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  • Writer's pictureCathy Carey

Speech for Poway art show September 13, 2014 by Cathy Carey

This show is a retrospective exhibit of the last 14 years of my painting career. In order to appreciate how my Expressive Colorist painting style has evolved, I want to talk about three painters who have influenced my style.

Claude Monet was an Impressionist whose time period was (1840-1926),

Vincent Van Gogh was a Post Impressionist whose time period was (1853 -1890)

and Henri Matisse was a Fauve and Expressionist, whose time period was (1869-1954).

In 2000 I was fortunate to be able to spend a month in France, and my final destination was a 2 week workshop in northern France at Giverny, Monet’s Home and Garden. Prior to that I visited Nice in southern France – where Matisse did much of his work, and also Auversin northwestern France, where Van Gogh did the bulk of his best work, and is where he died. I have been interested in, and researched these three masters of art for many years. Today I want to isolate, the specific things I incorporate in my current style from each of these great artists.

From Monet – I learned color and dynamic composition. I looked at his paintings, and deconstructed how he applied paint, how he layered paint and how that affected the overall outcome and composition. By that I mean how it moved your eye around the painting. How it created a sense of light and shadow. And how the layering created texture. In Impressionismthe idea of focal point changed from the traditional idea that there was one focal point, and it was supported by the rest of the painting. The focal point being the face of a religious figure, mythological figure or nobility the artist was paid to paint, and the outcome was meant to glorify or teach a parable. At the time of Impressionism, which Monet is credited with starting, photography had changed the purpose of painting, and the way artists looked at composition. Compositions began to bleed off the page in interesting croppings, instead of being comfortably arranged in the center. Another way composition changed, was to an emphasis on overall composition, where each area was activated, not just the focal point. The most profound thing photography did for the Impressionists, was to free them from corporate sponsors. There was not the same restriction to paint images intended for cathedrals and castles. This meant that artists were free to paint whatever they wanted, basically no one was paying them to paint.  At this time, the idea of modern painting started, and it is said that all realist paintings from that time forward, are self portraits. This is because painting became about what the artist thought about their subject, not what their patron thought. They painted every day scenes of their own families, gardens and pets. They weren’t telling stories or parables, but they were saying “look at this – I think it’s beautiful”. “Look how the light falls on the water, or the face or the flower”. So for the Monet, the idea of light became the subject of the painting, and how he explained the light, was through color. Monet painted warm colors to represent things in the sunlight, everything in the shadows – was painted cool colors. He also exaggerated how brilliant colors were in the light, and made colors in the shade more neutral. He didn’t change the values, which is the range of  light to dark. He also used color to create the illusion of depth. Objects in the foreground were warm. To show depth on the flat surface, the colors cooled off as they moved away from the foreground, in the middle ground they became neutralized, and finally in the far background became misty.  Objects at the bottom were cool compared to objects at the top of a vertical composition. From examining phenomena in nature and in Monet’s painting, I wrote a book on color theory, The Philosophy of Color, and show by using temperature, value and saturation, you can manipulate color to show depth, light and shadow. Another important thing I learned from Monet about color, was to spread a color through-out a painting. If the sky was blue – add that color of blue other places in the painting. Using what I call “color echo’s” became a big part of using color and creating compositions that move your eye through a painting by creating a trail of similar color. Monet also inspired me to use diagonals to create compositions. So when I’m drawing a picture to paint I think about changing direction along diagonal lines, to create a rhythm like music in my paintings.

I strive to create balance and harmony in my paintings. Balance in a painting is when things of different size or color weight are arranged so they are comfortably “equalized”. Using opposites and complements to balance each other is a big part of my color theory, they create a visual “push pull” of space. Harmony in painting is when colors or brush strokes are similar and they blend together to create an analogous area. Analogous areas create a unified emotion, either all calm or all energy. I use harmonious color to build up layers of light and texture, next to areas of balance. In other words, every warm is next to a cool, every light is next to dark, every brilliant color is next to a neutral. By doing this I allow the colors to sing in their own spotlight.

My next inspiration – Van Goghtaught me how to use brush strokes to energize and activate my paintings to feel like the movement of life. I think of my brush strokes as the energy coming off the living world, the aura, or even the quantum energy on the tiniest level that is vibrating around and through all the animate and inanimate world. What we consider solid matter is actually mostly empty space. I have always been profoundly interested inQuantum Physics, which deals with physical phenomena on the atomic and subatomic level. There is a dual particle-like and wave-like behavior of energy and matter. To me – the particle like activity is like the short impressionist brush strokes that build up the substance of my shapes. The long energetic stokes are the wave like activity of movement in the space of the painting. To put it a little simpler, I want to capture the idea of everything being connected, the way we change the behavior of each other, through interaction and observation. I want to show how things are related to the space they are in because they are dissolving into that space over time. The multi layered textures of my paintings, and how every color vibrates next to its opposite, is how I create the idea of energy. When you achieve that perfect balance, even though the colors are brilliant and exciting, there is a harmonious serenity about the painting. When I feel that, I know it’s done.

My final inspiration is from Matisse, who I think brought together both the visual ideas of Monet and Van Gogh, and then took it all to the next level. Picasso said of Matisse – his friend and rival, “All things considered, there is only Matisse.”

When Matisse was a young man he was influenced by the Post Impressionist style that Van Gogh had developed. He further developed that into the Fauvist movement. The Fauves (which means Wild Beasts) didn’t paint objects they way they looked, or even how they looked affected by light -the way the Impressionists did, but painted the way they felt. The Fauves used wild brush work and strong colors, they simplified and abstracted their subject matter, while retaining the idea of realism. The most important thing to the Fauves, was how the painting represented their emotions, not how well it represented the object or even classic painting fundamentals. From Matisse I learned how to express emotion using color, and how to play with space.  

I am so inspired by the way Matisse was able to manipulate the idea of space on the illusion of a flat surface. He used two styles of representing space. One style, Atmospheric Perspective,  is an attempt to re-create realistically the way the world looks.  In this style you use color to show how objects change as they move away from you on the flat surface of the canvas. The colors of objects closest to you are at their warmest version, as they move away they cool off, then they become neutralized as more of the atmosphere comes between you and the objects, finally they get misty as they disappear into the distance. Another style is called Decorative Space, or Flat Space. This style uses the idea of the painting as a flat surface and doesn’t try to create an illusion of depth. Instead the use of pattern maintains the idea of flat space as it appears to be all on the same picture plane, side by side. When I study Matisse’s paintings I see how he used both atmospheric perspective and decorative space. He could make a room look flat by painting it all the same color, and then have an object on a table in the room appear to have depth by using atmospheric perspective. By reversing the figure ground relationship, Matisse changed the way we experience space. His use of a black outline was another way he manipulated the idea of space, by using a flat decorative device to create depth.

In my paintings I use these ideas by painting some of the space using the illusion of depth, things march to the horizon as they should using atmospheric perspective. But I also use color to express emotion and flatten an area by using patterns to call attention to it. It is my belief that the more perfectly something is represented in a painting, the less emotional it is. So I use vivid color, disrupted perspective and patterned space as a way to call attention and create emotion about my subject. I have noticed that as people, we don’t fall in love with how perfect someone is, we become attached emotionally to each others differences and imperfections. It is through this idea of imperfection creating emotion, that I evolved my drawing style, which is the first layer of my painting. I use a technique called blind contour, which means I do not look at my paper when I draw, only at the object I’m drawing. I will glance down to move my pencil but I remain focused as completely as I can on my object. This leads to wonderful distortions but also surprisingly coherent images. My eye is communicating directly with my hand. In order to maintain the distortions and looseness  of my contour drawing, I transfer my drawing directly to my gold painted canvas. I paint the canvas gold using gold gesso so that I can allow that color to show through all the way to the end. It makes the final image sparkle and change in different lighting.

Next I draw the image with a brush in a dark oil paint, and at this point the looseness of the brush allows me to exaggerate the swirls and movement of things, I try to feel the energy of the object and how it interacts with the world, so I can dramatize my drawing. Then I begin painting by layering opposite colors. I have a mood or feeling I want to come through, so I choose color balances and harmonies to reflect that mood. Some of the moods I like are: joy, mystery, surprise, introspection, humor, calm, energetic, mischievous, peaceful, quixotic, weird and grateful. I don’t like painting negative moods. I think I have the ability to create the world my mind is going to live in, and I am determined to choose the way I am going to feel. I spend most of my time painting or thinking about painting and it is the realm between joy and grateful that I choose to think and feel.

I oil paint in a classical style, I layer fat over lean. To create the thick textures I add more paint and medium as I work and by working into the paint wet, semi dry or dry, I am able to change the perspective of the mark, or how close to the surface it looks. Most of the time I do things in paint because I feel like it, it’s my world, it doesn’t have to relate to what it looks like at all. In fact I paint in the studio using my painted studies, sketches and photographs instead of in person so I am painting a memory or a feeling of an experience, not a specific arrangement of objects.

Take a look at my paintings, and see if you can identify some of the elements of my current style.

Look for the black outlining of my drawing,

the gold under painting,

the layered colors used for balance (opposite colors)

and harmony (similar colors).

The movement of the brush stokes, and different styles: short, Impressionistic stokes that build up substance,

and fluid, blended, dancing stokes that describe movement and energy!

Notice how my compositions move you diagonally through the space to the focal point or main part of the painting.

Can you tell what the mood of the painting is?

How does it make you feel?

Notice how the colors and brush strokes help create that mood.

One final thought, Art is a communication, I send out a message in my paintings, and without the second half of the exchange happening – having people view my work – the painting isn’t complete.

Thank you for coming out today to support me and view my art.


Thank you to the talented Ruth Washington Mehew for her wonderful flute playing during the reception.Ruth Washington Mayhew just finished her 11th season as Symphony Pro Musica’s principal flutist.  In addition to playing for President Clinton at the White House, she has performed with many symphonies. Ruth received her Master’s degree from Northwestern University. In addition to her busy performing schedule, Ruth maintains an active teaching studio in her home – she placed at least one student in the All-State Festival every year for the past 15 years. Ruth is eager to get involved in the musical community in San Diego – especially the Flute Community! She and her husband are “empty nesters” and are looking forward to the beautiful weather in San Diego.

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