Natural Awakenings - Tucson edition
Interview by Carolyn King
“An Inner Astronomy”: The Art of Catherine Nash
“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall
each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.”
Tucson artist, Catherine Nash speaks about her connection to Rumi’s “secret sky’ writing, “I can spend hours staring into the sky, mesmerized by the expansiveness as I ponder our place in the universe. The vastness of space is an ultimate touchstone for me. The sky is a window to the infinite.”
Born and raised in Connecticut, Catherine grew up in a family of more than four generations of sailors. Small wonder that the sky has held life-long meaning and fascination for her. Water and sky have formed an interconnected navigational language for sailors across continents and time.
As an artist, Ms. Nash creates mixed-media works combining materials such as found objects, handmade papers, and encaustic with the familiar tools of paints and drawing materials. Her current exhibit is an installation of a “vintage-inspired, imaginary artist/astronomer’s lab.” The exhibit includes painted maps, sculptural assemblage works, monotypes and a desk covered with artist-made objects. Walking into the installation, the viewer feels a sense of the inward-turning awe the artist/astronomer experiences while contemplating the galaxies both beyond and within us.
CK: What brought you to the visual art path initially and what brings you back after an absence of nearly a decade?
CN: I was raised by an artist/scientist mother and my father, who was one of the original New York City ‘Mad Men’. My great-grandfather, grandfather, and my father and uncle all worked on Madison Avenue in the advertising field. My great-grandfather was also a devoted watercolorist. My mother, a 50’s housewife, was both an artist and a craftswoman. I have an indelible memory from age five of lying on the wood floor beneath her easel as she worked on an oil painting. I can still see the light streaming through the window and recall the smell of her paints and solvents. I declared then and there that I would be an artist when I grew up. I also had the great fortune of supportive teachers. One of my babysitters was a member of the National Watercolor Society. She started teaching me to paint when I was 9. My Junior High and High School art teachers were just excellent and gave me my foundation in art. At UNH, I worked with artist Sigmund Abeles. As my mentor, he coached and cheered me on for decades and remains a dear friend.
Ten years ago, my life and studio practice shifted when I moved my mother from Baltimore to Tucson. She was living with Parkinson’s Disease, which meant my involvement in her care increased over time as the disease slowly diminished her capacity to move. This current exhibit has evolved over her final three or four years and is my first solo exhibition since her passing.
CK: My deepest sympathies for your loss, Catherine. Of course, your focus shifted during those years. In addition to her early influence, your life and work have been profoundly influenced by world travels, especially time spent in Japan. Will you explain a little about the concepts of ‘wabi’ and ‘sabi’ in Japanese culture and how these ideas inform your creative practice?
CN: While I don’t refer directly to these two concepts intentionally, my work has undergone an aesthetic evolution over the years which includes influence from both concepts. Pursuing a lifetime dream, I lived in Kyoto to study art, so the influence is perhaps inevitable.
‘Wabi’ is an old Japanese concept that refers to solitude and simplicity. Originally, ‘wabi’ was directly related to the humility of Japanese monks or hermits who chose to live a life of poverty, engendering a detachment of material possessions. Today, ’wabi’ refers to a state of quietude and contemplation derived from living with simplicity in nature. The term ‘sabi’ relates to the impermanence of life and refers to a weathering of things over time. Together, wabi and sabi are an aesthetic experience pointing viewers to the spiritual reality underlying all matter.
My own work incorporates vintage elements and expresses a sense of an earlier era. And my focus has always been about creating objects and installations of quietude. I aim to slow people down so we can experience nature’s time, as opposed to the hustle-bustle of our temporal world ruled by the clock.
An Inner Astronomy, 2018
The artist-astronomer's desk.
CK: Viewing the wealth of images of your artwork created over the years, I was struck by the recurrence of certain symbols. Can you talk a bit about your personal vocabulary and how these symbols speak through juxtaposition?
CN: I think of my art work as visual poetry. By assembling images as symbols that are normally viewed separately from each other, their juxtaposition gives rise to a third meaning, just as poetry does. It’s a language of association and feeling.
As a life long artist, I have worked long enough now that I honor the Creative Muse without question when that non-verbal conversation between images and objects occurs in my studio. I don’t generally ‘know’ what the juxtapositions mean or refer to until after the work is completed. This aspect of creative process is where the magic happens! I am aware of an unspoken source as the imagery comes together as if on it’s own.
Center of the Universe, 2018
Media: repurposed Victorian Collar Box, encaustic, silver leafing, oil stick, mirror, chain
Size: 4.5” h x 8.5” diam
Center of the Universe, 2018, Detail
Test Tubes, 2018
Media: vintage test tubes and stand, encaustic, cork
Size: 7”h x 12”w x 3”d
CK: The current exhibit at the Triangle Ranch is called “An Inner Astronomy”. Can you tell readers something about the gestation and evolution of this extensive mixed-media installation?
CN: The process for this work was a long one! I have been interested in archeo-astronomy for many years. People around the world and across time have looked to the heavens to try to address the question of “Why are we here?” It is an eternal question.
My studies in this area included two very pivotal experiences. I lived in Florence for some weeks over each of 6 summers from 1996- 2002. In the Science Museum, one room was devoted to an exhibit of Renaissance-era astronomical “tools” beautifully made of wood and metal that were designed to impress but in fact, were only for show and measured nothing. That really struck me! The other pivotal experience happened in 2006 when I traveled to the Jantar Mantar in Dehli, India. The site of an extensive observatory built in the 1700’s, it contains huge architectural structures designed as intricate, astronomical tools for reading the skies. The sense of scale and mysteriousness to my untrained eye truly affected me.
These two experiences indeed planted some creative seeds. An Inner Astronomy is the creation of an imaginary artist/astronomer’s lab replete with star maps, books, and sculptures. The work harkens back to a time before philosophy, spirituality and art were divorced from science and transports one to a world where inner and outer are one.
Journey to the North Star, 2018
Media: repurposed balance toy, indigo ink, wooden sphere, silver leaf
Size: 15”h x 11”w x 4”d (45” high with the threads)
Sky Globe, 2018
Media: repurposed globe, encaustic, metal leafing
Size: 15” diam. sphere
CK: So, the concepts evolved through research over a length gestation period. What about the actual creation of the work itself?
CN: In 2016, I had the privilege of working, for the second time, as artist-in-residence in the studio of artist Morris Graves who died in 2001. This residency is a retreat setting. Resident artists are there to work almost like the hermit-monks of Japanese tradition. The rule is absolute solitude and no technology. No computer, no cell phone, no camera, no internet access for three intensive weeks. I photo-copied my research and left my laptop behind. In this focused environment, I was able to create 36 very large paintings during my 3 week stay. It was an amazing experience! So much of my creativity had been put on the back burner while caring for my mother, that the work poured out of me as I worked in a state of reverie and intense concentration. The other works in this installation, which include assemblages, monotypes and mixed-media objects, were created more slowly back in my studio over time.
Dark Constellation, 2018. with detail below
Media: repurposed vintage optical instrument, indigo ink, 24K gold leaf
Size: 7”h x 6.5”w x 5.5”d
CK: How has the path of studio practice served for your personal healing and how does your work provide healing for others?
CN: Studio practice is my sanctuary. It is a place and a ‘way’ to experience the gifts of quietude. The studio is a contemplative space to explore and connect with inner worlds where the Sacred and meaning are experienced.
For the community, my work offers a moment for reflection and quietude. Our lives have become so noisy! We are constantly bombarded by the voices, thoughts and images of others through the wide-spread use of technology. I believe that we need both beauty and quiet in order to perceive and receive the gifts of life and healing.
Viewers are invited to visit Catherine’s exhibit on Saturdays 10-3 and easily by appointment by calling 520-623-6723:
“An Inner Astronomy”
Feb. 8 – March 20, 2018
Adobe Barn Gallery
at The Triangle L Ranch
2805 N. Triangle L Ranch
Oracle, Az. 85623
Closing reception will be on March 18th, 5 – 8 p.m.
The artist will speak about her work at ~6pm.
After the sun sets, telescope viewing of the night sky will be provided
by Mike Weasner of the “Oracle Dark Skies Committee”.
Live music by hypnopad.
|Nash exhibition: other works.|