Catherine Mackey

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Neighborhood: Mission
Group Affiliation: 1890 Bryant Street Studios

As I wander around any city I look for unexpected moments of beauty, often finding them on an architectural scale: the elegant modular tapestries of high-rise buildings; the abstract compositions of rooftops; a line of factory windows; the rhythm of salt-stained posts supporting a piers; or the structural solidity of an old sea wall. This is architecture at its most simple and pragmatic: functional forms; repetition; no unnecessary decoration. But beneath this simplicity lies a rich layer of narrative which enlivens our urban environments: construction scars; old signage; utility symbols; fading posters; human-scale artifacts - all of which hint at stories about the buildings and the people who have used them. This visual memory of lives past humanizes the urban environment, at the same time reminding us of the constancy of change and a sense of loss which pervades our current urban existence.

In the studio my practice reflects this layered urban story-telling. It all starts with found treasure - old posters acquired from city streets around the world. The process of soaking and separating these damaged, dirty posters is a delicate exercise which reveals unexpected juxtapositions of images and words telling stories of people, music events, visiting circuses, and political campaigns in urban neighborhoods far from our own. The poster fragments form the first, unplanned, layer of a painting. Then more of these pre-used narratives are woven in with layers of paint as the piece develops and the final image emerges. Process and subject matter become intertwined. Accidents and unexpected happenings energize the image. The poster-treasure, hinting at past lives and stories of the city, sometimes shouts for attention, becoming the subject itself, and sometimes whispers its interaction with the painted subject, waiting to be discovered.

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