last one I had in stock and that was bought last week by a woman in Melbourne.

          

So now I’m seriously assessing the situation and questioning why I would ever want to get away from painting in this style anyway? Why can’t I continue to do the landscapes, the still lives, AND the Art Deco and Art Nouveau influenced ladies all at the same time, as the inspiration (and demand) takes me. It’s still all my work, in my unique style… Why this pressure to move on?  

Picasso appears to have laid the varied phases of his work, spanning a 30 year period, in a neat straight line (art historians love him!) > the Blue Period > Rose Period > Cubism > Neo-classicism > Surrealism. But maybe that had something to do with the era he lived in and not because of any left-brain calculations on his part!  Because the way I see it, contemporary artists today do not and CANNOT live under the tidy banner of any clearly defined label. And let’s face it, in our century ANYTHING GOES. And the only ‘ism’ that comes to my modern mind is a word that perfectly describes what happens to me when I think of where the future of the art world is headed… paroxysm.

As the year ‘Sweet 16’ comes to a close, the time has come, once and for all, to cut the proverbial apron strings on conformity and find strength in my own creative autonomy.  And if I get labelled as being too ‘multiplicitous’ because my body of work can’t be conveniently defined, and they can’t agree on a category to box me into, then so be it. I’ll make up my own ‘ism’ ~ Multiplicitism.  And under that heading, I can pretty much create a vast abundance of whatever the muse inspires.


TOOLS OF THE TRADE ~ Paint September 05 2015

 Living in Trentham, Victoria I can’t help but be inspired by the seasons. Each so distinct, in colour and mood. 

This year I had grand plans to commence a series of landscapes inspired by Trentham’s winter. The series entitled Winterscape Blue conjures the mood and beauty of deepest winter. Greys leaking into greens and thin sunlight muted by fog and (seemingly) never-ending mist. My quest to create Winterscape Blue had a second purpose. I decided to paint this series with different paint!

There is no more important item in the artist’s tool kit than paint.

Now, let’s be honest… I’m a sucker for European paint. The romance in using paints steeped in centuries of tradition cannot be denied. I adore Old Holland Classic Colours. Old Holland has been making oil paint in the Netherlands since 1664 (the days of Rembrandt and Vermeer) using traditional formulas, some of which are still in use today. Their paints are deliciously saturated with pigment. I’ve become particularly fond of their umbers and siennas which respond beautifully to very thin glazing.

But.  I’ve been carrying a moral dilemma. I have wanted (and tried) to support Australian made products, but I’ve not yet been satisfied with the quality of oil colours produced here. Until I was introduced to Langridge Artist Colours.

Move over Old Holland… there’s a new tube in town.

 

Langridge Artist Colours is a Melbourne based independent oil paint manufacturer founded by David Coles. They create pigment of an incredibly high quality by hand. Langridge stands up on the world stage. They are indeed some of the finest paints I have ever used.

My personal introduction to Langridge was last year. My desperation was palpable as I searched for a reliable varnish that didn’t freak out in a really cold climate. I had been faithful to Windsor & Newton Matt Varnish for years, but when I moved to the ultra cool climate of Trentham something started to go terribly wrong. W&N varnish would dry so streaky and patchy that the only option would be to remove it and start again. (For those of you who haven’t had the experience of intensely ‘scrubbing’ the surface of your painted labour of love with a stiff brush and copious amounts of turps to dissolve the dried varnish, taking it back to the original painted surface with cotton rags, let me tell you, it’s utterly stressful!)

The staff at St.Luke’s Art Shop (Smith Street, Collingwood) gently steered me towards Langridge and I now swear by their Matt Varnish as being the best I’ve ever used.

David Coles, the man behind Langridge, has been described as the Paint Whisperer and a Master of Colour. This fascinating article about David and the brand he has created tells the full story: http://www.afr.com/leadership/entrepreneur/david-coles--bringing-colour-to-australian-artists-20150512-ggzh8s

The article not only describes how he started in the industry but recounts where they source pigments from all over the world, as well as touching on the science behind the making of paint. I needed no more convincing after reading this article, that I had finally found the right product so I could make the transition and wholeheartedly support the art community in my own backyard.

As history will now attest, my winter was a highly successful and busy time, which left me little time at the easel to delve into winter dreamscapes. Luckily, a Trentham winter can roll on indefinitely, with thick fog and mist recurring visual themes deep into Spring. My inspiration for the series The Winterscapes Blue is never too far away.

         

 Winterscape Blue II ~ oil on linen                   Winterscape Blue I ~ oil on linen                 

This series will be completed entirely in Langridge paints. My transition from European paints steeped in history to this exciting, young Melbourne brand has been seamless. These wonderful paints are everything I expect (indeed, demand), and I look forward to pushing them to the limits of my capacity as an artist.

 

 


BEHIND THE PAINTING - a short film August 07 2015

For those of you who have been following my work for a while, you’ll know that 2015 has already been a great year for me career-wise. Lately, my work has been touching new people and reaching a much wider audience, which is very rewarding to say the least.
 
Over the past few months, I have found, that the people who visit my gallery in Trentham, and those who enquire about my work online (within Australia and Internationally) are increasingly asking me for more detail about why I do what I do, what drives me, what’s next? People want to know more and to see more!  So, when the opportunity arose to collaborate with filmmakers Katrina Douglas and Jeff Mackay, I found it was something I couldn’t say no to.

Katrina (Warm Egg Productions) and Jeff (Alibi Pictures) have together created a mini-documentary about me, and my work. The collaboration was interesting in that I handed all of the creative control over to these two experts who came up with something beautiful, unique and creative. The result is a five minute film that will give you small glimpses into my world and hopefully a deeper insight into my life as an artist.

 


CALL ME CONSERVATIVE May 22 2015

Today I had the good fortune of meeting John Payne, Senior Conservator of painting at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.  He has restored and cleaned many of the masterpieces in the NGV collection from Turner to Tiepolo with a career spanning more than 30 years. The idea of being up close and intimate with the brush strokes of the masters is utterly fascinating to someone like me.

I came to him with a simple question “How common is the ability in artists to easily mix colours that match perfectly?” Surely John could answer this better than anyone else in Australia right?

We sat down to coffee in the NGV café on the ground floor.  Hordes of school children bustled noisily around us on their way to see the exhibitions but I barely heard them.  I was too engrossed in the insights John began sharing on two subjects very dear to my heart, painting and art history. He spoke of things like, the history of colour and pigment, the perils of using traditional Damar varnish over synthetic ones, his recent restoration of JMW Turner’s Dunstandburgh Castle, and the leading-edge and often controversial restoration techniques the National Gallery, London have been employing since the 1970s, to name a few.  Until finally getting around to answering my question with “depends…”.

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'Portrait Group: The Singer Farinelli & Friends' by Jacopo Amigoni 1750-1752

We then went up to level two of the gallery so John could show me his favourite painting in the NGV collection – a large tableaux he restored several  years ago. It was Jacopo Amigoni’s “Portrait Group: The Singer Farinelli & Friends”, a painting that I’ve passed by many times but never stopped to study because it hangs in the same room and is overshadowed by Tiepolo’s epic “The Banquet of Cleopatra”.  We stood for what seemed like an eternity before this masterpiece, John gently explaining in great detail the compositional elements and why he believes it’s Amigoni’s pièce de résistance, and me standing quietly in awe.

John Payne’s knowledge of art, painting and art history is profound. I’ve never met a person like him before and still can’t believe he gave of his valuable time like he did.  He may not have answered my question in the way I was hoping but I don’t mind. In fact I suspect I already know the answer as I’m one of these people who finds matching colours to be an easy business but I've not met many who do.  I didn’t dare say this to John though… I’m far too conservative to brag.

'The Banquet of Cleopatra' by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo 1743-44.

 


THE FINE ART... OF SHOPPING ONLINE February 19 2015

When I first mused with the idea of opening an online gallery it struck me – can those two things really go together? Fine art and online shopping? Aren’t they mutually exclusive? And what about the mysterious “art code” never make your prices visible? (who came up with that anyway?) Needless to say, I’ve had much to ponder on over the past few months…

Sitting here, on the eve of the launch of my new online venture, I can't help thinking about the amazingly positive changes that have happened in my life in recent years. The best thing I have done is to take things into my own hands for a while – starting with the decision to open the gallery in Trentham first, then find my voice on social media, and now this new store. 

What I’ve really had to accept is that while my paintings are steeped in tradition, the rest of the world has completely moved on. In an age where technology has taken over most of our day-to-day, my art is still created using similar techniques artists have used for centuries. I am proud of that, and even more so that I am able to embrace the new technologies to share it with a worldwide audience. I feel so very lucky to be in this position.

When I think about other artists working globally at the moment, and what technology and social media means for all artists living in the 21st century, I wonder… what would Picasso do nowadays? The master of marketing and self-promotion – would he have an Instagram feed? How many followers would he have on Facebook? Would he be a prolific tweeter? Write a blog? A newsletter? Would he be on LinkedIn? Is anyone?? And how on earth would he find the time to juggle it all AND paint? (I’m yet to figure that one out…) AND would he have gallery representation or would he go it alone?

My decision to not seek out gallery representation is purely a personal one, but the right one for me at this time. Taking back creative control has strengthened my relationships with clients and art lovers. I am the spokesperson, the question answerer, the problem solver, as well as the receiver of feedback and compliments - all fundamental to my future. This decision acknowledges that ‘the life of the artist’ as we know it, has changed. 

I say bring it on Picasso, it’s an even playing field now! I’m going to embrace it with open arms, hang on for the ride and see where it takes me!

Much gratitude goes to the little team of two who’s support and guidance have made this all possible – Andy Wapling for his design skills and never-ending patience, and the gorgeous Kathy Douglas and her way with words.

And I wouldn’t be here without the support from valued clients from different countries and all walks of life who have bought my work over the last 15 years. You have given me the confidence to take this leap of faith into the world of e-commerce. Thank you all so very much.

-Catherine

 


TO STUDY OR NOT TO STUDY February 12 2015

Back in the early days of my art career in Sydney, the pressure to produce was such that I couldn’t justify the time spent on doing preliminary colour studies.  At the time I felt it would be like painting the same painting twice. I always did a lot of pencil sketches of the poses but I would iron out the problems of composition and colour on the actual canvas during painting. If something wasn’t working  I would go over it and keep changing it until I was happy with the result. Oils are like that, they are very forgiving.

Now I have pressure of a different variety – the self-imposed pressure to evolve. I believe the worst crime an artist can be guilty of is not copying other artists or painting from a photograph, it’s that they never change their style, and continue to paint the same way over and over again. I’m not talking about subject matter but the evolution of their creativity on a fundamental level.

The time has most surely come for me to ‘study’ – as often as I can and as much as I can produce. Right now I’m experimenting on un-primed board which seems to suck the paint right off the surface and roughens any attempt at fine detail.  But I don’t mind. The lack of planning lends itself to the excitement of discovery, and the insights already gained far outweigh the time I once considered to be wasted.

 


TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE January 17 2015

There’s no denying it, I have a Russian soul.  Not in the way Dostoevsky described “…the most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything.” but for the fact that, all of my life I’ve been drawn to the  time in history when Russians were at the height of their strength in creative expression and dominated every corner of the art world.

It started when I was eight. I had been taking ballet lessons for three years when I discovered the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.  She became my  heroine, and over the coming years I read every book I could find on her life.  I learnt about the Ballets Russes , founded by Sergei Diaghilev, and from which many famous dancers  and choreographers  would arise.  I was introduced to the culture of the 1920s and earlier, yet at the time had no true understanding of the incredible breadth and depth to which this knowledge would affect me in later years.   

If I look closely at where my prominent influences have come from -  the artists, textile designers, writers , composers, stage and costume designers , who played an enormous role in putting Paris on the creative map in the early 20th century – the Russians were there. Many were paramount to the social changes  that happened in Europe at that time and they did it through their art

These are my favourite: Tamara de Lempicka (ok I know she was Polish but she pretended she was Russian), Wassily Kandinsky, Leon Bakst, Marc Chagall, Lyubov Popova, Marie Vassilief, Igor Stravinsky, Anna Pavlova & Nijinsky, Dostoyevsky, Rodchenko and his role in Constructivism, El Lissitzky, one of the most important figures of the Russian Avant garde and known for his typographical art any graphic designer of today would be inspired by.

I continued taking ballet lessons for eight years in total but was forced to stop at the age of 13 by my step-father.  I was devastated.  I turned to the Surrealists for comfort and so continued my self-education and life-long devotion to the artists living and working during the fertile years between the wars.

But the dancing inside me has not stopped. Two of my best paintings to date are portraits of Principal dancers with the Australian Ballet, Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello. The background of Lana’s portrait is undoubtedly of Russian influence, and the painting of Daniel  makes obvious reference to “L’Apres Midi d’un Faun”, the ballet in which Nijinsky performed the leading role at the premiere  in Paris 1913

                               

There’s no denying the Russians have left an indelible mark on the Art Deco period, and bestowed on me a life time’s supply of inspiration.