Featured Artist: Catherine Harrison

Catherine Harrison - Infinity Emblem (Detail)
Catherine Harrison - Infinity Emblem (Detail)

Catherine Harrison
Feature Interview

by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith, artinliverpool and courtesy the artist.

Drawing with rust isn’t exactly conventional, but having never come across this method before I had to find out a little more. Catherine Harrison has had some brilliant work on display as part of Soup Collective recently, including exhibitions at Unity Theatre and Roadworks just since the beginning of 2016. Emblems though, at Coffee and Fandisha until 12th May 2016, is an excellent solo exhibition, that goes a long way to prove this fascinating drawing and print technique is one that can stand firmly alone and hold a crowd.

This seems to be the beginning of an exciting career for this artist, whose work has started finding an international audience, with work drifting across to Athens later in the year. But you’re not interested in my take on that when we’ve managed to get an explanation of these beautiful drawings from the artist herself. The interview that follows has taught me some wonderful things, and might inspire you to try something a little different yourself – though when I tried to recreate the effect it failed miserably, so I can only assume it’s a talent that comes with practice.

What’s the theme of this exhibition at Coffee and Fandisha?
Both the practical and psychological aspects of alchemy inspire this series of work. The symbols are based on ancient alchemical texts as well as the familiar symbols in worldwide cultures and religions. Hidden meanings lie within the various symbols, shapes, numbers, lines and curves. All these aspects convey many different meanings and reference the writings and ideas of the psychiatrist Carl Jung. These symbols represent ideas such as ultimate wholeness, infinity, unity, balance, great strength, feminine, masculine and the five elements earth, air, fire, water and metal. The practical parts of alchemy are referenced by using abstract marks within the shapes that represent metallography, the components of the metal itself.

You mention on your website that you’re interested in nature’s elements, but what is it, more specifically, that draws you to rust?
I have always been interested in decay and using the rust as a material, to print, draw or paint with. Rust is like a disease that eventually disintegrates the object, and using it as a tool – this somehow creates a lasting memory of it.

Your approach is almost chemical in a way, keeping very tight structures in how you draw. It sort of reminds me of planning or biological drawings of plants (even the pair of scissors which were in Unity Theatre recently). What got you to that point of creating such clean lines in your work? Emblems takes some of its inspiration from metallography, but what exactly is that? And what was it that drew you to it?
Metallography is the study of the physical structure and components of metal, this is usually done by microscope. I first came across metallography whilst studying alchemy and metals, and was fascinated by it. I drew from the pieces of metal, such as copper and iron, looking at them under a microscope. This then developed over a number of years and changed into a sort of automatic, abstract but controlled drawing.

There’s a serenity in the experience of viewing these works at Coffee and Fandisha, and I guess there’s meant to be, but the alchemical and spiritual sides kind of clash. Was that intentional or just a happy accident?
I’d say it was a happy accident, but I like the contrast of the two, the order and chaos of the neat symbols and the abstract marks within them. These kinds of symbols are very familiar to people, and have been used over and over and for hundreds of years. I wanted to add something extra to them.

And has Emblems finished its run with this exhibition, or will there be more to come from it as a project? And if so, what’s next on your things to do list?
I’m working on a new series of emblems at the moment that will be on display in Manchester and also part of the Threshold festival at the end of the month. I will then be heading to Athens in May to display some work there, assemblage pieces, consisting of the rusted objects. I’m also hoping to produce an installation piece of all the rusted objects I’ve accumulated, as well as re-visit some sheet metal work where I used a variety of chemicals to decay and corrode, to create controlled abstract works.

www.catherineharrison.co.uk