Cathy Cullis’s art invites you to enter a world of serenity, quiet beauty, and sometimes, melancholy. Stone cottages and charming homes, cozy interiors, peaceful gardens, solitary figures, and uncluttered still life compositions are rendered in subdued colors or monochrome, speaking of another time, far removed from the busyness of modern life.
I’m intrigued by the people in her pictures. What are their personal stories? Because so many women are depicted, I wonder whether they are content with their lives or yearn for more. Are they extensions of the artist, or characters wholly spun from her imagination?
Cathy is a mixed media artist, writer and poet based in South London, UK. She’s been “a maker” since childhood — a versatile creative who thrives on tactile activity and producing handmade pieces with a discernible personal thumbprint.
Although she studied art and literature as an undergraduate at Brunel University, she considers herself largely self-taught when it comes to visual art, since her studies were mostly theoretical rather than hands-on.
Since earning an MA in Creative Writing (specializing in poetry) from Bath Spa University, most of her energies thus far have been devoted to art rather than writing. Still, her background in literature is evident in the narrative component of her pieces, and how she establishes a kind of regional, historic context for them.
In addition to her gouache paintings, Cathy excels in machine embroidery work. I love her miniature stitched portraits and brooches. Again, women of another time, with high-necked ruffled collars and long skirts, who would seem at home in 19th century parlors or formal gardens.
Her style is distinctive and often defies categorization, and she’s been influenced by “an eclectic bric-a-brac of art and artists and things” that she’s loved over the years, including Eastern European animation from the 1970s, American folk art, outsider art, Medieval churches, shapes in nature, and child art.
Her process is improvisational and playful. Over time, she’s experimented with a variety of media and techniques, relishing the happy discoveries and surprises along the way that have enabled her to develop a unique style and hone her skills — all in service of creating small, enchanting worlds.
She finds her own way of doing things. When she was young, she hated sewing — but eventually taught herself how to use a sewing machine as a free motion drawing tool. She’s also taught herself how to paint in different ways (such as making monoprint drawings without a press).
In addition to gouache paintings and embroidered portraits, she makes dolls, paper sculptures, and tiny artist books/zines. She enjoys switching between genres, allowing the muse to dictate. She’s compelled to do something with her hands at all times.
Among contemporary artists, she admires Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread, Nathalie Lete, Gary Wragg, Jake and Dinos Chapman, and Gillian Ayres.
When not creating art, Cathy likes to garden, visit art galleries and museums, and read classic and contemporary short stories and poetry. She enjoys American literature, especially Toni Morrison.
Years ago, she was asked in an interview whom she would most like to invite to a dinner party. Not caring for dinner parties to begin with, she opted for having tea with the two Emilys — Emily Brontë and Emily Dickinson. Come to think of it, upon seeing her embroidered portraits for the first time, I did think of them. 🙂
When asked what the title of her memoir would be, she said:
“Write a Poem Every Day“
This is a phrase I have used in my work over the past several years. I have scratched it into collages, stitched the words on fabric, and continue to use it as my little saying or mantra. The phrase is completely open to interpretation, really, and that is why I like it — it can mean literally to write a verse on a daily basis, or more deeply to live within the moment and make each day a little extraordinary. Of course, life is not about everything always being romantic and wonderful. There are rough times to be witnessed as well as glorious little wonders; a poem can hint at the different layers of life.
*Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.