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Who are the artists in your neighbourhood? Catherine Pickop

Photo of a woman kneeling on red bricks sweeping seeds with a paintbrush. Reflections of the sun and shadows are superimposed.

Born in Hong Kong, Catherine Pickop is currently completing a Master of Fine Art at RMIT University. As an inquisitive artist, she is continually seeking new concepts and mediums. A long standing preoccupation has been using natural mineral dust, mixed with other fine pigments including soil and plant material. Catherine has exhibited her work in Melbourne, Sydney and internationally in Hong Kong, London and New York. 

Full interview with the artist

Bayside Gallery (BG) talks to Catherine Pickop (CP) and delves deeper into her motivations and the foundations of her art practice.  

BG: During this series of interviews, we have asked artists about their creative process. Your process is unique, distinctive, and personal. Can you tell me about your art making process and how do you start a work?

CP: For the last several years, my art-making process has focused on arousing senses, materialising thinking and imaginations. For the paintings, the methodology of making involves a set of repetitive gestures of scoring, drawing, grounding, rubbing, smearing and polishing. It begins with the bottom layer of precise drawing or scoring of grids and circles. Then I ground up earth pigments, sometimes mixing with other substances to create a powdery pigment, which gives the paper a very thin layer of translucent colour. I build up layers of colours with my hands rubbing on the surface, also polish and deconstruct to control the colour tone. Seeing the lines evolves and devolves, the sounds, the scent, the touch are therapeutic. I often start my day with writing and drawings. They are the most effective way to get lost in contemplation and stillness to help create a tranquil state of mind in anticipation of creation.

BG: Repetition, rhythm and precision are essential elements in your work. What is the reason for this and what impact does it have on your practice?

CP: Working with repetition, rhythm, and precision involves minimal decision-making, which allows me to concentrate on the ‘being’ without distraction. It is a state of mind. It doesn’t involve any complicated skills, no judgment of good or bad. It could be an image flattened from memories or impressions of surroundings, externalised and transferred on to the surface which words cannot describe. It is also a reconciliatory, meditative, and therapeutic condition that allows me to submerge into a status in which I can feel the rhythm. It is also a stable ground for me to overcome self-doubt. I love the practice because there is no definite movement towards a particular target, no justification is required, and it’s full of potential to transform the surface.

BG: Natural pigments are clearly an important element. What is the significance of these pigments in your work?

CP: I see natural pigment is the most authentic form of colour around us. Other painting mediums like oil, acrylic or watercolour are all starting with pigment, either synthetic or natural. I love using the dry pigment as it is without alternate or mixing with other base material to show its pure form. Rubbing dry pigment on a surface is a mesmerising process as well as the most uncorrupted record of how I experience colour. Besides using natural pigment from rocks, I also ground up different found materials and apply these to my paintings. When I first moved to Bayside I was fascinated by the pale yellow London plane tree seeds, it was beautiful to see them filling in voids and accumulating alongside the pavement. I ground up the seeds and soil and applied to my paintings as a record of presence.

BG: Your artwork ‘Cubes’ is currently on display in the exhibition Bayside Local at Bayside Gallery. This work is perfectly sculptured beeswax cubes that have a subtle scent. They are beautiful, delicate objects. Can you tell us how you made this artwork and what is the main idea explored in this work?

CP: Beeswax itself is a beautiful organic material expounded with rawness, the fragrance and the touch are soft and warm. Beeswax is very sensitive to heat; even mild sunshine can make it soft and malleable to shape, it soon becomes brittle when it cools down. The fragility of both forms defines the aesthetics of the material. It was fascinating to watch it melt, from opaque to transparent; from transparent to opaque.

I found that it is impossible to obtain pure beeswax, the substance left within the beeswax was the memory of the bee’s colony. After I melted the beeswax over and over again, I started to see the trace of other substances that I accidentally dropped in. I began to add pigments and other substances I found in nature. It becomes a container and documents my daily experience with nature. When I am working with beeswax, it also leads me to think about the hierarchy within a bee’s colony. The geometrical form and structures of the hives are fascinating, it guides me to use cubes as a representation and a bridge between nature and human culture.

BG: It’s really exciting to see your artworks on display at Bayside Gallery, particularly as you’re an artist who has grown up and trained in Hong Kong. Has your cultural identity informed your artistic language?

CP: My practice has changed a lot since relocating to Bayside. Hong Kong is a fast-paced cosmopolitan city, where I lived surrounded by thirty to forty-storey concrete buildings. Sometimes life could be overwhelming. I recall when I looked out of the window from my studio, I saw geometrical forms, grids and circles. Roads and blocks after blocks of buildings are all lined up precisely. I guess this is where the influence of the visual element of my art stems from.

BG: Has moving to Bayside had an impact on your practice?

Moving to Melbourne, I was moved by the seasonal change, I have never experienced the seasons so intensely. The changes are poetic, and induced feelings of transience and sorrow. I found the inception and subsiding cycle of everything around me fascinating. Things are either evolving or devolving, never staying the same. I followed my instincts and started to explore natural materials in my art practice. I believe the capacity of the materials suggests meanings beyond themselves. I pierced through petals to leave a burn mark; tracing the curving angle of eucalyptus; juxtaposed dead grass on living grass; traced fallen dried leaves and brushed petals to match the grid tiles in the courtyard. I flattened and geometricised the natural world. It was a huge breakthrough in my art practice since I moved to Bayside.

BG: Catherine, you are also part of the Artist’s Studio Program at Billilla Mansion, tell us a little about the studio and what you are working on.

CP: It has been a fantastic journey so far in Billilla, I especially like the sun shining through the window and listening to the birds in the morning. A range of new works was created since the studio program started. Apart from paintings, I have been expanding my practice into different art forms like video, installation, and sculpture. I aimed to investigate the temporal, spatial, and material potentialities that are held around me. Walking through the Billilla garden, closely observing the cyclic change of the garden evolving and devolving, the idea of everything being in flux attracts me. My first project in Billilla was a video recording the decay of petals of Southern Magnolia. I picked up the petals from the path, with a needle, I pierced it through, tattooed on the date and texts, a bruised mark appeared; it is like ink seeping through. The act brought me a new perception of time. This work, titled ‘Repeated without end’, marks the starting point of exploring ephemeral materials. With the same subject matter, I mostly work with beeswax alongside with many little projects. By observing, tracing, restoring, rearranging, recording, sorting, I attempt to find the patterns, rhythm, and sense of time.

BG: What is next for you in your career as an artist?

CP: Firstly, I will have to complete my Master in Fine Art. After that, I am still torn between working as an independent artist and progressing with my own work, or going in a different direction to study art therapy. Making art takes my mind to the other place; it helps me externalise my inner thoughts which cannot be explained in language; it carries a therapeutic power. I am fascinated by the idea of using art to help others who suffer from distress.

To find out more, visit Catherine Pickop's website.

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