Artist Catherine Richardson discovers the essence of humanity submerged in a world of light

Flowing Paths, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. Photo

Flowing Paths, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. Photo: Catherine Richardson - Credit: Archant

Artist Catherine Richardson loves taking her subjects out of the real world. Arts editor Andrew Clarke visited the artist in her studio and found that her new work involves immersing figures in water as well as evocative dappled light.

Caught In The Middle, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson

Caught In The Middle, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. Photo: Catherine Richardson - Credit: Archant

For north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson life her work is all about captured moments. Catherine likes to immerse herself in a scene, taking her subject out of the normal world and engaging with them through another medium.

Catherine Richardson is an observer. She likes to view her subject hrough the prism of another element like water or envelope them in light or shadows. It helps give her work both atmosphere and context as well as a way to engage with the human form.

Light, reflections and composition play a huge role. It is the simplicity of her work which makes them so effective because it allows room for the viewer to make a contribution by adding their own interpretation to a scene.

Ghost of a Chance, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. P

Ghost of a Chance, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. Photo: Catherine Richardson - Credit: Archant

One of her most evocative paintings was captured sitting in a car outside a local school. She looked across the road to see a woman sitting in a parked car, shrouded in darkness, her face illuminated by the soft light eminating from the screen of her mobile phone.


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Catherine did a quick sketch and then worked up a full-sized painting in her studio. “I am fascinated by that idea of being on the outside looking in or on the inside looking out. It’s the opposite of physical, it’s just about light and space. It’s about memory.”

Catherine’s pictures suggest an unspoken narrative rather than dictating a storyline. The viewer is encouraged to fill in the story behind the picture.

Kindred, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. Photo: Cath

Kindred, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. Photo: Catherine Richardson - Credit: Archant

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Do you always consciously work on a series of pictures rather than just one picture at a time which then develop into a series?

“I have been working on the underwater series for a while now but they have been interspersed with work for other series. At the moment I am working on sleeping figures but many of the proposed paintings are still in my sketchbook as studies.

Waiting, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. Photo: Cat

Waiting, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. Photo: Catherine Richardson - Credit: Archant

With your underwater pictures you have distortions and reflections? What drew you to subject matter and what are challenges of creating art in such an environment?

“I think I had always been looking for a space which didn’t limit you as to context, period, time, clothing. It was the closest I could get to looking at the human figure without anything else there. Not necessarily completely naked, but looking at the human form, so if you take the figure out of the above world, the below world comes with no context, it is it’s own context and that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to it.

Thread, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. Photo: Cathe

Thread, part of a new series of paintings by north Suffolk artist Catherine Richardson. Photo: Catherine Richardson - Credit: Archant

“Plus I have always swum a lot and I do look at people’s forms under water and you see them as they are rather than as they want you to see them. It’s you a clear, unabashed look at people.

“Likewise you get the same with sleep, that’s why I have been drawn to sleeping figures. If you watch people sleeping you see them unaware they are being observed and if you look for long enough you see mannerisms which are clearly them but they are not aware of what they are doing.

“One of my children is a nestler. He creates a little nest and now 10-15 years on, he still does the same. These traits don’t leave us. He has a hugely bigger body but he has those same movements, those same mannerisms and these unconscious character traits tell you a lot about the person and these can be captured in a painting.

“Underwater and sleep are two subjects I love because they are unpoliced by the people being painted. You get to see them how they are without them putting a mask on for you.

What’s important in a picture for you?

“I like getting a different perspective on subjects. I did a painting at Liverpool Street Station where I was above and got an eagle-eyed view of the people below which was fascinating. A typical western view of a scene is that everything is very much all on the same plane, everything is very solid and flat, eastern perspective is quite different.

“I have always loved Japanese art and there is a kind of 45 degree angle thing going on. If you look at their buildings, they don’t seem to hold up like ours, they kind of bow out and that’s because their viewing point is up in the air at 45 degrees, they like to take the roof off the building and show you the people inside. I did a painting of a person in water and I showed a view that took in the view both above and below the water and I realised afterwards that perhaps that had been inspired by the Japanese approach. It had something of that mindset.

“If you look at a scene from above and you are looking down, then things on the ground look less important. Eastern artists tend to be looking not so much at the littleness of it and more at the universal nature of life. They are looking at it more objectively with an eye on the bigger picture. I quite like that detached observation.”

Light is a characteristic of all your work. Does it play an important part in how you see the world?

“Light is not easy to capture but you’re right it is important to my work but I do find it challenging on occasions, which is good. Sometimes I force myself to work in half light because the light makes the form and with less light you see the form more simply. I have been sketching a lot figures recently and I have intentionally turned the light off because whatever light there is left will carve out the figure in the semi-darkness. I am not a portrait painter, I am not trying to capture a likeness as such but I am trying to capture the form.

“I think the reason I like playing with light is down to my training in Edinburgh where our studios had this amazing north-facing white light streaming in from above. It was a diffusive light that seemed to envelope our subjects that seems to have stayed with me. Also if you have a tonal light it allows you to look at and focus on little things and put those centrestage in the picture. You can pick up the small nuances, the small details and that is what makes a picture special. For example the dappled light shining through the water, playing on the bodies of the swimmers adds atmosphere as well as context and character.

“Sometimes I wish I was a bit bolder with my colours but I am always led by tone and the light. It’s how I see the world.”

Do you tend to work in series?

“I suppose I do but it’s not always working on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Some series will creep in art an earlier stage but they are not the main thing. I’ll take a break from one thing, do a few of something else as a creative break and then return to the main series and when that has come to an end I will return to that other series that I started on earlier. But, things do creep in whether you like it or not. Things which I started thinking about a year or more ago will suddenly come out.

I think that the longer you live the more you realise that you are attracted to five main themes and they will just go round and round in circles. I think life is a series of cycles and each time they come round you are refining and re-examining them.”

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