I was introduced to Cathy Wilkes’s work by Yasmil Raymond when I was working at the Walker Art Center. Wilkes was a linchpin of Raymond’s exhibition Abstract Resistance. She and I talked about the show at length, and while I was always compelled by the images of Cathy’s work, something seemed to be missing for me. …Turned out that the missing element was actually seeing the work in person. (Imagine!) Her installation in Abstract Resistance was raw, visceral, delicate, psychologically complex, and beautiful in a way that was quiet, peaceful, and dark. The Sunday following the opening, Cathy gave a talk at Midway Contemporary Art. It remains the most moving, most interesting artist talk I’ve ever heard. Hearing Cathy talk about her work is as affecting as seeing it.
When Lynn Zelevansky and I took a trip to London in the spring of 2010, I went up to Glasgow by train (a BEAUTIFUL train ride) to meet with Cathy. It was a great studio visit, which gave me a lot of insight… most memorable was the altered bathtub that Cathy had up on cinderblocks that she uses to scrub the surfaces of her paintings… the paint and cleaning liquids empty through the drain into a bucket, full of dark and mysterious residue. When Cathy came to Pittsburgh after a trip to Aspen a few months later, in the middle of the winter, we looked at the Forum gallery together, deciding on a mix of recent paintings and a new installation. Most of the work she made for the show which opened here in November was actually made right in the gallery. I watched as steel frames turned into ghostly men, and saw Cathy and her assistant Darren apply what looked like hundreds of layers of papier-mâché to get the figures’ skin densities and colors just right. We had to have an attendant in the gallery after hours and on weekends as they worked. I volunteered, and am so happy I did, because I saw the work come into being, and take on meaning and force in real time, in front of my eyes.
Check out the booklet we published for the show, and read my essay, along with Cathy Wilkes’s artist statement.