"You need patience and mindfulness - light is everything."
Interview by Jo Colley
I first met Cath Walshaw when she and I were doing a project together with a group of women in redcar, combining my work as a poet with hers as a visual artist. I immediately thought - wow, she looks amazing. And then I was further impressed by her approach with the group, inspiring and down to earth at the same time, as you would expect from a woman cut from the Yorkshire landscape. I was really chuffed when she agreed to be our portrait in this edition of Foxy, and went to her studio in Gateshead to interview her.
Cath is a very talented freelance artist originally from Leeds, now living in Whitley Bay. She has worked in several media, but is a printmaker by training. She has supported herself through making and teaching in participatory arts in a career which spans several decades. Her interests include the new perspectives emerging through digital developments, which profoundly challenge our traditional sense of place and identity. She is also interested in memory and memorialising: one of her projects, Shipwreck, investigates costal heritage and memorial sites. In examining these shifts in how we understand our lives, her practice seeks to fuse together the past, the present and the future. Her work investigates the relationships between people, identity, community and place, and how these elements come together in the memory, or are fetishised in objects. She is a great collector.
"I've never made a lot of money, but I've always been able to keep my head above water. It's been tough sometimes - even more so now, in these lean times. but I don't regret my career choice: money isn't everything and I've thoroughly enjoyed the places art has taken me."
Sometimes the places have been distinctly odd.
"I can remember standing waist deep in waste at a recycling plant searching for plastic bottles."
I wondered if it was a lonely life.
"It can be. If you're just in the studio. But I also get involved in participatory projects and collaborating with other artists. There's a real joy in that."
There seems to be more collaboration across the arts now - and maybe less emphasis on the genius of the individual artist. Writers, film makers, musicians, visual artists, theatre directors, installation artists, pushing the boundaries and limitations of their own chosen medium against another's practice.
"Collaboration can open things out. Being a printmaker - it's so painstaking, working with the layers, the neatness to keep things controlled. I am a bit of a control freak and i thought collaboration wasn't for me, but it's helped me loosen up a bit."
Cath puts a high value on the arts. "Life isn't worth living without these explorations: they enable us to have a framework to investigate our identity, family, heritage, to realise what we share - and explore our differences."
What do you most enjoy about your life?
My relationships, friendships, living by the sea, being creative, making things, my family - having a body! I love my yoga. Getting older - things get better. Life gets better before the body really creaks out - you feel confident and at ease with yourself. Its another creative space.
What gets on your nerves?
I am lucky enough to straddle the pre and post digital world. Both are good, but the loss of civic identity now worries me. People used to talk on park benches, bus stops, trains. Very few people do now. We are being robbed! Traffic makes me cross too - being stuck in a jam, even though I am actually contributing to it. Supermarkets! They have taken over the way we shop and farm, and this is not necessarily a good thing.
Who has inspired you?
Certain artists: Cornelia Parker, Susan Hillier - she pulls together ephemera and tat she has collected and makes connections between one generation and the next, which leads you to think other interesting thoughts. I wish I had started collecting things earlier! Sally Wainwright - a northern woman champion. She is coming into her own at the moment. The comments she is making about northern life in a small town is excellent, told through strong women characters, who are complicated and complex. not the usual heroine.
What music do you listen to?
I love 6 music, for the range. Also, my partner is a musician so he brings in obscure and interesting stuff. I love black American soul, northern soul and reggae music. I am also getting more interested in classical - Philip Glass, Brian Eno - on the edge, a weird out there cusp of outer zen listening. peaceful and relaxing. I can work and think my thoughts. It puts you in a place of deeper thoughts, and helps to sustain that.
What's your favourite outfit?
It comes and goes, but I love my Flora Robinson outfit: a long red woollen kilt with a zip up leather jerkin (black). A bit Vivienne Westwood: she was at the heart of punk. that's one of my favourite winter looks.
I like clothes that aren't in fashion and I like quality clothes. My mum made clothes so I know how they are put together. I always inspect seams! I'm a Yorkshire lass with an eye for quality. I love tweeds, and I've recently met the weavers on Harris and bought tweed there to be made into garments for me.
I also have vintage clothes, which I love wearing, for the attention to details and clever seaming and stitching.
Then there are my Emma Peel clothes - though I don't like to wear them much now. I don't want to wear skirts so short now. I am more restrained. I know what suits me.
Bury or burn?
Bury. Then worms will come and eat up thee .. I was brought up a Catholic, so the notion of the flames licking at your body is hell and damnation to me! I like the idea of going back into the land, with maybe a tree planted above me.
More about Cath and her work ..