As part of HouseBound the exhibition
Week 1, ‘The Bedroom’, curated by Susan Francis
On Friday 8th Maija from CAS interviewed Cathy Lomax live on Instagram. Cathy Lomax is a London based painter. Her work is a contemporary and personal exploration of popular culture, beauty, celebrity and identity. Lomax has an MA Fine Art from Central St Martins and is the director of Transition Gallery in East London. She also edits two art and culture magazines, Arty and Garageland and in 2016 she started a PhD at Queen Mary University of London, researching the role of makeup in the creation of the female star image.
Curator Susan Francis describes Cathy as “A formidable voice in contemporary painting”. She invited Cathy Lomax to exhibit in HouseBound because, in her words, “Cathy’s work strikes a really interesting and sophisticated balance. It’s slightly subversive, not afraid to look at mass culture, romance and popular culture, particularly in film, framing it as an important and significant dialogue. Her work is about beauty and glamour, self and identity, but it also hints at a dark side, and that tension is done with a very subtle touch. It’s never overstated. A lot of the scenes Lomax draws from in her work, take place in interiors such as the bedroom, and when I was thinking about Housebound I was thinking about the house as a site of extreme emotion, a stage set almost, for the dramas of life.’ Cathy’s work really suits the concept.
1) Susan has described most houses as being “a stage set for the greatest dramas in life”. Does this tension manifest itself in your work?
I think that’s such an interesting idea. So much of my work is inspired by my watching films, and when I think back to the amazing films of the 20th century that I really love, many of which are known as women’s films, the house is definitely the ‘set’ where all the drama and melodrama is played out. The bedroom in particular, is a very important space, as is the staircase which leads from downstairs, which is the ‘domain of the men’ to upstairs which is the ‘domain of the women’ – a kind of transitional space.
To go into a bit more detail around the staircase, it is the site of a lot of drama – there is a very famous scene in Gone With The Wind, a film made in 1939 and set in the American South in an amazing mansion in which there is a huge sweeping staircase. There is a very famous scene where the ‘hero’ takes Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) in his arms and sort of drags her up the stairs taking her from the downstairs ‘public’ realm, to the upstairs ‘feminine’ realm. It’s like the rooms have different territories of significance to different people in the film.
2) Are there particular house/home themes you are particularly drawn to?
I guess what I’ve been really interested in for a little while, is the mirror. Of course you often have mirrors in other rooms as well as the bedroom, but they have a particular association with the bedroom. I love the idea of dressing tables, the very feminine piece of furniture that houses all the things you may need to transform your appearance and prepare you for the day ahead (and get ready for bed). A prominent part of the dressing table is the mirror. The mirror is so complex with a lot of historical myth attached to it, but also it’s quite practical – in that it’s where women check themselves to make sure they are ready to go out and face the day. This mirror check is a way of making sure that you are presenting yourself as who you want to be. My paintings in the HouseBound exhibition are all of women looking in mirrors.
I actually have a bit of a mirror obsession. Whenever I watch a film and I see a mirror I have to take a screenshot. I have a collection of images of interesting mirrors, of people looking in mirrors, and mirrors that are used as a device to get another part of the set or character in the shot. They also have a voyeuristic quality in that we are able to see the private moment where someone is looking at themselves and this mirror-looking is often used as a device to show someone is a bit vain or duplicitous. I am also interested in the blind spot, the mirror actually reverses your face so you never actually see yourself as you actually are, and then there is always the bit at the back of your head that you can’t really see. A mirror creates an illusion of depth but ultimately it has a 2D surface.
Lomax won the Contemporary British Painting Prize in 2016, was an Abbey Painting Fellow at the British School at Rome in 2014 and was shortlisted for the East London Painting Prize in 2014 and 2015.
‘I am interested in the seductive imagery of popular culture and in particular how it is constructed, consumed and related to. My work assimilates the seductive imagery of film, fame and fashion and juxtaposes it with personal narratives and the everyday. The resulting paintings and installations play with history by combining information from disparate sources to form fragmented stories; new groupings and categories that chart a curious contemporary longing for something unobtainable.’
3) As a curator as well as an artist, how does the question of ‘gendered work’ sit with you?
I have always pushed against it a bit and I’m still not sure about the idea of galleries that show women’s work and separate the genders. But I have come to realise that there are concerns that are very female or are considered to be very feminine. For instance, makeup is often downgraded as a trivial device of prettification, but in actuality it is a fascinating and powerful subject. I think we need to elevate these things and the way to do that is not by separating art on a gender basis but instead to try and find lines of thought that connect and put artists together, not by gender, or artform, or age but by using more unexpected areas of connection. I’m interested in recognising things that may be considered women’s concerns as worthy subject matter for serious art and placing these alongside the more traditional male-centric artworld stuff.
4) How do you see the current pandemic affecting galleries such as yours in the longer term?
I founded Transition Gallery in 2002, the year I finished my Fine Art MA at Saint Martins. I did it because I thought, what am I going to do now? How am I going to carry on showing my work and developing my network? Unless I do something myself, nothing is going to happen. I need to be proactive here.
I curated a couple of exhibitions when I was doing my MA and really enjoyed it. The first Transition show was of artists who had been on my MA and I was really surprised that it was popular and people started asking if they could show at the gallery. I had called it Transition because initially it was something to do while I worked out what to do! But it took on a life of its own and with each show, more people came along, became interested, and we started to sell the odd thing. That’s the background, and I guess inevitably as time passed the gallery changed a little bit and moved a few times. A couple of years ago we moved to a smaller space and decided all the shows would have just two artists collaborating in some way – a way of rationalising the small space but also a way of developing new connections between artists.
Strangely enough the very last show before we had to move out of this space was Picture Palace which broke the two-artist rule as it featured as many artists as we could from those who had shown with Transition Gallery during its history. The pandemic kicked in just after the show opened so we had to close early. But as we were moving out anyway, the shutdown was strangely in step with what was happening with the gallery. So now we are homeless, well we don’t have a space, which makes it pretty hard to determine how the pandemic is affecting the gallery. I was thinking was that we’d do some off-site projects, which we have done before over the years, and at some point consider having a space again, but I don’t know for sure. Everything is in flux!
5) Does what you said about connections relate to your publishing?
Yes, in a way. I’ve always been interested in making publications and magazines to go with shows. When I started the gallery I don’t think social media was even around. For artists to have ways to disseminate their work, print media was one of the ways of doing it and publications have a lasting life long after the fleeting exhibition closes. I realise there are questions about the relevance of print media now but I wonder if that applies more to the mass market publications rather than niche magazines and zines?
I wanted to make magazines that were not commercial, were not corporate, I’d think of something and just do it, making it very spontaneous and immediate. I enjoy asking people to contribute and collaborate. The more recent edition of Garageland is called ‘Difficult Woman’. The theme came from the art historian Arlene Lees who I worked with on the issue and it opened up some really interesting stuff and she brought along different contributors which is something I really like. The magazine provides the opportunity to write about things that don’t directly relate to art but might feed into it.
Cathy is exhibiting multiple works in HouseBound, the CAS Instagram exhibition at @houseboundart. Four of her paintings have been selected for ‘The Bedroom’ – on show now!