Louise Cattrell

First Light

The paintings of Louise Cattrell haunt the imagination with their mysterious beauty. They appear as timeless as the landscapes they depict, and yet somehow distinctly contemporary. Each work is as exquisitely painted as anything by JMW Turner, and seems to show a world that still looks just as it must have done in his day – the unchanging rocks, seas, hills and skies of the long ago past – but there is always another dimension to Cattrell’s art. She is a romantic for the twenty-first century.
This has something to do with the extraordinary expansiveness of her work. Every image – no matter how vast or small – opens up to reveal endless space: the fathomless ocean of the sky, the measureless volumes of the sea and the air that circulates between them. All figurative painters face the paradox of representing the three-dimensional world on a piece of two-dimensional canvas but Cattrell goes further, introducing a glimpse of infinity into her work.
In the painting called Tyne, Cattrell is looking out across the river at North Shields, praising the famous silver light that rings through the morning air, gilding the waters below. But above the water, the sky appears diaphanous, cloud-tinged and unthinkably vast. There is moisture below and vapour above, and they are united in this airy vision of a sky so high it seems more like a fantasy. The place is real enough, but the image is like something from a dream.
This painting was made in a studio. Cattrell is not out there in the landscape as she paints, but indoors in successive studios – first in Scotland, where she was born in 1957; latterly in London, which has been her principal home since attending the Royal College of Art in 1980. Everything she paints comes from memory, from the recollection of natural phenomena revealed on a long walk, travelling through a landscape, or at the summit of a hill. Hers is an art of sustained memories, not of single transient images.
A particularly pervasive sense of Northumbria runs through all the works made especially for this show. Prints depict the thistles around Berwick, fiercely beautiful, and the rosebay willowherb found at nearby Dilston, seen as if from the waist up in a vividly graphic portrait. Other etchings made at Northern Print include a memory of the Bass Rock and of Ailsa, that strange volcanic island off the Scottish coast, incandescent with light at dawn.
In Sea Rock, a vision of Holy Isle hovers across the water. Two spots of early sunshine dance on the sea, forming pools of brilliant lemon light (which just happens to be the name of the oil paint Cattrell has used). The scale is modest but the structure of the image feels vast – the rock more like a small city, the frissons of ambient air architectural. And you see that same glassy stillness in the early morning waters in the painting called First Light, which gives this show its title. Here the sea lies deep yet transparent, heavy and yet delicate, revealing the immense fathoms of darkness below even in its shining surface.
Occasionally, a painting may be inspired by more than one epiphany. The strange building hoisted high on a rock in Tower, for instance, comes from seeing two dramatically far-flung outposts – a religious retreat clinging to the edge of a precipitous hillside in Portugal, and the darkly isolated tower of Smailholm in the Borders. Smailholm, described by Sir Walter Scott, who returned to it compulsively, as ‘standing stark and upright like a warden’, is a tower you come upon almost by accident, so unpredictable is the terrain. Cattrell’s painting fuses the astonishment of seeing both places in one spectral vision, somewhere between reality and hallucination.
Light breaks mysteriously through the scene, but also through the painting itself, arriving on the surface like a misty seaside haar or the shimmer of heat on a summer’s road. And time appears to be passing in the picture, too, as the grain of the canvas emerges through the levels of paint: the past materialising in the present.
Lately, Cattrell’s work has come to recall the natural towers of the landscape – hills, promontories and abrupt rocks like the one seen through the morning vapours in First Light. What makes these works so different from the romanticism of the past is the embodied sense of passing through the landscape, of passing through time, of moving towards something in the distance that seems always just slightly out of reach.
These paintings express the way we experience such places, as much as what we actually see—the way we come upon the surprise of a sceptred isle, a vertical peak in mist or a miniature loch high among the hills, the bright sky mirrored in its waters. The eye does not take it all in at once; the revelation unfolds itself slowly. And this is the character of Cattrell’s own work: slowly made, gradually evolving in the studio and just as gradually working its spell upon the viewer.
Rock is a mesmerising picture. The eponymous rock floats in a magical world of opalescent air and vaporous sea, motionless down the centuries and yet seeming to hover in the light. Although it derives from two real geological phenomena, this could be the island from the Tempest, a pearl thrown into the ocean, a place to which you could swim except that it would appear more remote with every stroke.
Go close and you can scarcely see how the painting is made, so subtle is its brushwork. Vapour and substance flow into one another, form and colour merge in the translucent oils worked with softest badger-hair brushes. The rock’s reflection is strong and yet absolutely intangible. It seems to lie both in and on the water, just as the delicate blue light behind the rock seems to come from close up and yet infinitely far away.
And then the picture suddenly changes – to the viewer’s surprise. As the ambient daylight shifts in the gallery, so the painting also changes, passing through something like seasons or moods. One moment it is wintry white, another it seems to take on the promise of early summer, heat scintillating in the glowing air. Just as the world is endlessly altered by the ever-changing atmosphere of climate and light, so the painting repeats this phenomenon. The light rises, the painting changes, giving more of itself, as if alive to its very surroundings.
Laura Cumming
Chief Art Critic, The Observer

Louise Cattrell

The paintings of Louise Cattrell haunt the imagination with their mysterious beauty. They appear as timeless as the landscapes they depict, and yet somehow distinctly contemporary. Each work is as exquisitely painted as anything by JMW Turner, and seems to show a world that still looks just as must have done in his day – the unchanging rocks, seas, hills and skies of the long ago past – but there is always another dimension to Cattrell’s art. She is a romantic for the twenty-first century.

This has something to do with the extraordinary expansiveness of her work. Every image - no matter how vast or small - opens up to reveal endless space: the fathomless ocean of the sky, the measureless volumes of the sea and the air that circulates between them. All figurative painters face the paradox of representing the three-dimensional world on a piece of two-dimensional canvas but Cattrell goes further, introducing a glimpse of infinity into her work.

A painting like Ascent takes you to a mountaintop arena from which the high blue sky may be viewed - diaphanous, cloud-tinged and unthinkably boundless. The sight of it is thrilling, something like flying itself; but there is an enigma to this image. It seems to put you on the spot, but where is this spot? Where are you - where is the painter - standing? There is mist below and vapour above, and the sense of this vast and airy vision is of being actually airborne yourself. The place is real enough, but the image is like something from a dream.

Cattrell takes this even further with a big work like Hallowstell. Now there is no ground or horizon line to orientate the mind and eye, and no index of far or even middle distance. We might be looking up at the sky, or we might be right there within it. Cattrell makes her colours soar (look closely: there are always many more than first meet the eye) so that Violet Grey, Baroque Red, Ultramarine and Titanium White swirl and flow on the canvas. The effects conflate suggestions of ocean, sky and climactic drama. Not even the edge of the canvas can limit the sense of a wild and billowing expanse.

This painting was made in a large studio in the coastal town of Berwick in Northumberland. Cattrell is not out there in the landscape as she paints, but indoors in successive studios - first in Scotland, where she was born in 1957; latterly in London, which has been her principal home since attending the Royal College of Art in 1980. Everything she paints comes from memory, from the recollection of natural phenomena revealed on a long walk, travelling through a landscape, or at the summit of a hill. Hers is an art of sustained memories, not of single transient images.

Occasionally, a painting may even be inspired by more than one epiphany. The strange building hoisted high on a rock in Tower, for instance, comes from seeing two dramatically far-flung outposts - a religious retreat clinging to the edge of a precipitous hillside in Portugal, and the darkly isolated tower of Smailholm in the Scottish borders. Smailholm, described by Sir Walter Scott, who returned to it compulsively, as 'standing stark and upright like a warden', is a tower you come upon almost by accident, so unpredictable is the terrain. Cattrell's painting fuses the astonishment of seeing both places in one spectral vision, somewhere between reality and hallucination.

Light breaks mysteriously through the scene, but also through the painting itself, arriving on the surface like a misty seaside haar or the shimmer of heat on a summer's road. And time appears to be passing in the picture, too, as the grain of the canvas emerges through the levels of paint: the past materialising in the present.

Lately, Cattrell's work has come to recall the natural towers of the landscape - rocks, promontories and abrupt hills like the one seen through veils of silvery circumambient air in the painting Law (a Scottish word for such hills). What makes these works so different from the romanticism of the past is the embodied sense of passing through the landscape, of passing through time, of moving towards something in the distance that seems always just slightly out of reach.

These paintings express the way we experience such places, as much as what we actually see - the way we come upon the surprise of a sceptred isle, a vertical peak in mist or a miniature loch high among the hills, the bright sky mirrored in its waters. The eye does not take it all in at once; the revelation unfolds itself slowly. And this is the character of Cattrell's own work: slowly made, gradually evolving in the studio and just as gradually working its spell upon the viewer.

Rock is a mesmerising picture. The eponymous rock floats in a magical world of opalescent air and vaporous sea, motionless down the centuries and yet seeming to hover in the light. Although it derives from two real geological phenomena, this could be the island from the Tempest, a pearl thrown into the ocean, a place to which you could swim except that it would appear more remote with every stroke.

Go close and you can scarcely see how the painting is made, so subtle is its brushwork. Vapour and substance flow into one another, form and colour merge in the translucent oils worked with softest badger-hair brushes. The rock's reflection is strong and yet absolutely intangible. It seems to lie both in and on the water, just as the delicate blue light behind the rock seems to come from close up and yet infinitely far away.

And then the picture suddenly changes - to the viewer's surprise. As the ambient daylight shifts in the gallery, so the painting also changes, passing through something like seasons or moods. One moment it is wintry white, another it seems to take on the promise of early summer, heat scintillating in the glowing air. Just as the world is endlessly altered by the ever-changing atmosphere of climate and light, so the painting repeats this phenomenon. The light rises, the painting changes, giving more of itself, as if alive to its very surroundings.


Laura Cumming
Chief Art Critic, The Observer

Another Place - Studio International

Another Place-Artlyst review

Into The Woods

Interview with Director Anna Wilkinson of Northern Print and artist Louise Cattrell.
'Printmaking Today', Winter edition 2007/8

ANNA WILKINSON
One of the pleasures of working at Northern Print is seeing artists’ work develop. I’m fascinated to see how they approach print and how it relates to their main working practice. I remember you arrived as a painter intending to make etchings. Why did this process interest you?

LOUISE CATTRELL
One of my aims, when doing the Berwick Gymnasium Fellowship1, was to make etchings.
Drawing had become increasingly important to me and in etching it’s inherent. Etching has always given me control over drawing and clarity of line. The directness of drawing into wax on the plate, combined with its portability, gives it immediacy. Black and white provides for the ultimate manipulation of tone and contrast; carbon black Gutenberg ink on radiant white Somerset paper lends a particular directness to the Arboretum series.

AW
I like the idea that Arboretum is a cumulative series worked on over time. Like an arboretum, it is perhaps better termed a ‘collection’. Do you draw in this way or is this particular to print?

LC
Drawings and prints have a separate timescale to paint. They are made in intense concentrated periods, often with a long gap between. I find sitting to draw very different from standing and walking back and forth when painting. I don’t set out to make series although images often become pairs. Arboretum is an ongoing collection of etchings of trees started on a residency in Switzerland2 in 2003. They chart places I have lived and worked; currently, they number seven with the aim of twelve. The trees are drawn from direct observation and form a distilled memory of Switzerland, France, Wales and England.

AW
Your work develops slowly, both in the making and for the viewer. It reveals itself over time and I feel you never reach the end of getting to know a piece of your work. Does this ‘slowness’ define it?

LC
On an Artists’ Access to Art College scheme at Coventry3, I made a series of monochrome monotypes entitled: Nightsounds. The connection between painting and monotype is close. When painting, I build up the image slowly and with oil paint change is always possible.
What I found with Nightsounds was a natural timescale of between forty-five minutes and an hour to make the image; after that, it failed; there were a lot of failures.

AW
I remember first seeing your black and white monotypes and was struck by the subtlety and quality of space you achieved on a small scale with minimal materials. That seems a contrast to the joyous colour monotypes now. You have a very personal sensibility towards colour. I hear you use oil paints for your monotypes. Is this so that you can continue working with colours that are familiar to you from painting?

LC
Sylvan – the monotypes – is a new departure. In contrast to the monochrome nature and intimate scale of the etchings, the opportunity of using an Admiralty map press at Wolverhampton University, AA2A scheme4, has made me refocus the scale of my work and brought colour into it, the colour being artists’ oil paint, in particular, a mesmerising cobalt turquoise. From observing form from afar in the etchings, the monotypes reflect the experience of looking up into tree, wood and sky. Prior to working on Sylvan, I had begun with black and white. I couldn’t get the qualities I wanted any more in m o n o c h rome, so brought my paints to the workshop.
Everyone has their own colour palette; making monotypes disrupted and freed me from the knowledge I’ve gained from using these colours in paintings.

AW
The digital prints are a completely new departure about which you were initially uneasy. For me, it’s about making sure people know what they are buying. What are your thoughts?

LC
I think many artists are uneasy with the implications of digital printing. I had one of the Sylvan images printed digitally for a personal occasion. It was printed on a heavy Fine Art etch 100% acid free paper using Hewlett Packard’s six-cartridge Vivera inks system. The results were unnervingly accurate, the quality of both paper and colour replication convincing. Therefore the decision was made to reproduce the Sylvan monotypes on a different scale from the originals in a small edition. This is an experiment that will be interesting to monitor. I feel the digital print works very well within the show and it’s made me aware of the potential for manipulation of scale.

AW
We’re looking forward to having you back at Northern Print to deliver monotype masterclasses. You clearly enjoy the dynamics of an open-access print studio. Is it a welcome change from your painting studio?

LC
Working in a studio is solitary, so I enjoy working with other artists. I’ve had many opportunities to explore print. During my time at Duncan of Jordanstone, Dundee5, printmaking was important. Since then, I’ve worked in print facilities in London, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Ireland, Switzerland and, in particular, at Northern Print and Leicester Print Workshop. They have always aided and supported me with rare generosity in developing an image.

AW
Exhibitions are always a good marker for artists, a moment in time to reflect on recent work and to look forward to whatever this leads on to. What’s next for you?

LC
Seeing the work together for the first time in the new, beautifully lit, Northern Print gallery has given me a different context and sequence in which to view the work.
What it has made me think of is new possibilities in paint, which no doubt will in turn feed back into print. I’m looking forward to working on the monotype masterclass and will be working in Switzerland this autumn.

Sylvan was shown at Northern Print from 13 July to 2 September. Cattrell’s digital print Sylvan 2 is included in Northern Print’s exhibition, A Year in Printmaking, on show now until 12 January 2008,which features new prints made since the studio relocated to Newcastle in November 2006. Other prints by Cattrell can be viewed on request at Northern Print.
She also has work in various public and private collections including Reuters; the Scottish Arts Council; and the Ministry of Defence, Whitehall, London.

Notes
Contact:
Northern Print, Stepney Bank, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 2NP, UK
Tel:+44 (0)191 261 7000
www.northernprint.org.uk
Article reproduced here by permission of Printmaking Today, www.printmakingtoday.co.uk