Sunday, November 04, 2007

Art Space Talk: Morwenna Catt

Morwenna Catt uses childhood iconography to examine the roots of our desires and fears. Morwenna is interested in using these fractured displays of youthful innocence in order to explore the disparity between the mythologies of childhood and the reality of our world. She examines our collective relationship to objects and memory, nostalgia and psychosis by presenting the recognizable icons of our infancy in a manner that is sometime alarming and at other times disturbingly charming.

Betrayal by Morwenna Catt

Brian Sherwin: Morwenna, tell us about your educational background. Do you have formal training in art? If so, who were your instructors and how did they influence you?

Morwenna Catt: I studied at art college, first for a BA in Art & design where my specialisms were Painting and Illustration. I quickly discovered a love of 3D and textile work but my tutors were indulgent and allowed me to experiment with those media within my chosen practice areas. I went on to do an MA in Fine Art at Leeds. I cant say that any particular tutor was an influence though we did have some great visiting lecturers. My favorite was Marcus Coates who comes up with fantastically original projects and injects humour and humanity into everything he does.
Phrenology II (mother) by Morwenna Catt

BS: Morwenna, tell us about your early artistic influences and experiences. When did you decide to pursue art?

MC: I’ve drawn and created since a child, scribbling into the flyleaves of books and peeling back wallpaper in my bedroom to doodle on the walls. My mother used to write poems and illustrate these with tiny drawings and I can remember my father, with varying degrees of success, making sculptures. My grandfather was an artist, he painted landscapes and drew beautifully. He couldn’t go to art college because he had to get a job and earn a living so he worked for a company sign-writing and painting huge advertising images onto the sides of lorries, giant tubes of sweets etc, in the days when all these advertisements were done by hand. I think it frustrated him that he couldn’t spend more time on his own work but I always remember him working on some painting or drawing at home.
My first powerful memory of seeing art in a gallery context is at Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. I turned into a dark corridor and at the end was Salvadore Dalis Christ of St John of the Cross. I’ve never had any religious feeling and I’m not even keen on Dali particularly, but there was something so luminous and beautiful about that painting I was compelled to ransack the gift shop for postcards, jigsaws – anything I could get my hands on. I suppose that experience showed me how powerful art can be on the senses and emotions.
I went to art college relatively late, I was in my mid twenties and before that had been working in a Theatre and Arts Centre making props/scenery and hanging artists work in the galleries they ran. It was hanging other peoples work that convinced me to pursue my own practice more seriously.
Phrenology III (child) by Morwenna Catt

BS: With that said, how would you say that your work has advanced since that time?

MC: I’m much more confident about my work now and I’ve found the areas that I’m interested in investigating. My work is very personal and I’m not necessarily confident about bearing my soul in public. I think through the years though I’ve developed a visual language which has helped me overcome this and now I’m comfortable with what I do.
I tend to work across media and move between painting and drawing through to textiles and light boxes as the work demands. I used to think I should concentrate on mastering one artform instead of dipping in and out as I do but now I see it as a necessary part of my practice. Textiles develop from drawings, paintings develop from textiles, everything is from me and has its roots in the same memories and experiences so each part of what I do informs the other areas.
I think my work has an emotional content now which people respond to and that to me is the most important thing. People are touched or angered or relate to pieces on a personal level and you can’t really ask for more than that.
Shot by Morwenna Catt

BS: Morwenna, can you go into detail about your artistic process? How do you begin a piece? When do you know that a piece is finished?

MC: I tend to work on several pieces at the same time, so I will have maybe a large scale painting in progress near me as I stitch or draw. I do work in sketchbooks but I tend to be precious about them and want to produce finished pieces of artwork rather than rough ideas so my rough sketches for 3D works tend to be scribbled diagrams on the backs of envelopes that are then discarded. I have books of scraps which I find interesting or inspiring, newspaper articles, postcards, bits of text heard off the radio, photographs etc. I only have to revisit these books to find something that I can use in my work. Eventually I guess everything gets used in some way, it might be years afterward but when the time is right it pops up.
Usually with a 3D work I have a pretty good idea of what the finished article should look like and feel like before I start. It’s just a case of finding the right materials and manipulating it into the original idea. Paintings I find more difficult to ‘finish’. I love paintings that have a rough or unfinished quality but I struggle to leave my own in that state and often think I overwork. That’s why leaving a painting and working on something else helps me. I can revisit it and be more detached because my hands are busy elsewhere and not feverishly trying to get the painting right.
Moving Stories-- Installation/Projection

BS: Morwenna, how does current world events influence your work? In other words, how does contemporary life impact your creative practice?

MC: I’m influenced by political and social events but as they affect us on an emotional level. I tend to filter down from the wide angle of an anodyne news report and find empathy with the people who are directly affected by it. A lot of my work is related to childhood, or uses childhood artifacts that in some way symbolize our vulnerability and innocence, or loss of innocence in some cases. I play on the nostalgia that we have for childhood and contrast this with the reality that exists for some.
I worked up an installation during the latest gulf war. One of my brothers was in the marines at the time and was sent to fight (though he says he himself disagreed with it), the other brother ended up going out to Baghdad as private security. I was opposed to the conflict and was going down to the anti-war protests in London and I began to stitch an army net of stuffed camouflage fabric rabbits, it was a ritual of waiting really– I worked on it while listening avidly to the news reports from Iraq and ended up with 200 of them, it reminded me of an American patchwork quilt. It symbolized the waste of life on both sides that we could all see in the media 24 hours a day and also the powerlessness of waiting at home and not having a voice.
Love Light as a Feather- Rabbit by Morwenna Catt

BS: Morwenna, tell us more about the philosophy behind your art. What motivates you to create?

MC: On a basic level - I’ve never really been any good at doing anything else, it doesn’t occur to me that I would do anything other than this. If I had another job totally removed from art I would still have to spend my spare time creating because its part of who I am. I like having an idea and seeing it through to its conclusion, also seeing something grow physically from bits of fabric and objects I’ve collected.
I’m not interested in creating something pretty or beautiful but I am interested in an emotive depth. Much of my work is battered and bruised and screams of the handmade or childish, I’m interested in achieving some kind of authenticity, not kitemarked perfection. My work could be seen as cathartic in some ways because it usually comes from such personal experience, but I’m more interested in the reactions and dialogue that springs from that, in the shared experience and triggers that affect us all in some way.
Love Light as a Feather- Fox by Morwenna Catt

BS: Why did you choose to work in the medium(s) that you use?

MC: I select media to fit the project and in that way I fell into using xrays and textiles. I’m not a fantastic seamstress, although I suppose I’ve got better with practice. For me its more about the materiality of the media, the sensory qualities of it or the deeper nostalgic connotations of the feel or smell of something. Even with my paintings I tend to stitch into them and leave raw threads hanging.

BS: Morwenna, what is your studio like? Can you go into detail about your studio routine? Do you work in silence-- listen to music?

MC: I have a small studio in a old Victorian Mill. We set it up as a collective several years ago and share the bills and rent. We each have a small studio of our own and shared communal space for working on larger projects. It works very well and there’s a good mix of other artists in there to talk to.
My studio is packed with materials and work and I’ve probably outgrown it, I’m not a terribly organized person by nature but I have to make a vague attempt at it in my space because it would be impossible to work in there otherwise. I work opposite another artist Duncan Burnett, we collaborate on projects sometimes and have similar working routines and both work with textiles. Because our studios are open across the front they’ve become kind of annexed to each other and we share resources and discuss projects while we’re working.
I tend to work late into the night, I’m not much of a morning person and mostly I’ll start in the afternoon and carry on till midnight or into the early hours if I’m feeling things are going well. I like to have some background noise, usually BBC Radio 4, it’s a constant stream of voices; plays, news, arts etc and I you can absorb it and tune in and out to the interesting bits without distraction.
Heel by Morwenna Catt

BS: What are you working on at this time?

MC: In the studio, I’m continuing with my ‘poison’ series of works. I have a textile child-sized figure in progress and I’m working on this alongside a series of paintings based on my drawings. The other side of my practice, which funds my studio work, is public and community art. I’m currently working on a sculptural exterior piece for a town centre which should be unveiled in March next year, I’m also finishing installing some floor designs for a psychiatric hospital garden.

BS: Morwenna, are you involved with any upcoming exhibits? Where can our readers view your work?

MC: I’m showing my phrenology heads at The Museum of Art and Design in New York in an exhibition called ‘Pricked: Extreme embroidery’. The show opens on the 8th of November and runs through till March 9th. I’ll also have work in a show at Ntama Gallery in Todmorden, Lancs through December and at Bracken Hall Museum in Bradford till February.
People can see more of my work on my website at or on my, sadly neglected at the moment, blog at . The first site is my official site and the blog was created more specifically for my drawings and to test out new work, though I also put images from community or public arts projects on there along with exhibition news etc.

BS: In your opinion, what are some of the problems facing artists today?

MC: For most artists I think funding their practice is still an issue. There’s a large investment in time and money to produce new work and it can be a struggle. Commercial galleries seem to charge exhibiting fees as well as a commission on sales in some cases so I tend to show in publicly funded spaces, especially as my work is not stereotypically commercial. Most artists I know have to work either on day jobs to survive or work, as I do, on public art and community projects to fund their studio work. When I first left college I didn’t really feel I knew what to do with my degree, the college was great because it gave you the luxury of experimenting and exploring ideas, but it didn’t really prepare you for the reality of earning a living.
Dead Cloud by Morwenna Catt

BS: Morwenna, the Internet is changing how we discover and view art. In your opinion, how have sites like empowered artists?

MC: The Internet has given us a platform to show what we do on our own terms in a very personal way without any interference or agenda from any outside institutions. I have a site to show my practice and a more personal blog. These have enabled me to build contacts and opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

The Internet seems to dilute the capitalcentric nature of the art world and there’s an equality to the Internet which I love. Sites like myartspace are great because they take some of the isolation out of working as an artist. Its fantastic to be able to network with artists across the world and see such a wide variety of ideas at the click of a button. It gives a good insight into methods of working and how other people are managing their practice.

BS: Finally, what are your goals as an artist? What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

MC: I’m happy with the progression of my practice and I see it as a natural evolution which continues as I explore the media and ideas behind my work. I want people to understand my work and connect to it in some emotional way. I don’t measure the success of my work through sales and have refused to sell if I felt the buyer didn’t really get the point of the work.

Practically, I’d like to alter the balance of my work so I spend more time in the studio and less on public or community ‘money’ projects. I want to exhibit abroad more and I’m interested in taking on more residencies so I can work in a concentrated way on projects without distraction.

You can learn more about Morwenna Catt by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

admin said...

Morwenna is a great artist, very inspiring. I get the feeling her best is yet to come and so much good stuff lies ahead for her. Excellent interview.