Bottled goodness: Still life painter Catherine Hickson

Bottled goodness: Still life painter Catherine Hickson

"I think I like painting vessels because of my strong association with ceramic vessels."

NORTH BONDI ARTIST and ‘Everywoman’ Catherine Hickson paints still lifes in her garage studio, with her quietly elegant subjects often small groups of bottles, vases, bowls and glasses. Catherine once thought she would be a potter. “This might explain why I am so drawn to vessels in my still life compositions,” she explains. "Incidentally, my eldest daughter - Holly Macdonald - is an artist working with clay.”

WORDSwork/ARTworks asks Catherine 10 questions to find out more about her and her art practice. Read on...

1. Catherine, you’re a woman of many hats - writer, artist, teacher, counsellor, yoga teacher... Where did you find all these hats? “I am a bit of a patchwork quilt aren’t I, but I assure you all the bits are firmly stitched together! All my bits support and nourish each other. When I was a writer [having studied a BA (Communications) at UTS] I had the need to be visually creative, so I picked up graphic design. I became disgruntled with the colour reproduction in the printing process, so I turned to mixing my own colours as a painter. Along the way I did my DipEd, and spent a decade school teaching French and Art. The teaching got me interested in psychology and behaviour. This interest grew and now sees me working as a counsellor. I love working with people - we are such fascinating creatures! I started practising yoga when I was 21. I just don’t think women are single channelled. When you think about it - it is only the male-designed marketplace that wants people to be identifiable as one thing - ‘branded' so to speak. Over the centuries women artists have grappled with this. Look at Lee Krasner - she worked across a broad range of compositions and mediums while her partner [Jackson Pollock] just stuck to his ‘action painting' and became famous.”    

2. You are a beautifully eclectic, but cohesive, patchwork quilt! Can you tell me more about the art part? "I have taken many drawing classes over the years - at School of Visual Arts, NYC, Adelaide Central School of Art with Chris Orchard, the National Art School. I always thought I would go back to working with clay, however - around the age of 40 - I got a strong urge to start painting. Specifically I wanted to understand oil paint, so I went to the Charlie Sheard Studio School in Redfern where I completed a three-year course in oil painting. It was amazing. After that I showed with Sydney Contemporary at Five Ways, Charles Hewitt Gallery in Darlinghurst, Maunsell Wickes Gallery in Paddington and more recently, Michael Reid Murrurundi. Michael is the most innovative man I know - he's always been just ahead of the wave. He has built an amazing contemporary space in beautiful, rural Murrurundi. It is well worth a visit."

3. Please describe your art-making process "With my still life compositions I work in oil paint. I love the versatility of the opaque and transparent pigments. I like to work on linen. Once I have set up the objects, I move into a flow of observation and painting - I sort of develop a strong relationship with the composition and work towards a nice, visual understanding of it. Having said that, I am not at all interested in hyper-realism. If I am drawing, I use graphite, charcoal and oil pastels on handmade paper. Actually, I painted a big abstract show a few years ago and felt that acrylic paint was better suited to the composition. I don’t mix my mediums.”

4. And tell us about your north-facing garage studio, right here on the street "I love being able to work in the open air and see the sky. Ventilation is essential when you are working with oils and solvents. I get winter sun, which is divine. The space is a bit small, which means I am constantly having to move work about, but that keeps it reasonably ordered. Pedestrians will occasionally stop for a look and chat, and the locals pop in fairly regularly, but it doesn’t bother me. I have met some lovely people over the years and sold a few paintings along the way. If I don’t want to be interrupted I pull down the shutters! Working from home is brilliant."

5. Do you listen to music while you paint? “Yes, at the moment I have the radio tuned to FBi [94.5 FM]. I love the contemporary music, the presenters are always postive and optimistic, there are no depressing news broadcasts and no annoying ads. Other times I listen to a mix of classical music, French songs, folk and rock, [such as] The National, Mumford & Sons, London Grammar, Aldous Harding, and the old faithfuls - Francoise Hardy, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Joan Baez, Patti Smith. I also have a playlist of Hindu chants, which is played regularly. I am deeply inspired by music."

6. And what artists inspire you?  "I am inspired mostly by several great artists, who I have studied in depth and continue to look at regularly - Titian, Jean Baptiste Chardin, Cezanne, Giorgio Morandi, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, ceramic artist Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, artists Rosalie Gascoigne, Janet Laurence and Louise Hearman. When I look at their work my heart sings.”

7. Can you name your favourite piece of art of all time? “That’s a hard question to ask an artist! I have hundreds! I am currently besotted with Louise Hearman’s work. She works in oils and is a brilliant technician. Her compositions are full of beauty, tension, mood and moment. She is awesome.”     

8. Okay, what has been a recent favourite book? "I love Indian writing and always have some Indian fiction on the go. Over the summer I read Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. I recently read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. Next up is Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massy. I have Raja Yoga by Swami Sivananda by my bed.”

9. You travel regularly to India, and Paris, don’t you? "I spend time in the Sivananda ashram practising the daily yoga program or doing a Sadhana Intensive. There is also now a bIennale in Cochin, Kerala, which is pretty amazing. I also spend a couple of weeks in Paris most years. I set up a studio and draw and paint every day - this is bliss.”

10. But Bondi is now home, although you did grow up on a cattle property in the Hunter Valley. Were you making art as a child? "When I wasn’t mustering with my father and sisters I would slip alone into my creative world. I was always making things down in the sheds, or playing out in the paddocks. I started drawing from a young age, primarily my horse and plants in the garden - jacaranda pods and geraniums were a favourite. My mother supported my creativity. She was very creative herself. She had studied dressmaking at technical college and made all our clothes. She taught me to sew. At school I loved making posters for school projects, and I always had something ready for the art competition at the annual Singleton Show. Yes, I think my mum had a big influence on validating these innate interests and skills.” W/A

COMING SOON: See more about Catherine and her work on our artists’ page and in our online gallery & shop.

Instagram: @catherine.hickson

CATHERINE HAS A SHOW LATER IN THE YEAR AT DUCKRABBIT GALLERY, 138 LITTLE EVELEIGH STREET, REDFERN. “‘LOVE LETTER TO A LANDSCAPE’ IS ABOUT THE DEVASTATION WROUGHT ON COUNTRY BY COAL MINING, SPECIFICALLY IN THE HUNTER VALLEY WHERE I GREW UP,” CATHERINE SAYS. WATCH THIS SPACE FOR MORE DETAILS.

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