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Reserve (Solo Exhibition)
March 2017

My previous exhibition explored the archetype of “wilderness” which extends deeply into our collective unconscious. The rhetorical use of ‘wilderness’ has, in fact, an ironic twist, for wilderness as a natural environment exists more in history and imagination than in fact. With the disappearance of most of the primeval forests we have left only what are called, oxymoronically, wilderness ‘parks’ or ‘reserves’.

Reserves are intended to conserve nature in a representative way and to sustain biodiversity. But the reality is that they are increasingly relics of how ecosystems looked before humans became dominant. But as humans we are products of a pristine nature that we co-evolved with over hundreds and thousands of years of years and have only very recently lost touch with. My Reserve paintings are about the vestigial primal link we still feel towards a wilderness that hardly exists anymore. I am exploring the innate sensory cues from nature that we are instinctively hard-wired to respond to for the survival of our species.

Reserve is also a highly charged socio-political concept that embodies arguments that have percolated through conservation for the past couple of decades. Particularly the idea that ‘Conservationists’ will have to embrace human development and the “exploitation of nature” for human uses. Reserves also have a politically dark side in colonial countries as the indigenous people were usually displaced or killed by colonisers in order to preserve nature. In a world increasingly dominated by empirical, technological and economic paradigms, the environment is as much a political and a cultural consideration as an innately natural one. Like the biblical Adam and Eve, repositioning themselves in a perilous post-Eden landscape, we are now responsible for the ‘fate’ of Eden whether as destroyers or conservers/stewards of nature.

In my painting practice I am investigating the visual cues that nature triggers in us. My work starts as a mediation on the images in nature that have caught my eye. By pulling out abstractions and reflections I am able to index the stimulae that the brain uses to build neural pathways. In so doing I access my subconscious views of nature.

At close range, these paintings constructed from the textures of nature – rock, foliage, air, and water, appear nearly abstract – a dancing network of innumerable brushstrokes, some parallel, others looser and more rapidly applied. Stepping back, these varied marks coalesce into the shimmering effects of an illusionary light”.

I find myself drawn to the shifting elements; water, air and temperature. These can be theatres of transition and transformation, where one element slips or melts into another. Teetering on the brink of this languidity, small bits of perception drop away from the edges of sight; stains, tints and tones crumbling from my eyes. To reconstruct what the eyes sees in words is a vain construct.

In my black series I explore the darkness and void that brings forth life. Black is the most taboo colour on the artist’s palette and traditionally painters are trained to avoid using it. Instead, mixing other colours to a close-to-black shade that compliments or contrasts with the pictures other hues. Black was banished from the Impressionist palette. A flat black that occupies most of the canvas can read as a negation. But black is not only a colour but also a light. Matisse showed how it is possible to use pure black in such a way that it does not disturb the light of the painting or create a void. Putting sections of pure black pigment can actually amplify the feeling of light in a painting.

The paintings explore interweaving, overlapping, entwinement, transition, implication and enjambment. My focus is on the energy and force which wills us to live, create and act.

My work investigates the blurred boundaries between Nature and artifice and what it means to be a perceiving being in the world.

Wilderness (Solo Exhibition)
March 2016

This exhibition explores the archetype of “Wilderness”, and the idea of “wildness”; the desire to escape from ‘civilizations suffocating blanket of electrosmog (cel phones, video, cyber space) and to breathe, and feel the sun, and see the stars. Journeying into the remoteness of wild spaces, we make contact with our "wild selves", the parts of us that have not been conditioned by familial and cultural forces.

The actual meaning of 'wilderness' has a long and varied history. The shift in its connotation from a dark and dangerous place that fills one with foreboding to a place of adventure, discovery, and even of exhilaration and awe began during the eighteenth century. Over the past hundred years, 'wilderness' has become a place to be valued and protected. More recently green modernists have started to argue that mainstream conservationists are hopelessly fixated on a 19th-century vision of virgin wilderness unsullied by human hands and that it is in fact a profoundly alienating concept as we begin to relegate nature to something out there, something that is foreign, and not part of our lives.

Michael Pollan in his book “Second Nature” explains how this ethic promotes the unhealthy idea that nature and culture are irreconcilably opposed. Terms of “pristine”, “untouched”, and “virgin” are used to described wilderness. “Tainted”, “despoiled”, and “raped” are used to describe landscapes affected by man.” These terms lead to further alienation from nature. Since humanity will inevitably corrupt nature, we must save nature from ourselves. We must preserve it, because we cannot live with it. We must leave nature alone, only to worship and respect it from afar.

Across time, people of many cultures have gone into the wilderness to mark life transitions and seek guidance. Time alone, exposure to the elements in an unfamiliar place, a radical shift in self and world, a trial and a gift, and a ritual death and rebirth.

The ancient theme of looking for meaning and transcendence in the wilderness is as old as mythology. It goes back to the Book of Exodus and has been chronicled by Joseph Campbell as the Hero’s Journey.

On wilderness rites of passage, we are going into wild places, we are entering realms where the artificial structures and demands of the ego and society have not restricted or walled off our innate guidance, aliveness, generosity, or fascination with the world. At the same time, wilderness rites of passage cultivate and refine those qualities necessary for living in the world in a full and engaged way, knowing our own hearts and minds, tolerating ambiguity and discomfort, being autonomous, searching deeply, and staying open to new answers.

A lesson of modern wilderness rites of passage is that living authentically means living here and how, in this place, embodied, and part of the environment.

Polynesia (two-person exhibition with Paul Senyol)
Salon 91
May 2015

“Polynesia was an immensity of emptiness, dotted with misshapen islands that twinkled like stars, archipleagos like star clusters. And wasn’t Polynesia a sort of galaxy. It was like touching down on a distant star. Like a picnic that will last until the end of the world. I wanted to be purified by water and by wilderness”.
Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania’.

Although the Romantic era’s notion of a South Seas paradise was debunked over a century ago, with Polynesia already ruinously civilized, the allure of a lost Paradise persists in the post-industrial imagination. It remains a fabled place with mythical co-ordinates.

There are the tales of Gauguin in Tahiti, Matisse and the inspiration for his cutouts, the travels of Captain Cook and other adventurers; it’s a place for the explorer, the astronomer, the way-maker, and the story-teller.

Matisse wrote of Polynesia:

“A whole universe is ripening here, bursting into stunningly, wonderfully decorative shapes and colours … extraordinary fruit – yellow, light green, the leaves a fine rich, luminous deep green.” He describles ‘swimming in lagoons with water the colour of diamonds, emeralds and saphires’ and writes of “the orange and deep garnet pink of red mullets, and of emerald green fish streaked with white against Prussian blue”.

Back from Polynesia is 1930, these images became obsessions as he pinned cut-outs shaped like coral, fish, algae and leaves on his studio wall. Ravishing, filled with light and decoration, exuberance and a kind of violence, Matisse’s cut outs are about more than just pleasure:

“Space has the boundaries of my imagination” he said, “Colour dances, and our eyes dance with it, following contours and edges, sliding from shape to shape, wallowing in the whiteness that becomes electric, jumping from positive to negative and back again. There is no stasis, no arrest, but a constant discovery of newness at every turn.”

With Matisse’s pictorial fantasies and the tropics as my muse, I have used images and memories of tropical coral reefs, the weightlessness and freedom of swimming and diving underwater, and the magic of refracted light to distil my own Paradise.

“Watch out for pictures” said Gauguin, “beware the power of romantic images to banish common sense, but attend to it, too, and relish the sorcery.”

As long as there is wilderness there is hope.

‘Connect the dots’ - Solo exhibition
Casa Labia Cultural Centre
October 2014

Drawing on the legacy of Abstract colour painting, which places particular emphasis on the interplay between colours (Paul Klee, Bridget Riley, Matisse, Bonnard), Cathy Layzell has extracted from this endlessly rich seam an innovative new body of work.

Ambiguous shapes float across evocatively coloured and rhythmically worked colour surfaces. Constellations of dots, dashes, swirls and decorative notations fly though a shallow picture space. A dynamic intersection of forces enacts the sensation of motion, action and change.

The inter-play between gesture and structure, chaos and composition, order and disorder, gives these paintings their dynamic tension. Freed from physical limitations and connection to place, these ‘maps’ of infinite possibilities certainly indulge the spectator’s delight in serious play.

‘I always hoped that the colours would take affect on the canvases as logically as nature creates her configurations, as ore and crystals form, as moss and algae grow, as flowers must unfold and bloom under the rays of the sun.’ (Emil Nolde)


‘Scratching the surface’, Luvey 'n Rose, Bo-Kaap
End of Residency Exhibition
April 2014

Residing in the Bo Kaap neighborhood in Cape Town is like going from black and white to Technicolor. The sun filters through the clouds compounding the dazzling effects of the bright colors and their shadows gracing the mosques and flat-roofed 18th century houses. The call to prayer rings out 5 times a day in a haunting intercession of penance.

The aerial view from the windows of the studio on the third floor of Luvey ‘n Rose, is an endlessly changing kaleidoscope of time in flux cycling from dawn to midday and through sunset again, pushing back archaic night.

I begin by making small gouache and ink studies investigating the architectural shapes I see by breaking them into flat grid-like planes and angles; the patchwork pattern by which we map the known.

When the sun is gone, electric lights cast different shadows. City scapes loom and the streets empty. Logic disappears and the lines between the houses and my studio blur. Street lights, passing cars and scooters illuminate the blocks of buildings, creating an eerie tapestry of dark spaces. My compositions evolve into improvisations.

From the flat grid-like studies I begin layering and extracting. Hard edges give way to multiple layering of tones and marks that build the spatial recessions and expansions within the canvases. The ‘notations’ begin to transform from the too-easy reading of abstract as ‘landscape’ (a kind of concession to the figurative) to a synthetic and architectural territory composed of cross-fertilized references.

As ideas marry one to another, so the iconography evolves. The marks are a continuous autobiography of thought and subconscious feeling. 

Scratching the surface ‘prettiness’ of the Bo-Kaap, I choose to risk a few chaotic pileups reflecting upon the strange and difficult co-existence of grit/grime and beauty, the buzz and hum; squalor and vulnerability of the precinct. Concepts begin to emerge from the semiotic of paint.

There is a feeling that the personal territory of each form must be constantly guarded against the threat of encroachment from its neighbors; a tenuous equilibrium in a system of force relations to each other.

And so the canvases start to allude to notions of sovereignty, will to power, mysticism and all our other defenses against Nature’s beauty and horror.

'Expulsion from the Garden'
MIchaelis School of Fine Art Exhibition

From 2011 to 2012 I designed, planted and tenderly nurtured an acre of garden. I devoted my imagination to the play of color in space, creating passages of light and dark, places of rest and of movement, secret spaces, hidden places; mystery. I composed with flecks of colour waving and floating against dark spaces and emerging from passages of light.

A garden is a particular non- place, a gap or interval: an opportunity or ‘a rupture in ordinary life’. In the garden, we can lose ourselves, we ‘let ourselves go’. The garden forms an intimate refuge that imaginatively mirrors and transforms the world outside. The practice of gardening has prompted an extended metaphor and vocabulary of experience that I have endeavoured to translate into my recent artwork.

The opposition between garden and wilderness reflects humankind’s complex relationship to nature, where an impulse to shape, tame and control the natural world lived alongside a desire to yield to its wildness and its danger – a duality that has shaped and influenced the way gardens have been visualised, both in life and art.

Whilst painting, I strive for unconscious creation, allowing the loaded brush to go wildly onto the canvas making its own wiggles and swirls. I try to stay vulnerable to transfigurations suggested by the accident of the paint, surrendering myself to unintended figurations in an attempt to recall the cluster of sensations that appearance arouses.

The act of the artist, or of the gardener, is a dance of control and release, a geomancy of thought, ideas, theory and practice, propelling the past and present into the promise of the future. As with gardening, I try to strike a balance between controlled cultivation and unfettered growth, between the constructs of nature and of culture.

Irma Stern Museum

The title of the exhibition ‘Duende’, is a word of Andalusian origin literally meaning goblin or imp, and is sometimes described as the indefinable, magical power of creativity that results in a work of art, or simply as soul. " In his brilliant lecture entitled "The Theory and Function of Duende" Federico García Lorca attempts to shed some light on the eerie and inexplicable feeling that lives in the heart of certain works of art. " The duende is not in the throat, the duende comes up from inside, up from the very soles of the feet." Lorca specifies an awareness of death that is necessary for a full engagement with life. ‘All that has black sounds has duende. These black sounds are the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and ignore, the mire that gives us the very substance of art ... the spirit of the earth’. In the suggestion of redemption, a comparison might be drawn between the duality of the duende and the Greek concept of catharsis.

Duende is a result of the inextricable link between creativity, risk, sensuality and passion, and of the connection between joy and pain. It reflects the extremes of performance, intensity, discipline, dedication and desire. It can arise from the cutting edge of creativity where risks are taken to achieve a vision, from the drive to create the perfect moment, from the need to push mind and body through established limits, from selfishness, generosity, guts and determination. It’s about sensuality and sensitivity, intellect and intuition, projection and perceptions, fantasy and fulfilment.

Duende is primitive coupling of light and dark, euphoria and disconsolation. Duality. The Fierce, nocturnal animus that lies dormant in the depths of the flamenco soul and which craves release. It is the oldest and most impulsive non-verbal form of self-expression.

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