Artist of the Month, February 2019: Catherine Reed

Blue and red painting

Each month we choose one of the fantastic artists represented on our website to be our Artist of the Month.

This month it is Catherine Reed who tells us how she uses art to tell stories about forgotten histories and to make people smile. She also shares how art has not only helped her to process her past, but given her a present and future.

Photograph of the artist in the museum
Catherine and her mum working at the museum

When did your interest in art begin?

I’ve been interested in it all my life, my mum is an international textile artist and she was a curator at the National Museum in Botswana so I have been surrounded by art, and good art, all my life – I just never did it. I was out in the bush hunting snakes and scorpions instead, I was a bit of a tom boy.

I worked in law and then in senior management in the NHS where I wasn’t happy with what was going on. I had a breakdown and art was part of my healing.

Blue and red painting
Image: Freedom Blues by Catherine Reed

I remember I picked up a crayon and did a terrible drawing but it was a way of healing, a way of getting all the pain out there and then all of a sudden this talent came out. I noticed the shift – as did my mum and her friend who is a well known silversmith – they were both like ‘wow, something is happening’. I decided to go for it and I have now had some big exhibitions and last year I was accepted to the prestigious Leeds Arts University.

Red textured painting
Image: Moyo Ni Kilindi by Catherine Reed – Based on the Swahili phrase meaning ‘the heart is deep’

How would you describe your work?

Usually everyone’s art means something to them but a curator once said of mine that I leave a bit of my soul in them.

Why do you make art and what inspires you?

I use art as a message, or a way to tell a story, whether that is about mental health and giving people hope when they are in the midst of darkness or exploring how my art can reveal lost histories. People often like to control history, after all it is often written by the oppressor.

Textured painting
Image: Mountain Snowstorm by Catherine Reed

When you are young or growing up you just take it as the way things are, it is as I’ve got older I have been able to reflect back on my childhood and the privilege I had. Now it is about using my art to tell forgotten histories and in the current day, with what we are facing now with nationalism, Trump, Brexit, all the rest of it, it is more important than ever to give that warning.

I do do lighter stuff, more uplifting stuff, stuff like Mountain Snowstorm which Investec has just bought. Those pieces are more about the healing power of art and just stopping and taking a breath and looking at nature.

Metal sculpture figures
Image: Mother and Child by Catherine Reed

I was a mountaineer that is where Mountain Snowstorm comes from, the power of art is amazing – to just make people happy is a great thing.

What is your process for creating an artwork?

My mind is just full, I have lots of ideas. It might involve a lot of research and my mum and I have a huge library of books we can work from. From that will come the initial ideas which go straight into a sketchbook, I have lots of them full of ideas and work and quotations – some might not have come to fruition yet. I think it is Francis Bacon that said ‘sometimes the painting will dictate’ – sometimes I just feel like a conduit.

Abstract paining of trees
Image: Winter Woodland by Catherine Reed

My materials all mean something, it is like building the layers and textures to the story. If I am doing a desert I will use sand, if it is about buildings or destruction or war there might be concrete.

Do you think about the viewer when making work?

I feel it would set restrictions to be constantly thinking of what people will think. At the end of the day it is about reflection and my thoughts or more about if it is working or how it makes me feel rather than the end piece.

Textured painting
Image: Paris Doors by Catherine Reed

I have a confidence in my work but at the same time I know not everyone will like it, so I go with it.

I haven’t been traditionally trained, I don’t use little brushes – while I appreciate that approach. For me it can be anything I find on the ground, if it feels it needs to go on it will.

It is a disrespect of the canvas, sometimes it gets ripped as I am so harsh with it but that creates a depth to my work that I look for. If it needs it, it needs it. If you feel it – run with it, nothing holds me back.

I am never scared of a blank canvas, I see it as a great opportunity and I will hurl things at it and something will happen.

Textured painting
Image: The Great Thirst by Catherine Reed

It is quite exhausting the way I work, I can be hurt when I am done as I will be lugging around bags of concrete and doing welding.

What advice would you give to other artists?

To go for it. Don’t be fearful.
My mum has always taught me never to compromise and to keep the belief in your work. If you compromise your meaning you are doing work you don’t believe in and I feel the audience can see that. Also that to take all feedback as positive. It is always constructive – for anyone that gives criticism there will be someone who comes along and gives praise. You should take it on board and use it to develop your work, don’t take it badly – take it on board and still drive forward.

Has there been a standout moment for you as an artist?

I was that ill there was a possibility I wouldn’t be here talking to you today. Art saved my life and there are a few moments during that process which are key but in terms of my development; getting my first big exhibition – a joint one with my mum – stands out. She has been with me throughout this horrific journey, and it has been horrific, but I now view it as the best thing that has happened to me.

I remember the gallery people came and they were blown away, they gave us an exhibition and when they left it was that feeling of ‘this is happening’.

Catherine’s Outside In gallery can be seen here:

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