Catherine Mackey will exhibit her paintings in X Materia at DZINE Gallery, October in San Francisco, and at SF Open Studios in November.Read More
San Francisco painter
At my upcoming Open Studio I have decided to show some of the “behind the scenes” work which I do to maintain a level of fun and energy in my artistic practice. This includes: Dry-point etching; Trace monotype; Screen printing; Figure drawing; Collage; and Sketching.Read More
I’ve just discovered some old photos of work I was doing 15 years ago when I had been painting for only a few years.
These photos surprised me. I had forgotten how long I have been using street posters and signage in my paintings. I remember getting my posters from plywood hoardings around building sites in the Mission and SOMA districts of San Francisco. I would go out the day after it had rained and pull down thick layers of old dirty posters and drag them back to my studio. Then San Francisco got all cleaned up and my supply was threatened…until a good friend, who travels to Europe every year, started sending me packages of posters from the streets of Portugal, France, and Italy.
My work has changed a lot since then – my focus has pulled back from details to whole buildings – but the excitement about the urban environment, with all its decay and graffiti, is still there. Those of you who follow my work know that every painting I do includes street posters. Sometimes they are beneath the paint layer and the viewer has to discover them, and sometimes they are more noticeable. But in this old work the posters are bold – they are the subject matter. I like these paintings – they are fearless!
In 2015 I completed a series of paintings showing rooftops in Manhattan from a bird’s-eye point of view. This continued my exploration of patterns found in the city - any city - which had previously focused on street level imagery. On first glance the paintings appear to be abstract compositions but as the viewer perceives the dramatic shadows and glimpses of roads between buildings, they are transformed into rooftop landscapes. (Each of the pieces includes an underlay of collaged street posters, most of which were found on walls in Manhattan.)
At a public opening in my San Francisco studio the paintings generated a lot of interest, especially amongst young people employed in the tech industry, perhaps because of the role Google Earth had played in my discovery of secret spaces above the city streets.
This body of work was created for, and shown at, a gallery in Chelsea in Manhattan. But to my surprise the paintings were not successful in New York. Feedback from the gallery told me that they didn’t sell because they fell into an “uncomfortable zone” between abstraction and representation.
I can’t be sure how the age-group or the occupation of viewers differed between San Francisco and New York locations but I wonder if people who work in technology understand “flattened” images differently? And was the link between this series and my previous work (Patterns in the City. 2014. Solo show, NY) sufficiently apparent?
These things happen and can turn out to be great learning opportunities. Most of the paintings have now returned to my studio and I will live with them for a while. Our separation may bring a greater understanding.
A hole or small recess for pigeons to nest;
A small open compartment for keeping letters or documents
A neat category which usually fails to reflect actual complexities
Common failings of pigeonholing schemes include:
Entities may be suited to more than one category. Example: rhubarb is both “poisonous” and “edible”.
Entities may change over time, so they no longer fit the category in which they have been placed. Example: certain species of fish may change from male to female during their life.
As you all probably know – I paint architecture and the urban environment. I started painting twenty years ago and, as I developed my skills and gained a following, I was painting demolition sites, buildings, walls, doorways, graffiti and signage. I was earning money, but not enough to support myself. Then, ten years ago, I needed to become self-sufficient very quickly. I considered getting a job. That idea that lasted for a few minutes until stubbornness/bull-headedness – call it what you will – kicked in and wouldn’t allow me to let go of this “painting thing”. So my art had to pay my bills and keep my lights on.
Previously a couple of paintings of San Francisco piers had sold quickly so I did some more. They sold. I did some more. They sold too. Piers became the predominant subject matter of my total creative output, my vendors “encouraging” me to do more because they sold easily. At some point that encouragement turned into a resistance to other types of work, mostly delivered with discreet hints but sometimes with clear requests. I found that by creating a demand for pier paintings I had reduced my vendor’s willingness to show my other work. They too have bills to pay and the desire for the easy sell is understandable. I loved painting piers but I started to feel constrained by their popularity. The creative urge to explore new things is hard to ignore and a pigeonhole, or formula, can sound the death knell for an artist’s development. The idea that I split my time between pier paintings (easy to sell) and other work (harder to sell) sounds sensible. But my creative process is labor-intensive and slow, whatever the subject matter, and a large painting can take up to a month to complete. (Those lights cost money!) When I did the math I thought that the only way I could afford to do both would be if I decided to forego sleep and any kind of personal life! That is…until I could find buyers for my “other” work.
The story has started to improve: In the past couple of years I have risked spending time away from money-earning piers to work on a series of Manhattan rooftops, architectural interiors, and old sinks. And there were sales! Some through the galleries who represent me but mostly to the San Francisco art-loving public who came to my work space during Open Studio events.
Heartened by this I allowed myself total “studio playtime” during last December and January to explore the interaction between paint and collage. While many of my friends were spending the holidays overseas I was in my studio cutting up old street posters – and having a ball!
Good news: Some of the new work from my holiday playtime was accepted into the annual Artspan Selections exhibition and also the invitational Night Light show at Studio Gallery, both in San Francisco. This has given my creative morale an enormous boost! I now have the confidence that I can afford to spend more of my time exploring new ways.
In the meantime I am working on two large pier paintings in my studio… my lights are still on!