I’ve been a fan of Cat Leonard and her work since 2015 when she illustrated a work of mine for SciPhi Journal. I fell in love with her bold style, which is so reminiscent of the Aussie Outback for me. More so, I adore her animal portraits, too, with their unusual perspectives. I must admit her portraits of people often leave me feeling conflicted. I feel she captures something beyond their mere image, beyond what most people might see—an emotion or attitude they may not admit to when first meeting you!
Though Cat agreed to an interview some time ago, it’s taken this long for us to make this happen. Life and interesting things have been coming along! I’m glad Cat managed to make some time for my questions before her next commission and workshop. Here’s how it went.
I love your cyan and orange/yellow signature paintings. How did you get into that combination?
Hmmmm…what would those colours be in my pallet? Cobalt turquoise, Cadmium orange light, Nickel yellow, Australian salmon gum…
I tend to think about colour in terms of what they are next to, because colours look their best when you can see other colours at the same time. Like pink is my favourite colour but only when I can see yellow at the same time, and because certain colours work next to specific other colours I tend to group them like that in my paintings. So, when I get out pink I also get out yellow, which is why I regularly choose my “signature” colour combinations.
Your pet and animal portraits are magnificent. Do you prefer them to your portraits of people? If so, why?
Animals are quicker to paint than people, and I can really let loose with paint, colour and wild marks when painting fur, feathers and, say…the wrinkled skin of a chicken’s head. Also, I enjoy painting old people with wrinkles and age spots, and can tackle them in a similar way, but young smooth skin, especially children and babies, and candid poses at a distance where I don’t see marks, wrinkles or spots in the skin, such as full figurative work, for me is more challenging. But I’ve been learning oils and glazing so that’s slowly changing as I play with that medium.
So, I’ve often wondered, just how long does it take you to paint the animal portraits? Do you now have a kind of system for getting them done to a deadline?
If I’ve got a deadline I can paint them quicker. I once had a deadline of a day, so I told myself I could do it and painted a glorious pig overnight. I didn’t think about it and I just painted; knew the formulae from a previous painting and used that.
I can re-paint my paintings a lot quicker than new ones and some commissions ask for those.
You’ve had an unusual series a few years ago which featured animals juxtaposed with text—old books and newspapers, I think it was. Do you enjoy mixing media and the seeming incongruous, or was that an experimental phase?
I love mixed media and I do work this way still today. Often the back of my work has interesting pages torn out of books stuck on them with the title of the work painted next to or on them (a little surprise for the buyer). But that body of work was inspired by a photographer/poet, and I worked with them on several projects over several years.
Tell us a little about your book and story illustrations. Do you still work on them?
Mainly I do covers, and at the moment I illustrate the covers for Francis Porretto. I’m commissioned to do my 6th cover for him. He sends me chapters to read and from those I conceive a visual.
It’s quite a responsibility creating a book cover because it gives the first impressions of the book, so you’ve gotta say something about the story, make it intriguing but not give anything important away and not create a visual that will direct the imagination away from what’s described in the story—like you don’t want to present a character from the story that doesn’t do that character justice.
You’ve also shared some religious icon-inspired pieces. Is that a path you’d like to explore further?
Yes, religious art does interest me, especially Christian liturgical art. Being Catholic myself, having grown up in a large catholic family, I feel that I haven’t quite found my feet in this genre yet, but I’ve certainly dabbled and painted St Michael by request three times, and Monsignor Ian Dempsey and Philip Wilson when he was archbishop of Adelaide, the passion of Christ and the resurrection and the Mother of God three times, and some other stuff. The most recent St Michael was an interesting experience where I kind of re-interpreted Guido Reni’s famous painting St Michael Defeats Satan, and I used a familiar process I often use where I take a messed up canvas and then draw him out through the mess as I pull together the marks—like bringing him forward through the mess of postmodernism. It was most enjoyable.
The South Australian Fine Arts scene seems quite healthy, and I reckon you get commissions from all across the country. So, are you working on expanding your presence abroad, too, by working with international commissions?
I do get commissions from all over the place, but most are from Adelaide.
It’s a standard question I ask these days with commissions: “Are you from Adelaide?” Because I’ve gotta consider the options for painting things that are suitable to post or the shipping fees are ridiculously expensive, so I would prefer to send a small work or one I can take off the frame and roll up and it gets re-framed at their end.
As for the future, any predictions on what we can expect from Cat Leonard, Fine Artist
Well, I’m learning how to properly teach others the craft—I do already give painting workshops, but now I’ve joined a small team of art tutors at Splashout Studios and am being taught how to teach by an expert, so that’s quite a learning curve for me, extremely confronting and challenging but so very enjoyable as I see the fruits of my efforts unfold…
About Cat Leonard
I am an artist, painter of portraits, contester of postmodernism and proverbial blunderer. I declare through my craft that perfection is the perfect amount of imperfection, that there are moments of organic messiness in beauty when it is arranged correctly, and that is what I strive to achieve in my paintings, an ordered chaos.
Since 2010, I’ve been building up my art business. Painting commissioned paintings, Illustrating covers for books by various authors, exhibiting in galleries, selling products on-line and teaching workshops and tutorials in schools. I also mentor for Year 11 and 12 students who are interested in pursuing the fine arts as a career.
Find Cat online
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