Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and the birthdays of two out of three of my favorite men fall in its wake. One belongs to our son, Duncan, the other to my late father, Henry. I think of Henry and his footprint in our era of belligerence and deliberate ignorance where men like him are scarce. My son reminds me of him --Read More
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. ”
— Gustave Flaubert
I am currently in Colombia with my family cramming as much in as we possibly can between Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena. Traveling tilts you off axis, which to my mind, is a very good thing. Our family becomes more intimate as we push into close quarters, and reliant on each other for company.Read More
"Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them." -Maria PopovaRead More
#Nofilter is as pervasive a hash as any. It makes sense in these times of alternative facts, baffling headlines and gaslighting -- we want truth back, whatever it may be, since we have to navigate a world of shape shifters like never before. But every artist knows that filters are automatic to any process or narrative, any picture and any composition that we float out there. “No filter” is a fabrication, to say the least. Here's a creative rummage post from the road....Read More
This year I want to create more, and consume less. I am a somewhat reformed magpie in terms of material stuff, but I want to address other kinds of consumption -- my constant nose diving into the national news for instance. It’s an addiction that is chomping into my creative life as I scramble to look at the news each morning. My husband is a writer, and pulled me out of this self sabotage by sharing a snippet from a recent interview.Read More
My sister Heather was, among many things, a disciplined thinker and a writer. She was a poet, and a good one, which is no mean feat. Painters can take a few shortcuts every now and then and get away with it. Not so with poets-- there is no smudging involved with a good poem. We always planned to collaborate on a book, or joint show, and fuse our work together to celebrate each other’s artistic medium. She died before we could get there. Shortly after her death I started to paint with this collaboration in mind, and I swiftly realized that I was still in deep mourning and could not pull inspiration from her words, just longing and grief. It was just too soon.
When this show opportunity at The Art Base surfaced a year later, I found I couldn’t get back to my original intent. This often happens when I lay ideas aside -- they often pick up and scuttle off like crabs. So I turned to my own writing and reading, and some of what I uncovered became part of this show and what you see on these walls. When Spring pulled up, I poured myself into my gardens. When my husband bought me a macro camera lens for my birthday, I discovered a new paradise. All of the garden inhabitants got blown up, abstracted, wild and unfamiliar. I was as thrilled as my eleven year old self when I saw a slice of pond water under a microscope for the first time. I sketched and photographed and wrote some more. I tried to learn Latin names without much success and read outdated botany guides. My kids were patient when I would pull the car abruptly over to the side of the highway to inspect a plant in bloom. I finally realized that I was stumbling around like a clumsy leviathan without really seeing so much around me. I hated to leave my garden and the hills around my house. My family would find me on the ground, wedged in between plants --peering. My awe for my backyard grew tenfold.
Heather was big on reverence -- either she was glued to the stance of a perching bird or the way the wind on her beloved Texas Hill Country ranch would move the grass, or she would explore byzantine and snarled ideas and resurface to deliver them with clarity to the rest of us. I cannot wade into theology or philosophy as easily as she could, but we both shared a love of gardens and the natural world. So I realized that this is a collaboration after all. One of her poems is on these walls, and her influence -- her exhortation to stand at attention --flows through my work. This show reinforced what I know in theory, but often forget in practice when I am distracted and lazy: that the best antidote for sorrow, disappointment and pettiness is creative inquiry or taking inventory. And it will inevitably pull you time and time again into the garden of delights.
***Update*** Want an audible "glimpse" into my upcoming show at The Art Base? Tune in December 7th at 3:30pm MST for my interview with Aspen Public Radio's Carolyne Heldmann, on her Cross Currents show. Listen here: http://bit.ly/IsaCattoAspPubRadio
This show is dedicated to you dear heart -- Heather Catto Kohout
You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. Anne Lamott
This Monday marked the second year without Heather. She was part of my life on this ground for 49 years, and still is, of course, but is now part of an interior landscape of shades, yearning and nostalgia. A great sister--and mine was--makes you visible, affirms you. Women tend to be listeners -- we listen to our kids, to dinner partners, to the disgruntled parents at school, to the lonely contractor, to the dissatisfied soul at the post office, to the neighbor, to other members of the family. As an introvert with a powerful "look at me, don't look at me" dynamic, this is a safe place, but an isolated one. Heather was the one who listened to me, and was interested in the quotidian details of my life, alongside the more opaque side of my inner life. She was honest when my paintings baffled her, or when I was prone to lazy thinking, and honest when she thought I was wrong. We would call each other when we were having fat and ugly days, or poor poor pitiful me days, or when we just needed a bitch session. We could move from the trivial to the complex with ease. She would call to ask if my daughter was over a cold, to learn of our son’s antics, what I thought of a particular book or a Krista Tippett interview, or wonder if I was sleeping well since women in our family struggle with insomnia. There was never impatience, just a flow of conversation. And like all sisters, we shared a repository of family lore and drama. My husband is my best friend, but Heather was my North Star.
Initially my loneliness was so acute that I was simply functioning the first year without her.I felt invisible and small. These feelings have morphed, they way they always do, into a gentler, constant current. I eased back into the world of joy and light and delight, but the undertow remains. As the writer Anne Lamott put it: ”you learn to dance with a limp.”
When she was diagnosed with cancer, I called her at least once a day. When I called she would pick up the line and ask, “Is this my daily harassment call?”
“Why yes it is,” I would respond.
And off we’d go. We fell into the good habit of telling each other “I love you” at the close of every call until the cancer moved into her brain and swept away her ability to communicate well over the lines.
For years, I worried that I loved Heather more than she loved me. I fretted that she disapproved of my wild child ways, especially when she was grounded in the rigor of parenting small children--we led opposite lives and my freedom might have seemed unearned and carefree, while her domesticity seemed safe, respectable and out of reach. She was an academic, a theologian, and lived in a world of reason. She harvested conclusions with discipline, while my artistic world was more emotional, chaotic and charged, relying on visual cues and sloppy mysticism. There was often no linear progression to my own career as a painter, no tidy accumulation of accomplishments. She harvested degrees like the dedicated academic she was. And though generous of spirit, she was more emotionally reserved and restrained than I. I lean towards impulsive thinking and speech, with a dash of hyperbole. She always took a more disciplined route to her conclusions. When I was young and much more literal, I mistook her reserve, her pointed glance over reading glasses and that wry smile below as a form of censure.
When my life got upended by autoimmune disease after the birth of my first child, I finally realized how much her love bound us, filling in any crack in our differences. Heather went into motion and was my advocate-in-chief. She coaxed me out of many an emotional mouse hole time and time again. When we lost our mother, we knew we lost a singular champion. But we still had each other, and we were closer than ever before. It took many years to really absorb the lesson embedded in poetry, in literature -- in all of the arts: that unconditional love is not evaluated measure for measure, but is just a constant that we take for granted. That lesson never comes early enough.