Site Review: Catherine Spencer

Site Review: Catherine Spencer

An Interior Life on Canvas

By Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor
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Catherine Spencer, I Thought I Buried Those Feelings. Acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 36″
Richard Malinsky

Catherine Spencer’s website dramatically opens with this big, bold, and emotionally charged image (above).

Many abstract painters subscribe to the philosophy of their work transcending the two-dimensional surface, hence allowing for the viewer’s own unique and particularly subjective interpretations. Catherine Spencer falls squarely into this category. As she states on her site, “I am compelled to create works that delve into my subconscious thoughts and mental states to create raw impulsive paintings.”

Growing up in the rural surrounds of New York’s Finger Lake region presented an opportunity for her to develop an appreciation for the poetry of the natural world–the inspiration for much of her work clearly is rooted in microorganisms, anatomy, and the botany of flora and fauna. An intimate relationship between these organic forms alludes to the relationship between all living things, as especially evident in the painting “Detox:”

Catherine Spencer, Detox. Oil on canvas, 30″ x 24″

Her compositions challenge the perception of scale. Large organic forms bleed off the edges of the frame, lending to the works a feeling of expansiveness that defies the otherwise fairly modest size of her canvases. And each painting goes through a process of layering, scraping away, and more layering, to yield a physically smooth and lush painterly surface–one wouldn’t guess that the canvas had been so worked.

In what may be earlier works, Spencer employs more texture to accent a particular compositional juncture or to connect various compositional elements. To accent an area, she incises lines into the paint. In these paintings, there perhaps is a more subtle relationship between elements and softer blended color, as seen in the quiet composition of “Selective Hearing:”

Catherine Spencer, Selective Hearing. Oil on masonite, 10″ x 10″

How Spencer employs color is as distinctive as her actual employment of the paint. Strong contrasting colors define compositional forms. At first glance, “I Thought I Buried Those Feelings” seems bright and dominated by colorIn actuality it is confined to a very limited color palette. Bold brushstrokes of bright orange interlock with dense black into a strong organic form that resembles the nucleus of a cell. Adjacent tonal grays accentuate the drama of color. In “Collision” she again employs color to create and connect the central orange forms, while also creating a sense of motion by pushing and squeezing those forms with an angular dense black and a contrasting green:

Catherine Spencer, Collision. Acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 36″

Catherine Spencer spent a year at SRISA Fine Arts in Florence, Italy in 2012, before completing her BFA in 2013 from NYSCC at Alfred University. She has accrued an impressive number of exhibitions while earning significant honors and awards along the way. In 2015 she was a guest lecturer at Baldwin Wallace College, Berea, Ohio.

“I observe the canvas as if I were to use a microscope where I can inspect my own painted realities,” she says. These “realities,” at once bold and nuanced, are strong and memorable statements. Spencer’s site is one to bookmark, as she is an artist to watch.

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