By Kimber Fountain
Plato made the very wise realization that “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.” Of course, on the surface this axiom is not one that is difficult to interpret, but further examination begs the question: Why do some people think that something or someone is beautiful when others do not? Sure, we all have different ideas of beauty, that is not a hard thing to reconcile. But why? That may be a challenging pontification at first, because western civilization’s innate definition of beauty is based merely on physical aesthetics, the traits and appearances that are pleasing to the eye. Yet it stands to reason that our individual assessment of beauty originates much deeper than the interpretations of our physical senses. Perhaps the missing piece to this puzzle lies in the fact that we vastly underestimate the power and pull of emotional aesthetics, the feelings and intuitions that draw us to things that feel beautiful, even if they do not appear so.
The work of Catherine Stroud is undeniably beautiful, even mesmerizing at times. She produces the type of art that you could stare at for hours, but it is also undeniable that her forms and figures do not measure up to the conventional standards of beauty. There is no symmetry, no clean lines, and not an ounce of the formulaic and derivative (and Photoshopped) depictions that are so prevalent in modern media and advertising. Thus, the only conclusion to be drawn is that it simply feels beautiful to behold it. Her whimsical shapes elicit an emotional clarity that is seemingly converse to their appearance, and this observation is the culmination of Catherine’s artistic journey.
“I embraced art at a very young age,” she says, and adds that her creativity was a childhood refuge from the proverbial torment of an older brother. Catherine would sneak away to a quiet room in the back of their house and immerse herself in her art, “and he couldn’t see me when I was back there, so he would forget about me and leave me alone,” she laughs.
She was born and raised in the Woodlands, and would go on to attend John Cooper School, which had a more substantial focus on the arts than most public programs. Her most defined memory of high school, however, is from a three week class that she took abroad at the Parsons School of Design in Paris when she was 15. “I had one instructor there, and she would give us an image and tell us to draw it in thirty seconds,” she says, and recollects that she was appalled at this suggestion. She says that she remembers thinking, “I can spend thirty seconds on the pupil of an eye! And I thought ‘Oh no! This woman is ruining me!’”
Upon returning stateside, Catherine took those techniques, referred to as Fast Contour Drawing, and “I put them in my pockets,” not consciously aware of when or how they would re-emerge. She would go on to graduate from Vanderbilt University with a minor in Studio Arts, and dabbled in other mediums and genres such as collages and Abstract Expressionism.
Despite the changes in her techniques she says “I have always loved focusing on the human form. I love the way a body can shift, I love its quirkiness,” and as she continued to express herself she eventually realized the power of what that professor in Paris had taught her years ago. “I learned to focus on the feel of something as opposed to just the replication of an image…and I wanted to incorporate that looseness with the subject matter I love the most.”
The majority of Catherine’s studio output is paint on canvas, and what emerges are pieces with soft and subdued palettes that perfectly complement her bold interpretations of still life and human form. In fact, despite an appearance that some may even call abstract, she delivers images that in no way feel random, but rather decisive, sure, and confident.
She also continues to add to her repertoire of techniques, and has recently begun producing digital drawings on canvas. It begins with her iPad and an application called Procreate, and then she takes those pieces and has them transferred en masse to canvas. “It is a way of mass producing in order to make art cheaper,” Catherine affirms, noting that this process aids in making original art more accessible and easier to procure.
Her artistic endeavors are also expanding into other forms as she continues to reach for a “better understanding of things to make art with.” She is dabbling in ceramics, making videos, creating folk art on slate shingles, and has even reached into music. In addition to performing vocally, Catherine is learning guitar, banjo, ukulele, drums, piano, pedal steel, slide, and the accordion. She also just completed a massive mural for Galveston Island Brewing.
Underneath all of this runs an undercurrent of a deep love and appreciation for the Island and its community, both constant sources of inspiration for her. “There is a city-wide interest here people recognize that art is important,” she muses. “There is an open community of all ages that either loves art or loves to participate in it…everyone I know is doing some sort of art.” As for the city itself she says, “I just enjoy looking at the city. You see an old house and feel the house’s spirit. My eyes love it,” she proclaims. This is an exceedingly appropriate sentiment for her to express, because that also just so happens to be the exact same thing you will say when you gaze upon her art.
Find the work of Catherine Stroud on display and for sale at PeckArts Gallery (2208 Postoffice St.), Oasis Juice Bar (409 25th St.), Galveston Island Brewing Company (8423 Stewart Rd.), and Olivine Boutique in Houston (2405 Rice Boulevard).