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Interview: Catherine Haggarty

IMG_2880Catherine Haggarty in studio, 2016

*The interview has been edited for continuity.

I met Catherine Haggarty when I wrote about her work in “Megalodon” a show in Hoboken at the Neumann Leather Factory, back in November, since then, Catherine has allowed me a glimpse of her studio and a chance to more intimately engage with her work. Renting out a space at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, Catherine carves out an intimate area where figurative and abstract paintings greet me like old friends inside the endless concrete corridors of the building. Catching up with Catherine, I got to see beyond “Everybody Eats,” her painting featured at “Megalodon,” and take a seat at her table with her body of work.

Catherine: I’m working on a show called ‘The Sixth Woman’ opening Friday, February 12th at This Friday or Next Friday gallery in Dumbo Brooklyn, it’s a really small space but it’s always smartly curated by Zach Seeger and Nate Rayman. They run a really great artist run gallery that allows them a lot of freedom on their part to play with curation and concept. I am thrilled they asked me to put together this show… I am finalizing the line up for the show this week.

IMG_2876 Catherine with paintings for “The Sixth Woman” lying out a small spread of work figuring out her install

Daniel: It helps that you know your space is small…

C: I am excited to pull together the work for this show. In a way, shows always make you tighten up a bit, sharpen up and really focus on what matters. The space is small so I have to be smart and concise in my choices on what to show…

D: It’s much easier to sketch on a small panel, it doesn’t push back like canvas and I’ve noticed they aren’t full figures. It will be fragments, busts of heads, torsos, not faces?

C: I have been working with the figure for years now… but in the last three, it has become more specific and representational. I think the abstraction arrives in the cropping and manipulation of form… the sort of strange parts I choose to represent as opposed to the whole image of the person. I want them to float in and out of knowing…a sort of hedging between understanding what we are looking at and a kind of constant navigation for ground to rest on while viewing..that for me, when representing the figure in any capacity is the goal…

I teach kids too and I think about identity a lot and how kids define themselves through their appearance and even their photos. Formally as a painter, there are repetitive moves or gestures that reflect a specific psychological thought process in relation to the subject. I’m always thinking about editing, and how we edit our identity, like how we shape our hair or appearance for others to see,… how we put on our ‘best self’.

D: A thumbnail age…

C: Exactly…

C: I’m drawn to those associations, and for me, everything goes back to childhood and the formative years, 10 to 20, is the context of the work is leading there and even now, as a teacher and witnessing it in my own students its more pressing. In regards to the cropping in the paintings it has something to do with the way I note take and draw.

IMG_2881‘Birthday Cake for Baller’ and “Bart was Here”

IMG_2874The Myth of the Players and Box Out

C: The cropped human form creates awkwardness, conceptually the Myth of the player’ is a reference to athleticism and the awkwardness of childhood sports… it’s also a playground for paint play.

IMG_2870Various Works on Paper, Handprints, Lightening Bolts, Arches, and ambiguous figuration repeat throughout these smaller pieces as well as the larger oil paints

C: Sketches and works on paper aren’t straightforward preparations for larger paintings, rather, they help me figure out ideas and make repeat appearances; if I am ever lost on what to do next, which is rare these days, I go back to a sketchbook where I’ve marked ideas as worth exploring and go from there.

D: Jumping to my question that I gave you earlier: Painting has its own history, and as a painter you’re simultaneously working both within that history and against it, where do you see yourself within that history and how is your work accountable to that position?

C: Understanding the complexity of modern painting and trying to navigate my relationship and how I access it. I’m very aware of the history, but when I step into the studio I don’t necessarily think about it outright, the inherent gestures, the post modern drip…. I strongly believe that good paintings produce culture, rather than remark on culture, I think the best kind of paintings do both, and that something I strive for.

When I say culture I mean a personal culture that is perhaps mine or the culture we all share…both are implied in the work, which is important.  I think painting reacts to the world at present and I feel obligated to notice what I notice and ask myself why I am concerned with these things? As contemporary artists, the question of the possibilities within the field of painting are always there…however, I think the strength of painting is the thing that it can’t do anymore which is completely represent something. Painting’s strength I think actually lies in it’s flaw…

I think there’s a desire for sincerity in painting culture today… people crave it.  Ultimately painting doesn’t cure major diseases or shift radical political movements at this point… but I think painting can create a culture that’s brave, generous and sincere.  I want to build a culture of paintings that tell stories and not necessarily just about me, but to the kids that I teach, the people that I love, and the painters that I love. Painting thickens relationships and builds bridges and hopefully it surprises you often.

Catherine’s work and show “The Sixth Woman” is currently on view at This Friday or Next Friday Gallery in Dumbo until March 4th and during Mana Contemporary Open Studios on Sunday, February 21st.

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