Interview With Cat Lee

Cat Lee’s artworks are filled with colour and playfulness. Inspired by her home environment on a mountain in Queensland, she paints both abstract and figurative works that burst with character and life. Art Pharmacy recently spoke to Cat and discussed her life as a full-time artist, her affinity for nature, and her love of native birds.

How did you arrive at being an artist?
Throughout school I would sit in the library and teach myself how to draw and paint. But I was told I couldn’t go anywhere with art, and I took that on. It’s only been in the last five years that I’ve been appreciating the value of creating and selling my work. I realised that I had to leave my job to be able to constantly be able to create.

And now you’re a full-time artist. What does your day-to-day work look like?
I pinch myself when I think that I’m actually doing this and living off it! It’s hard work, although it’s work that doesn’t feel like work. On a day-to-day basis I do social media, networking, and customer inquiries. I’m also constantly working out designs, painting, collecting materials. Today I’m very busy; I have two commissions that need to be finished and I have to get them to the framers.

What materials do you use when you create your works?
I use oil crayons to start off with, and mostly acrylic paint. I love working on wood board. I work mainly with painting but I also work with feathers. I’ve been collecting feathers for years, and I create little sculptures with them. I take photos of the sculptures and then pull them apart to make new ones. It’s a meditative thing. I love finding feathers, it’s like finding a little treasures.

You come from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. How does this influence your work?
I live on a mountain, and being in nature totally inspires me.I am in awe of it everywhere I turn. I can even hear the flutter of the wings when it’s quiet enough. Painting a black cockatoo and hearing them sit outside, painting a white cockatoo and hearing them flying overheard - it brings a sense of connection to what I’m doing.

What is your typical process when creating a piece?
I usually think about the subject for a while, and do some investigation. I’ll observe it in nature. If I’m painting a black cockatoo, for example, I’ll notice it when on a walk. A piece like that takes a long time to brew, and then it comes. I start with oil crayon and do outlines. I make it incredibly messy, then I fix it up. That’s how I work.

Your work is often composed of patterns, such as dots or patches or drips. What influences these sorts of patterns, and what effect do you want to achieve with them?
I love different fabrics. I have a good collection of old fabrics to touch and look at. They have a sense of playfulness, which I’d like to convey throughout all of my work. Right now there’s so much seriousness in the world, and I like a bit of playfulness. This is where my choice of palette comes from as well – light and fresh.

What subjects and themes do you like to depict in your works?
I still haven’t finished painting cockatoos. They have so much character that when I finish painting them, I stand back and say hello. I’ve done a lot of research on how animals are treated, and I think we’re too disconnected from them. Through my work I want to show how animals have personality, just like humans. I hope that people will get that and treat animals with respect. If I can touch a few hearts I will be happy.

You usually portray things that you might see in nature, but recently some of your works have a stronger element of fantasy. I’m thinking particularly of the two ‘Pegasus’ works that you recently put up on our website. How did this change come about?
I was asked to paint a unicorn and at first I was afraid it would get too cheesy. But I thought about what other mythological animals there are and came up with Pegasus. I did research on it and loved the idea of a winged horse. They symbolize strength and endurance, and a white Pegasus represents purity. The wings soften the horse, but the Pegasus is also strong; I feel like they’re symbolic of women. I’d like to explore fantasy more, and look into the mythology.

What are you currently working on?
So much! I’ve got some more upcoming works for Art Pharmacy, which will be another range of native birds. I have a project with the Design Residency in Sydney, printing textiles. In the same vein, I’m collaborating with a clothing label, coming up with line of prints for the end of next year. I’m also preparing for The Other Art Fair, which is a really big project. I’ll be doing more cockatoos and parrots. So that’s just a snippet of all I’m doing.

Words: Ellen Oredsson

You can see more of Cat's works for sale here