Catherine Cassidy

Favourite woman artist and why/how has she/her art or life inspired you? 


It would be hard to isolate one favourite woman artist but I could mention a few where I love their work and their vision and their bravery. By bravery I mean their sheer indifference to the zeitgeist and their dogged commitment to what they really want to do. It’s brave to be like face the possibility of non-recognition in an art world that favours high visibility, supercontacts, sales, profits and profile.  I would immediately think of older women artists as I can see their wonderful strong and long pathway and dogged continuity of vision over time.

Rose Wylie (UK), Louise Bourgeois (NY), Carmen Herrera (USA), Sally Gabori ( AUS). Sometimes they may have worked without recognition for a long time, sometimes late painters, newly arrived or sometimes a legend. It’s the power of their individual vision that I see shining through. This is what art-making is about. First you make it for yourself, then you aim to ensure its connectivity to others.

This is the powerful thing about the women artists I’ve mentioned- that amazing connectivity of spirit.

I think women shine in this area. It’s a generative, visceral thing... .we lead generative, visceral lives, lives that correspond with our bodies, with paint and colour, life and death.  It’s something so very far apart from technique and concept and it says something about the world, about bodilypresence, whether its landscape, scupture or abstraction, its very much of the world. Think Frankenthaler, Rothenberg, O’Keefe, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, May Moodunuthi, Thelma Burke and all those above. All pure animal presence.



Women globally are far less represented in galleries and museums than their male counterparts. Have you yourself found the art world difficult to navigate as a woman or have you come up against any particular obstacles and how did you deal with them? Do you support all-women shows etc..? Why/why not? Have you noticed any changes?


The question of under-representation of women globally is a difficult and distressing thing to address. I’m quite fed up at times with being female. It’s still such an obstacle by the fact that we are still talking about in 2019! .... there’s such a long way to go for women all over the world that it seems a bit precious to be concerned with women artists in the free world. As long as most of our institutions, workplaces, governments are primarily still headed up by men with what seems like disastrous results we still have an equality fight on our hands. But women are demanding their rightful place and voice everywhere now. Its just that all this demanding is really very tiresome and distracting, all this defending and fighting for what should just be there. Being male, of course means you can’t know how this feels, you may think you do, you may defend and uphold women’s rights but you don’t know how it really feels to be constantly addressing it and living with this inequality, having always lived with it, this thing that’s always there.


So male dominance anywhere has to be challenged head on and so here we are answering this question, making art and defending women’s making of it- we have to make our presence known as people, art-makers, painters, not women. It’s the wrong end of the pineapple. That’s why I don’t support all-women shows. I don’t want to be lumped in with other women, some sort of art-breed apart. I am a painter and I want to show with other painters in general. I don’t aspire to be part of a painterly ‘sisterhood’. I can’t relate to that at all. It sounds absurd to me – sort of reverse sexism. Any measures that isolate women and hold them apart is absurd to me, doesn’t get us anywhere. I want to be on an equal playing field thank you.


As women we may bring something different to that playing field as I’ve suggested above but in the end all artists are just trying to make the most successful image they can. How they get there can be very diverse.

There’s such a long history of painting being a male-dominated practice. Biologically, men have had that time in spades. Painting is a greedy beast and it wants all of you. If you don’t give it, you will not find out what you can do, You need to work 24/7. I think that’s why we now see the proliferation of older women emerging with amazing, fully-formed work, both indigenous and non-indigenous., they now have the time, the time to allow themselves to be gobbled up by their practice if they so choose.

Its such a blast to see this happening, this is where its coming from as far as I’m concerned and where collectors should be seriously looking.  




When did you first discover art? and when did you realise that you wanted to pursue it professionally?


I don’t remember ever being conscious of ‘discovering’ art. It was and is part of my whole life. I always did it. I had access as a child to all art materials, a woodshed for sculpture, a library for looking, thinking, reading and dreaming... and dream I did, I looked at illustrators, made books, painted in oils at 10 yrs old, roamed the bush, was isolated but very free and was mad about any visual response I could lay my hands on.. I became an auto-didact at a very young age and had my own visual language strong inside me. 

I finished high school, wanted to go straight to art school, which were then true dens of iniquity, to the max, not necessarily fostering professional careers but certainly fostering a culture of disobedience and disruption- good stuff for a thinker....and generally perceived as turning out no-hoper bohemians.  

My formal art studies continued on in fits and starts according to family life and I ended up doing a Masters in Painting at NAS in 2010. Mainly I wanted to challenge myself on a painting idea, that of Metonymy in Contemporary Landscape Painting. Basically this concerns the psychic return of place without description. Once I hooked into what a metonymic response was,  my research led me to the Sung painters of 10thC China, the first abstractionists in thought and practice. I was so hungry to defend it to myself. But I knew I would have to also successfully justify my beliefs in both a thesis and in my own body of work. But I also knew it was so powerful it was going to then hold up my work forever. 


It came to pass just like this and I emerged with what I wanted from my work so strong in me that its now just part of how I think and work everyday.

I am told my work is powerful and if it is, its because of this belief in a psychic return of very important visual signals, things that we’ve forgotten or devalued. 

Its not irretrievable.

It’s just a matter of finding it again. 

Its also what I teach in workshops, how to find it in yourself, how to recognise it really, drag it out from under all the guff and logic that has been laid over it ( by men huh! ) for millennia.

Greek logic, the science of sight, perspective, colour theory, good god, it goes on forever. Nothing whatsoever to do with deep connective human response.




Can you tell me a bit about you/your background? (eg where are you from/based? What has your educational path been like or are you self-taught?)


I come from country Victoria. My family were some of the early colonisers of the Central and Western District. Wheat pioneers from Prussia. And others were part of early Hobart and the Victorian goldfields. I’ve seen a lot of space and flat country under floodwaters, driven great distances, been very aware of the silence of forests, lots of river gums standing in water, unmade roads, night-driving, caravan in tow. I live south of Sydney and have my studio at home. I guess I am self-taught to a degree, I’ve certainly had more years teaching myself than I’ve had at art school and all that working things out on your own was really valuable to me.

It made me rebellious, self-initiating, confident that I always have images in my head and that they have worth. Basically all the things an artist needs and not necessarily anything that can be taught.

I saw an interview a little while ago with the German painter Georg Baselitz in which he stated that artists must discard everything. 

Start again. Clear the decks. That is their duty.




What themes or ideas do you explore in your work? 


I don’t really believe in ideas or concepts. 

I think they’re a death knell for painting and too much is made of their importance.

I’m happy to be challenged on this.

Everything comes, finally from the painting itself, the doing informs everything. If you don’t submit to the will of the painting but instead push your conscious mind onto it, you will lose the game, be invaded by the subject and often by logic.

Bonnard was strong on this, don’t let the subject invade you, don’t let specifics take over, stay with what he called, ‘the first idea’. It’s a fine line between thinkng and not thinking. There are many decisions to be made very quickly as you work, these need to be made for you by the work itself. 

So learn to listen up and shut up. 

Starting with an idea or a concept is like planting yourself all over the work before its even born. 

Painting is a generative thing, it gives birth to itself. I firmly believe in the ‘animal’ – our unformed base nature as opening the door to this birth.

We just need to step aside and get out of the way.

As human beings its hard, we like to control things, like to think we can make all the decisions rather than just wait to hear them. 


This is a quote from “ The Worlds Body” by John Crowe Ransom from a Twombly catalogue:

“Images are pre- intellectual and independent of concepts....the image is the raw material of ideas.....the material cause.”

It cannot be dispossessed of a primordial freshness which ideas can never claim.

An idea is derivative and tamed. 

The image is in the natural or wild state and it has to be discovered there, obeying its own law  and none of ours. 

We think we can lay hold of the image and take it capture.... but it is not the real image but only the idea with the character beaten out of it.” 


That’s pretty much it for me, keep out of the damn thing, it has an energy of its own that you just need to recognize and travel with.





What is your process like? (Do you do a lot of research? Do you favour an intuitive approach? Do you do a lot of preparatory studies? Do you use photography/digital media? Do you concentrate on just one piece or do you work on several at the same time? How long do you spend working on each piece?)


My influences are everything really, every living thing. I love the Japanese concept of ‘ mono no aware’. – that is, all living things have being, even the rocks and the flowers of the earth.

I paint life, living things, energy, also light, air space, illumination.

I use stuff called paint which has energy of its own and some sticks.

It all goes down to form new life, new forms, new energy.

I Iook at the landscape a lot, make small non-descriptive works that hold some of the presence of the thing I see.

I just keep looking and thinking,  

Seeing and not thinking.


Do you have any advice for other artists? Particularly students/emerging? 

Know what you want from your work.

Don’t paint for the market.

Inform yourself.

Be there everyday.

As far as your work goes... be prepared to fail, fail, fail.

If you can’t hack this forever don’t do it.



Do you have any exhibitions coming up? Where/when?


This year I have just presented a solo show PLASTIQUE in Feb/March at Dungog Contemporary. These were all large format paintings of South Coast work.


March 30th sees some of my work in MODERN LOVE, a group show of abstraction opening at AK Bellinger Gallery Inverell opening March 30th. 


AK Bellinger Gallery will also be presenting my solo show ‘dearErth’ in Sydney at Project Gallery 90 in June. Final dates for this coming up soon.


In October, Work/Life Kiama will be curating a 4 month long show of south coast paintings. Final dates later in the year.



10. Catherine Cassidy Tathra 91x91cm Jan 2019.jpeg
8.  Catherine Cassidy. Bendalong 107x107cm Dec 2018.jpeg
ZOOM3. The Four Comets of The Tnorala Uplift(formation of Gosses Bluff) 152x152cm  (1).jpeg
1. Smoke 40x40cm vinylique on birch panel Feb 2019.jpeg