By Gina Malone
An Atlanta native, artist Cathryn P. Cooper has found her creative home in Western North Carolina. “I believe there is something sacred in this landscape of North Carolina,” she says.
She finds her drives along the back roads particularly inspiring. “From my treks into the Brevard studio, I notice the loveliness of the light and dark from the trees and the shadows they cast on the roads. The light here in WNC is captivating.” She is reminded, she says, of the Japanese concept of “forest bathing,” an immersion of the senses in the natural world.
Art and music have been a part of her life since childhood. Her mother was a pianist and vocalist and Cooper and her three siblings were taught to play piano by her maternal grandmother, who also encouraged her to enroll in afterschool art classes. “I enjoyed drawing very much as a child,” she says. “I would drive my sister crazy, collecting pieces of paper and objects every day. We shared a bedroom. I was always picking up leaves too. That might account for my interest in collage.”
At Atlanta College of Art, now a part of Savannah College of Art and Design, she continued her training, graduating with a BFA in drawing and painting. She continued working at the college’s Woodruff Arts Center for years after graduation. During that time, she discovered photography, “which may explain why I am so fascinated with conditions of light and atmosphere,” she says.
She began to make things out of paper, especially leaves and collages, many of which had a nature theme. When she entered a competition celebrating the Arches Paper mill in France having been open for 500 years, the collage she submitted won her a trip to the mill. “I had never been overseas and it changed my life,” she says. When she returned home, she experienced a surge of creativity. She had a photography show and exhibits displaying her collages. She began to draw and paint again. Through her position with Raiford Gallery in Roswell, GA, she met her husband, Paul, and the two eventually decided to settle in WNC.
“I still like making collages,” she says, “combining drawings and paintings with found objects to tell a story. But my larger focus at hand is drawing and painting. After doing some graphite drawings depicting my observations driving on the roads, I started wanting to add color. I also wanted to draw on canvas and see if I could paint into the drawings. My current work is very much about watery layers of paint with drawing very present in the mix.”
She uses graphite powder and pencils for drawing and acrylics for painting. When works are complete, she glazes them to hold the graphite in place and protect the painting. “I feel a sense of joy bringing pencil to paper,” she says. “Making marks and letting paint drip feeds me.” Her artist’s statement and phrase to create by is this: “I am drawing when I am painting and painting when I am drawing.”
She works from her home at Lake Toxaway and at Artists@ Work, the studio/gallery in Brevard she and fellow artist Lucy Clark opened last year. “I am constantly creating,” Cooper says. “I have reconciled to the fact that I can’t turn it off. I also honor the fact that it is a gift to be able to create.”
The time has come, she says, to ignore some of the rules that she learned throughout her education as an artist and interpret her own feelings as she creates. “I want to create work that has atmosphere,” she says. “I love the idea that my paintings invoke something like a fleeting image in the mind’s eye, as if the image was caught from a quick glance out of the window and the mind fills in the rest.”
Find Cathryn Cooper’s work at Artists@Work at 51 West Main Street in Brevard, at Woodlands Gallery in Hendersonville and at Twigs & Leaves Gallery in Waynesville. She can be found on Instagram @artistsworkstudiogallery and @catpowcoop, and on Facebook at Artists at Work Studio and Gallery and at Cathryn Cooper. Websites are CathrynPCooperArt.com and ArtistsWorkingBrevard.com.