We rely on maps to navigate earthly and celestial terrain, and I feel grounded, in control somehow, when I am pulled into a fabulous map. Oh here I am! There I will go! And then there are maps for our internal landscapes and methods we call on to steer through spiritual terrain. Mine help preserve sanity and joy—and trek through heartbreak and confusion. But they were falling short of guiding me through my own brand of American angst.Read 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
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 I tried to learn Latin names without much success and read outdated botany guides.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
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.” Khaled Hosseini
I have broken through to the other side and have a thousand followers on Instagram. It seems like a pyrrhic achievement. What’s the big deal? It’s not the affirmation that people might think I’m cool, successful, hot, or hip. After all, there are plenty of Instagram stars. Taylor Swift probably has the same number of followers as Warren Buffet has dollars. I'm not interested in convincing anyone that my life is glamorous or that my thigh circumference is perfect. My feed is simply about my studio and the visual delights that I stumble into, and inspire me, and my creative life. And occasionally, something personal that intersects with my virtual visual cabinet of curiosities. So my pleasure in hitting 1K is about connection to, and with, a creative community who want to swap images and ideas like baseball cards.
Here is what I’ve observed:
I have discovered that there is a rich community of artists and visionaries that proliferate outside of the sanctioned art world who make exceptional work. Most of them have tidier studios than mine. There are many interesting voices out there that I would otherwise miss.
I can now toss around phrases like organic reach, influencer and audience engagement with impunity and earn eye rolls from my teenager.
I'm still baffled by the “follow / unfollow” trend!
I'm still baffled by all the thong selfies who follow me -- not a fit.
I’m not sure it's such a good thing to have this quasi literacy, and not, say be fluent in Italian instead.
Launching on all of these social media platforms takes a great deal of time.
To preserve your time as an artist, you need to consider hiring someone who is a professional in this world. I did this instead of buying likes. My words and images are my own of course, but I would never get anything done as a wife, mother, artist, gardener, advocate, farm manager, writer's residency host, to name a few, if I had to market and post everything. If you can afford it, do it. If you cannot, consider a trade or possibly using a virtual assistant! I found Maria Brannon--Lightning Flash Creative, through my friend Sissy Yates and never looked back! She's been my trustworthy spirit guide in this rather baffling social media universe.
I take the weekends off and observe an internet sabbatical. I found I was getting hooked on the endorphin of being "liked" and this was the remedy.
I have results. I sell a great deal more work than I did out of my galleries or my studio, and so many of my family and friends now understand the extent to which I am a professional since they follow my narrative online.
This process has reinforced my love of writing. I am now writing outside of my journals and have written a book.
Finally, and most importantly, I feel gratitude to all you good people who are engaging with me in a sincere and thoughtful way. I am delighted by it. I really do feel that the world will be a better place if we all tend to a creative impulse. Truly.
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.