Meet the Artist:
Cat is a Melbourne-based artist revitalising the historic drawing technique of silverpoint to create intimate self-portraits that question societal notions of gender.
Born in Sydney, she studied at the National Art School and worked in arts administration, writing and curating before moving to Melbourne in 2017 to pursue her own art practice. Caterina’s interest in art began in childhood, inspired by her artist and designer grandfather, whose artistic ability helped him survive POW camps in Germany during WWII and who studied under Communist rule in Ukraine. Consequently her conception of art is defined by a belief that it must attempt to transform, redeem and challenge the self and society.
Seven Questions for Cat
Lisa: Can you tell us about your artistic practice and what excites you about making art?
Cat: My life has always had art in it: my Ukrainian grandfather was an artist and my happiest childhood memories are of his dark studio that smelled of oil paint and magic. Born in Sydney, I decided at the last-minute to study art instead of medicine and went to the National Art School for university. I then worked in arts administration, writing and curating before moving to Melbourne in 2017 to pursue my own art practice. Art has never been something light or self-indulgent for me: my granddad studied art in Soviet Ukraine and his painting skills later helped him survive POW camps in Germany. So art has never been purely personal but must be created for the public: it must attempt to transform, redeem and challenge society.
That can feel like a heavy burden but it also what drives me. I need to feel like I'm contributing to the world. I think society is losing touch with the importance of the arts, just like we're losing touch with the value of the natural world. To me these seem intertwined. My practice explores this, as well as issues of feminism, gender identity and the symbolic value of the physical body.
Lisa: Why do you choose to work with silverpoint?
Cat: I have always been obsessed with alchemy and symbolism and the idea of using precious metals to draw is simply so exciting to me. Combining this ancient technique with contemporary imagery and mediums such as spray paint and acrylic marker is also a way to explore my fascination with art history and my need to create art that speaks to our current society.
Lisa: What can you tell us about the process of creating three new artworks for Lisa’s new album? How did you meet or come to work together?
Cat: Lisa and I met through her husband who was my first gym trainer when I moved to Melbourne (in fact my first ever). I love Classical music and contemporary classical and so I immediately fell in love with Lisa. To create these works I first listened to the compositions, then listened again with big sheets of paper in front of me, drawing in an automatic fashion, often with eyes closed, as I listened. These scribbles were then mined for their imagery as I allowed more finished compositions to develop over a few days.
Lisa: Was this process different from your standard commission and if so, how?
Cat: Very much so. I don't do commissions very often but as these were a response to music, the starting point was no longer visual. Usually my initial inspiration comes from historical paintings that I am in some way critiquing for gender representation. Whilst I was still responding to an external stimulus and someone else's art, the automatic drawing to music that began all three of Lisa's artworks felt like a much more subconscious and emotional inspiration.
Lisa: What can you tell us about your intention/what you were trying to express in each of the works?
Cat: It was a challenge to express the beauty and complexity of each composition with a single, still image, and a representational image at that. These developed from the automatic drawings I did, which are of course personal reactions to the music. But I wanted to express something more: each artwork had to be a door to open to the music in a different way. Not necessarily a deeper way, like a good piece of art writing for an obtuse painting, but a different way. Both can stand alone: visual artwork and music. But coming to one through the other would be like exploring a house rather than staying in one room.
The hand and later the harp strings and hand that sprout flowers are a visual symbol of creation. It has become a symbol that I use frequently in my art but Lisa’s commission was it’s first flowering.
And I knew immediately that for 'When We Speak' there would be a female body, and forests. I don't know if I already knew that some of the music and speech in the composition is of Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho, but I also knew that it would be a photo of a Finnish forest under snow that I’d taken when on residency there, and that I’d project it onto a naked women’s body. The music and words interspersed throughout are at times almost painfully intense, and the speak of gender inequality. Projecting such a beautiful image onto a naked female body plays on how the female body is still generally thought of as a blank screen, an object for advertising, desires, the male gaze, not an autonomous, active agent. Hence the faceless-ness too. But the end result is a gentle, beautiful image (of a beloved place and the model my beloved sister) or human and nature merged, just as Lisa’s ‘When We Speak’ is challenging yet beautiful. The music is also unusually collaborative, both with Saariaho and with the musician who is challenged to improvise and respond to the voice and Lisa’s prompts and gestures, rather than follow a musical score exactly. So my work (usually using my own body) used another’s body. The model moved to imitate the lines of the trees projected, and the music played constantly throughout this and the rest of the creation.
Lisa: How can we support you to do more of what you love?
Cat: Buy my art! Or follow me on instagram at @caterina.leone.art . You can also “buy me a coffee” here. I also have an email list, you can sign up at www.caterinaleone.com and I give behind-the-scenes peeks there, and send out monthly emails full of cool things to read, look at, listen to.
Lisa: What’s your favourite track on the When We Speak album?
Cat: This is so hard but probably ‘Strange Charisma’ because I got to see it performed live and that was such a memorable experience. Seeing the blu-tak and honey dippers and the innovation that went into the piece was such a visual feast as well as musical.