“Hippocampus”, 2006, ink on panel, by Cathy Sarkowsky. From the “Fantastic Creatures” series.

Please join us at an opening reception for Cathy Sarkowsky during the Tacoma Studio Tour on Saturday, Oct. 17, 11-5. Cathy wows admirers from Seattle to Palm Desert with her gorgeous canvases in which simple yet charged, often unsettling line-drawn images emerge delicately from billowing clouds of color. in/visible, a series of “over-garments and under-garments” rendered in layered media, will be on view at M+M from Oct. 17-Nov. 21, 2015. M+M recently caught up with Cathy via e-mail to talk about something most of us take for granted: clothing.

* * * * *

Moss+Mineral: Hi Cathy. You’re a busy person – what did you have for breakfast this morning?

Cathy Sarkowsky: Scrambled eggs with gorgeous shiitakes and fresh blackberries from the farmers market.

M+M: That’s a very painterly breakfast plate. How long does it take to get to your studio?

CS: A nanosecond, for which I remain immensely grateful.

M+M: What is the view from your studio?

CS: The sky, a sweet little courtyard surrounded by our garden and house, and my puppy wandering around.


M+M: Please tell us about in/visible, the series you are showing at Moss + Mineral.

CS: This is a very personal series. It is about vulnerability and strength, fragility and toughness, tenderness and rage. It was born of my experience as a teenager wearing a body cast, followed by several years in a back brace. It relates to feminism and the effort to find a comfortable balance between being female, honest and real with society’s expectations and demands.

I did a previous series titled Immaculate Imperfection. That kind of sums it up – innocence and virtue tempered and made real by imperfection.

M+M: That’s powerful. So these pieces are about a lot more than fashion.

CS: Fashion serves to cover our bodies and to express ourselves, with canyons of possibility between those two concepts.

M+M: I love your deft black line drawings that arise from formless fields of color; the images have a dreamlike quality. You write that, “Creating balance between exacting linework and the unpredictable flow of ink demands surrendering to intuition and spontaneity, letting go of expectations and planned outcomes….This process of artistic emancipation allows fantastic possibilities. Anomalies arising from the creative process add to the uniqueness and elegance of the work.”

CS: While not all of my work involves precise line contrasted with loose, fluid color, I continue to use acrylic ink as my primary medium. I often use it quite thin and watery, so that the results are not entirely controllable. As in life, I strive to find balance between control and chaos in my art.

“Red Creatures (3)” 2007, ink on panel, by Cathy Sarkowsky. From the “Immaculate Imperfection” series.

M+M: The works in in/visible are on painted and waxed mulberry paper; one has embroidery. You work with diverse subject matter – clowns, seahorses, nostalgic books and toys – is there a connecting thread?

CS: Absolutely. In terms of process, my use of color, materials and my hand connect all my work. In terms of subject matter, the connecting thread is an abiding interest in and exploration of human vulnerability and strength, memory, nostalgia and the layers and textures which add up to make a life.

M+M: The articles of clothing depicted in in/visible both conceal and reveal; they are both primly sweet and overtly sexual. What does this suggest about human nature?

CS: The tension is intentional and meant to be disturbing in ways which are hard to readily identify. Many of these articles of clothing are restrictive and uncomfortable, which contrasts with the bold, free use of color and pattern (which would not have been found on these articles when they were in fashion). I have no idea what this says about human nature. What it says about my nature is that I am intrigued by the ways in which this tension is expressed in every aspect of our selves, including what we put on – and take off of – our bodies.

M+M: I love the courting rituals of birds; the way their mating displays (usually the males) also reveal unexpectedly beautiful plumage…

CS: Weird that you ask, as I am fixated on Birds of Paradise right now. It kind of irks me that male birds often get the gorgeous plumage to attract the females. Mostly, I get hooked on bizarre, anomalous aspects of nature, as in my series, Fantastic Creatures, where I painted hippocampi (seahorses), among other creatures with distinctive qualities. It intrigues me that male seahorses incubate eggs and give birth to babies.

M+M: Strangely, I am working with Bird of Paradise flowers (in arrangements) right now. Their physiological makeup is such that it is irresistible to a certain pollinator, the sunbird. The Bird of Paradise has a hard, beak-like sheathe (hence the name) that partially covers its orange-and-purple petals; some of the petals join together in a way that creates a nectary. The sheathe offers a sturdy little perch for the sunbirds. And when they come to sip nectar, the petals open and dust their feet with pollen!

CS: That is a remarkable morsel of biology.  The magic of nature seems at once quirky and intentional.  Relationships and dependencies in nature seem very structured and prescribed, often yielding beautiful results.  It’s interesting that humans have so much more trouble finding symbiosis and lasting connections which feed rather than hurt us or our environment.

M+M: Yes, we seem more inclined to parasitism than symbiosis at the moment…Back to in/visible – I think most people have a clothing fetish, though they may not think about it that way. For instance, who doesn’t own a favorite pair of pants or a “lucky” sweater they wear to interviews? I have a ridiculous square dancing skirt that I haven’t worn in years but refuse to give away; I just like having it around, it’s a period piece that encapsulates a certain place and time. What is your favorite article of clothing?

CS: My current fetish has to do with comfort. I don’t seem to have a favorite or lucky item of clothing. I am somewhat of a collector of clothing. I am very particular and I love to have choices. And yet there is a sameness within the variety which probably constitutes some kind of fetishism/favoritism. I would like to think that I have a personal style. And, I have worn a lot of black since I was a teenager.

M+M: What are you working on now? New projects on the horizon?

CS: I have returned to an interpretation of layered color, movement and pattern which relates to a series of paintings I did about 8 years ago called Whips & Chains, one of which is in the Tacoma Art Museum’s permanent collection (though they required that I remove the title).  It is refreshing for me to return to something less representational after the previous series I completed, which was based on the ovoid and vintage roly-poly figures (think Bozo the Clown) and a more literal exploration of vulnerability and strength.

M+M: I am so excited to bring in/visible to Tacoma – and I also remain obsessed with your hippocampi paintings! Thank you, Cathy.

~ Lisa Kinoshita

in/visible at Moss + Mineral through Nov. 21, 2015. Open Saturdays noon-5 and by appointment: 253.961.5220. http://www.mossandmineral.com

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