Cathie Bleck Interview

Cathie Bleck's themes of sensuality, nature and symbiotic relationships resonate with a worldwide audience. Known for her use of Kaolin and ink on clayboard, Cathie uses mythic images to explore the struggles and dilemmas of modern life.

Cathie is featured at the Billy Shire Fine Arts Gallery during the month of August entitled,"Undercurrents." Work is a mix of her work featured at the Butler Museum and new works created for the exhibition.

Prior to her Los Angeles trip, Cathie shared valuable insight about her creative processes and the inspiration behind some of her latest work. Cathie, also traveled from Cleveland to San Diego in a moment's notice for the premiere of Scribble.08, as her piece sold during the exhibition. Nice work, enjoy...

MM: Scratchboard is considered unique because you start with a black surface and scratch off to show the white underneath. How has this become your medium of choice?

CB: It's fun to go into the darkness of the scratchboard and make a line in white. I also love the clay medium, and scratchboard is made out of Kaolin clay. Working in clay is a tactile process. Once it dries, it's very hard. You can put all kinds of texture in it. If you touch it, it's a great sensation and this sensuality translates to what we see in nature. The scratchboard medium is part of the earth and it fits perfectly with my subject matter.

Also, when you start scraping paint off the scratchboard new creations seem to come out of nowhere. It's magical. For example, I was working on a piece with a snow leopard stuck in melting ice, and as I started scratching off the paint a monkey face appeared. That happens sometimes. All these animals and structures appear and it's so unexpected. If you look in the distance of that piece, there are also bees, cell phone towers and oil rigs.

MM: Tell me about the work you did for the Billy Shire exhibition.

CB: Since I haven't had a lot of my paintings displayed on the west coast yet, I wanted to give a representative cross section of my work to provide context. I included several classic black and white pieces, and I also added some of my clay experiments.

For this show, I did some work on Egyptian papyrus too. I found that when you paint the Kaolin onto papyrus it has a gummy quality and it dries super smooth. It's amazing how different the texture is. You can crunch it up and lay it flat again without causing any damage. It's extremely durable. I used the Egyptian papyrus because I'm intrigued by history, and the idea of reaching back in time to observe mankind and achieve a better understanding of where we came from appealed to me.

MM: The theme of your exhibition is called, “Undercurrents.” What is the significance of that title?

CB: When you communicate, there is always an undercurrent, something underneath the surface. There's a sense of duality and my subjects are looking both outward and inward. This duality is necessary for survival. You can't live in a world without differences of opinion. Men are different from women, but we can't live without each other. There are different political parties. There is the opposite of sun and moon. That's what is so interesting about working in contrasts like scratchboard. It emphasizes this duality.

MM: Is there a particular piece in your upcoming show that illustrates this concept of duality?

CB: “Mythic Waters Chasing Greed” is a piece inspired by Warren Buffet. He said, "you don't know who is swimming naked until the tide goes out." It's all about the culture of greed, and Bernie Madoff's sentencing made the timing of this piece feel especially relevant.

There is such a level of tension in the concept of duality, and it's beautiful but also a little bit uncomfortable. It was therapeutic for me to develop the mythological character of greed and explore where that might live. I often question how humanity can be so greedy and I wonder where that comes from. But then there are so many charities and you see musicians putting on concerts and donating all of the proceeds. It's such a huge duality.

There are really generous people out there, and there is tremendous greed on the other side. But no matter what the subject is, I still want every painting to be beautiful.

MM: You mentioned that your classic pieces are black and white, but you've now started adding color to your repertoire. What inspired this transition?

CB: I have been venturing into color lately because I like how it contrasts with the dominance of the black. I've been experimenting with a lot of red and using it for the sky. Red has so many associations: blood, the end of the world, Hell.... I'm always thinking about these types of themes and how they relate to nature.

MM: In addition to having exhibitions all over the world, your work was recently shown in two museums, The New Britain Museum of American Art and The Butler Institute. After achieving this level of success, is there anything that you're still learning or trying to improve?

CB: In every piece I do, I learn something new. I hope that process never ends. I want to keep discovering and challenging myself with new ideas. Recently I've been experimenting more with the clay medium and I've learned some interesting lessons. In January, a shipment of Kaolin arrived frozen at my doorstep. When I used it, it reacted differently and created a bubbled effect. I actually froze some of the Kaolin in order to get the same effect for some other pieces.

To me, being an artist is an internal mission. As I experience life and gain confidence, I start to see things I didn't see before. On a daily basis, I find inspiration in what I read and what I observe around me. I constantly strive for line quality. When you make the perfect line, it's like doing a beautiful dance.

Thanks to Jamaica Winship for sharing out her phone interview with Cathie to make this story possible

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