Thursday, 29 May 2014

Artist Uncovered: Catriona Mann

It is difficult if not impossible to imagine Catriona Mann ever being idle. In her own words, she likes to have a project on the go that “she can sink her teeth into” and she always finds plenty to keep herself busy.

Sylvia’s Lilies 91x91cm, mixed media
image courtesy of the artist

Having first graduated in Fine Art at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art, she went on to study law.  She combined law and painting for a while until her children came along. Nowadays she finds law very useful to advise young artists and art organisations on tricky issues regarding copyright and contracts. 
Madonna, Siena Cathedral 72x51cm, mixed media
AiH Collection

She has made her mark on the art scene in Scotland in many ways. She got involved with ‘Paintings in Hospitals, Scotland’ from the start in 1991 as a founder trustee and as some readers will know, ‘Art in Healthcare’ was born of PiHS in 2005. An elected Professional Member of the Council of Visual Arts Scotland, she is a past President of Visual Arts Scotland and currently a Director of Exhibiting Societies of Scottish Artists.
She has also found time to renovate her house to its former glory and being a keen gardener, created a beautiful garden with flowers to inspire her from an overgrown mess. 
Daffodils 91x91cm (detail)
image courtesy of the artist

She describes her artworks as drawings rather than paintings. Indeed the prevailing linearity brings out their dreamlike feel and the words she frequently includes for their visual impact are evocative of surrealist automatic writing.
Shipping Forecast 91x91cm, mixed media
image courtesy of the artist

Her sources of inspiration are wide-ranging: music, foreign travels and cultures, religion and the plants she grows in her garden, particularly lilies for their shape. Her works are not simply representations of landscapes or seascapes but imaginary abstractions. For instance when a friend asked her to paint Iona, the green marble stones, known as ‘St Columba’s tears’ which he brought back from the island, guided the colours in the painting.
Celtic Blessing 30x30cm, mixed media
image courtesy of the artist

Mann does not paint on conventional canvas or paper, she prefers to work on mounting card which is strong enough to withstand her particular method of working. 
Forgoing brushes, she builds up layers of pigment and collage with watercolour crayons, water-based paint and tissue paper that give her better control and if the painting is not working, she simply scrapes off certain areas and starts again. Traces of the previous drawings remain visible on the surface. She welcomes these ghostly residues and integrates them into the next stage of the painting. She has very seldom regretted making such radical decisions. She believes that artists should experiment and take risks to push their work forward.
Venetian Facade 96x81cm, mixed media
AiH Collection
Sometimes she even peels the entire top layer right off the forgiving card. She showed me one of these discarded ’skins’ stretched out in her studio. It is down to her experience and skill that such a large area has survived in one piece this forceful separation. She will later integrate parts of it into new works. 
This process of deconstruction, reconstruction and metamorphosis denotes the close relationship, dependence even, between Mann’s finished paintings and her rejects and I am reminded of Picasso’s famous quote “The very act of creation is first an act of destruction”.
Lux Aeterna 91x91cm, mixed media
image courtesy of the artist

This is an artist who finds it liberating and inspiring to subvert conventions and who positively thrives on a state of creative flux. She explains that she starts with an idea but not a vision and that her most successful works have happened when she is least sure of the outcome, adding: “if it is too easy what’s the point?”

The following anecdote illustrates this statement. She recently brought back some incense sticks from Vietnam, not the usual twig-like sticks but five-feet long poles painted in striking red with gold lettering. Their transport back to Scotland took some resourceful wrapping and even more ingenious convincing of airline staff and customs officers. But in the end it was worth it. They arrived intact and will be featuring in future works. 

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

With thanks to Catriona Mann

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And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.

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