This week we popped down to the Exeter Phoenix Centre to see Isolation Windows, a solo presentation of paintings by Bristol-based artist Catherine Knight running until 27th June. There was nice warming bustle of energy in Gandy Street and this exhibition really was the cherry on the top of a lovely morning!
The show comprises of a collection of small, peaceful, intimate works created in gouache during the first lockdown. The paintings were made from photographs taken by people around to world of their view of the world from their lockdown environments. Individually each painting is a quiet, solitary showing fragments of someone’s life – but together the paintings represent a strength of a global community.
Best of all you can keep this work and treasure it as a keepsake of this crazy time in her beautiful book. https://catherineknight.bigcartel.com
I have been thinking about the work a lot over the past week as community, togetherness and creativity is what gets us through the tough times and that’s what its all about. We were so excited to be able to catch up with the artist behind the work…
Interview with Catherine Knight
MERAKI: Congratulations on your solo show now showing at Exeter Pheonix until June 27th 2021. I’d love to know about your lockdown experience and how you came to creating these works in the first place? What was the first one you created?
CATHERINE: I was in complete shock at the start of the first lockdown, like many people were. I have two young boys who were 2 ½ and 5 at the time and I suddenly was doing full-time childcare, with local playgrounds shut, no friends to play with and the ‘Stay Home’ rules. I felt incredibly claustrophobic and with my partner working from home as well, very much on top of each other in the house. We were lucky that we could work from home and stay safe but it did feel very surreal and stressful. I was looking out of my window early on in the first lockdown at the quiet street and beautiful weather and I realised that I could re-start an earlier version of the window project but on a global scale.
MERAKI: This work must have taken a lot of self-discipline, you also have a busy family life how did you manage to carve out a time to do the work?
CATHERINE: I quickly realised that I needed to make time for painting in order to stay sane so made use of the time in the evening when the boys were asleep but before it got too dark to work.
MERAKI: How did the creation of small paintings, and the posting to social media, develop into such a big project?
CATHERINE: The paintings are small and made with gouache in order to be able to work in a small space at home. I worked on them individually and then put them in a box after I photographed them. They then existed in the space of Instagram and I set myself the challenge of posting one a day, early in the morning. This daily rhythm and routine helped me through the odd and unsettling time that was occurring outside in the world. Every so often, I would pop to the studio and lay them all out on the floor and I gradually realised that they were growing into quite a collection.
MERAKI: The way you have arranged the work in the space gives these small, intimate pieces a lot of strength; there is order and structure, every painting has its defined place and is equal in importance. Did you always intend on showing the paintings together in this format? How did that come together?
CATHERINE: I knew that I didn’t just want to sell them, I had a strong feeling that they should be seen all together and that they were more than just individual paintings. I played around with the grid format after the first lockdown and enjoyed how the eye moved from one to another and how they related to each other. I then painted more in the Autumn and then more again in the recent Winter lockdown. The format on show at Exeter Phoenix was in response to the larger space and the shape of the windows in the gallery.
MERAKI: How do you know when you have created a good collection of work?
CATHERINE: I felt totally absorbed and obsessed by the project which is often a good sign and it also seemed to speak to a lot of people.
MERAKI: Although each photograph you worked from was the documented, lived experience of an individual, the process of the making and installation feels strongly about connection – I very much felt a participant looking at the work and felt the presence of others through the work. Did you feel this connection as the project grew, and what role did art play for you during the lockdown period?
CATHERINE: I loved the sense of connection that the project gave me. It was an example of social media being a positive tool and when I painted someone’s window it really felt like spending time with them, quite meditative, like a little gift to them even if I didn’t know them. I enjoyed the small details- the type of plant on their windowsill, the style of their chair, window catch or architecture beyond the frame.
MERAKI: This must have been quite an epic project; how did you go about sourcing the photographs
CATHERINE: All the photos came to me via social media and a call out that I put out at the start of lockdown. Word spread and friends told other friends and then as I was posting windows daily, people wanted their window to be included, so it grew that way.
MERAKI: Communication through technology played a big part in the periods of isolation, and the world suddenly has become much smaller, and we are now connecting virtually to one other more frequently. Making global connections have always played an important role for you and this work feels like a natural progression from your previous projects, why do you feel global connections are so valuable in your life and your work?
CATHERINE: I’m not sure! I enjoy working in solitude in the studio and need that time in my inner world but I also have a strong need for connection and real people! I really missed everyone during lockdown and turned to social media to find connections. The internet has made it easier to connect with people from all over the world and also to find people on your wavelength. For example, I have a follower in St. Petersburg who also loves windows and really engaged with the project and a woman in Germany who loved the project and shared it far and wide.
MERAKI: What is next for you, do you have any more projects on the horizon?
CATHERINE: I am just back in the studio experimenting and testing. Windows are still an ongoing obsession, but I will see what happens next. I am looking forward to the world opening up again and being able to travel again.
MERAKI: What advice would you give to your 16 year old self?
CATHERINE: Value your work and your ideas! You are at the start of an amazing journey!
Questions from the children
CHILDREN: What is your favourite medium for creating work?
CATHERINE: Ooooh, actually such a tough question…either oil paint or gouache…it has to be fluid and painty. I hardly ever draw just with a pencil.
CHILDREN: Who are your 3 favourite artists?
Edvard Munch – Has always been and will always be my number 1
Peter Doig – His freedom with paint and colour
Georgia O’Keeffe – Her watercolours and clear vision