Artist's Biography

I was a fool when I was young.

I did not listen to the artist

trying to claw her way out from inside of me.

Instead, I heard only a Mother who did not like herself,

and liked me less.

I absorbed her shame like a dry sponge.

But art has a way of needing to be heard.

Art just won't shut up.

So (at age 50), I stopped being what I was,

and started being who I am.

I am born again.

I am an artist.

I think about art.

I look at art.

I dream of art.

Every day, I make art.

And the art,

(I am 100% certain)

Makes me.

Catherine Hicks

Artist's Statement

A primarily self taught artist, I eventually asked myself the questions that would come to define my work: What if paintbrushes had never been invented? What if pigment and oil had never been mixed? What if female creativity had ascended, and men’s work had been dismissed as “craft?” With no paint, how might art have been expressed, and who, exactly, might have done the talking?

All of my work is wired and stitched from artistic memory, as an ongoing call and response between myself and artists of the past. Everything I make is some sort of recuerdo; a way of communing with the painters I wish I had known by more than what was left in biographies and hanging on museum walls.

Sometimes appropriating self and photographic portraits, or by using art history as a foil, I explore the lives and work of significant artists by reinterpreting or reimagining their work through a medium that undoubtedly precedes (but did not survive as easily as) mark making with pigment.

With a provocative wink, my work explores art history through feminine – now feminist tools: needles, wire and thread. With meditative stitches and hidden structure, I imbue flat planes of shadow with visual images that leap dimensionally forward in depth that is present and unabashedly real.

About Embroidery on Mirrors

What follows is a story about Art, Movies and Mirrors and how they have inspired my work.

I always say yes to the movies.  I love the costumes and sets, the light and shadows, and the big, distinctive faces flickering through the darkness onto the giant screen.  I am mad for the way a compelling visual tale can transport me to a new understanding or way of looking at things, both familiar and unfamiliar.  I long to hear the romantic swell of violins or the tight staccato plucking that tells me there is danger ahead. I’m always on the hunt for the eye popping visual overload the best films give me.  

I secretly delight in the way movies offer an invisibility cloak: an opportunity to surreptitiously stare at interesting faces without feeling any self consciousness about breaking this social norm.  I carry the characters I meet on screen with me, even long after the final frame.  

Before moving pictures, large history paintings were the blockbusters of their day, visually conveying dynamic stories on big “screens“ that were prominently displayed in churches and on the walls of public buildings as they reached out to a wide but often illiterate audience.  

Smaller, more intimate works were also commissioned, catering to a more sophisticated patron; perhaps these works could be compared to our modern Art House Cinema or an algorithmically and artfully curated Netflix subscription.  

Both genres served didactic and entertainment purposes, and the venerated artifacts left hanging in our museums now offer humanizing insights into societies and customs long faded from our contemporary view.

In his treatise “On Painting” (1435), Leon Batista Alberti wrote that paintings should “capture the eye of whatever learned or unlearned person is looking... and (it) will move his soul.”   Exactly.  Whatever one’s educational level, when done right, Art (and Movies) should punch spectators in the gut and leave their minds reeling.  

Two of my favorite paintings are both cinematic in scale and feature compositions that invite viewers to create their own narrative about what exactly is going on in the scene.  Diego Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” (1656) and Edouard Manet’s “Bar at the Folies-Bergere” (1882) each tell a cryptic and very personal story about how each artist saw himself within the particular social circumstance in which he lived.  Interestingly, both of these paintings also feature mirrors as an integral story telling device.  

In the paintings, the mirrors don’t quite make sense from the perspective of the viewer, and these confounding irregularities have long been the subject of fevered discussion and speculation among Art Historians and Critics.  Manet’s “Bar” seems to put the viewer in the position of the bar patron, but the reflections of both the patron and the barmaid within the composition make that perspective an impossibility.  “Las Meninas” is equally curious, with the Queen and King (who had commissioned the work) reflected like insignificant and disembodied ghosts in the mirror at the center of the scene.

Mirrors, like Movies and Art, can both reflect and distort reality.  It depends upon your point of view.

And, like the mirror-still water that first captivated Narcissus, to the polished metal pieces used by the Romans, to the sharp clarity of hand foiled Venetian glass and our own reflexively posted selfies, people in the modern world continue to find themselves in the “looking glass” many times every day.  Faces and figures, even our own, are ubiquitous, but how often are they really seen? 

This is a series of “found object” mirrors which I have transformed by hand embroidering them with (seemingly) reflected portraits of women taking stock of themselves.

My mirrors feature a cast of familiar females in recognizable Movie, Television or Culturally Iconic roles.  In each piece, a woman gazes at herself in a character-appropriate mirror, her face an emotional reaction to an existential breaking point - these women are trying to find in their own reflections the courage or wisdom to face a significant turning point.  

Each fictionalized crossroads the women are confronting is familiar to us as  a cultural trope because the media they are taken from reflects the kinds of timeless and generationally repeated experiences of ordinary women.  Each of the scenes is focused on deciphering what it means to be female while navigating social relationships with men, other women or even oneself.

What makes my work different from traditional embroidery or painting is that in my embroidered mirrors, spectators of the work, as their eyes scan each scene, can actually see a reflection of themselves juxtaposed next to the embroidered characters I have created.   In my mirrors, I present both a character for the observer’s consideration and an invitation for viewers to interact with the work by catching a glimpse of their own face or figure inserted within. The subject of the painting is looking, searching and thinking, just like the observer of the work.

So how does one hand stitch a mirror?  I embroider (layer by layer, using built up stitches of single strands of silk) directly onto sheer fabric held in an embroidery hoop.  In laying out the composition, I leave a margin of extra material, so that after the embroidery is complete and the fabric is stretched over the glass, each viewer can find their own image, strategically positioned and reflected hazily back at themselves.

Because it is a very tactile and unexpected medium, the embroidery in my work lends a superseding element of realism and depth that transfigures the mirrors as something more than decorative objects.  As the delicately layered Embroidery is raised above the flat, taut plane of the sheer fabric support, the clearly focused embroidered figures are pushed forward while the actually reflected (and slightly distorted) image of the flesh and blood viewer recedes.  

My portraits, with their ever changing reflected elements, are my response to the painted mirrors of Manet, Velazquez and others.  My intention is for my work to act as a bridge between those traditional paintings and the work of contemporary Artists like Anish Kapoor.  In Kapoor’s mirrored sculptures (ie., “Cloud Gate” (2004-2006)), his viewers interact with a mirror-surfaced sculpture as they find their own and other reflections within the purely abstract works.  

All of the characters I am portraying are cultural icons, and the stories and plots I am highlighting are intentionally familiar as cultural touchstones.   With my subjects each at their own personal breaking points, I  want my viewers to share in the dilemmas of these characters by having both an interactive and introspective experience.  As each imperiled woman gazes into the mirror, contemplating her own fictional crisis, I hope that spectators would see similar junctures in their own life, and how their responses have been shaped.

I see my Creative Practice as a means of communication, a way to capture something important about the female experience in our contemporary society and culture, and an opportunity to use “silk and mirrors” to draw attention and notice to those things that I think are worthy of highlight and consideration.  My focus is on the creation of work that has to be physically seen (not just through a screen) to be appreciated, and that is changed through spectator interaction from one viewing to the next.  I have succeeded only when observers of my work are transformed from passive consumers to active participants.