Walking Owl Studio -- Cat Fink, Visual Artist
drawings in mixed media

Drawing Home - catalogue essay by Katie Brennan

It is often said the “home is where the heart is”. For some, this means home is where the people of their heart live. For others, home and heart are intricately tied to a specific place in the world that gives them a sense of peace that cannot be found anywhere else. For me, my sense of home resides within. It’s a joyous feeling as I am home no matter where I am. I’ve taken this feeling of home with me to places like Wells, BC, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver. Each place I visited added their own flavour to my sense of home. I revelled in their nuances, imagining what it would be like to make my home in each place. However, there was also often a sense of what was missing from each place. For Wells, it was a larger community. In the bigger cities of New York, Toronto, Montreal and even Vancouver, it was time and space away from so many people, preferably in nature.

 

For artists, art and the making of art is also a home; a funny kind of home, but a home nonetheless. It is a place where artists allow their souls to sing. It is a home that is fluid and ever changing – we are never quite sure what to expect when we enter or re-enter the studio. Sometimes it looks or feels quite different from the last time we visited it. Getting back into the studio after some time away is for me like putting on an old pair of well worn, well loved shoes. I get the sense that Cat Fink feels the same way. Her works, although each unique and different, feel like part of a larger, continuous conversation, the whole of which is all of the work she has ever made. Her richly coloured surfaces present imagery that speaks of a personal iconography, a claiming of symbols and icons that uniquely and irrevocably express her personal sense of home. In her artist statement, Fink writes:

 

Home overlaid upon house, trailer, apartment is of-the-moment and invented, not inherent, not constant. Each of us creates home for ourselves. It is movement of memory and emotion over a passage of time. Home is history. Home is family, story, an accumulation of personal meaning layered upon a physical structure.... it is clear to me now that the artist in me has defined home to mean home of the spirit.[i]

 

Fink’s Drawing Home is a suite of twelve colourful drawings in pastel dominant mixed media. There is a judicious sprinkling of feathers and stones throughout the pieces. “I’ve been collecting feathers and stones since I was a toddler”, says Fink, “and in my studio every surface holds a collection of them.  My hands know their individual weight and feel. They naturally became the ‘icons’ of this series”.[ii]

 

The collecting and/or piling of stones to mark your passage across or through the land is a long standing tradition – one which recently came into renewed prominence as the Inuit rock formation of the Inukshuk was appropriated as the main logo for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. In the Canadian Arctic, the Inukshuk formations are used not only as landmarks and navigational devices, but also as spiritual effigies that welcome and guide weary travelers to a known place of safety.[iii]

 

Fink’s use of stones and feathers note a strong connection with land and nature. Positioning the stones numerous times, in numerous ways, as she does in the “Laid to Rest” pieces, suggests a deeply reflective practice. It feels almost as if Fink is performing some kind of augury, a casting of stones and feathers and other objects and icons in her life, to learn something about home, about place, about spirit and what this looks like. In “Laid to Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits (north)” there is a feather laid horizontally across the centre of the picture plane. Around it are five rocks, three above and two below. Each rock is a different colour: grey, black, white, dark grey, light grey and a brilliant blue. In “Laid to Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits (east), again the rocks appear. This time seven of them are grouped together along with a skeleton head and a bright yellow pencil. These layouts feel purposeful, ceremonial even.

 

Fink’s use of icons doesn’t end there. Upon closer inspection of the backgrounds in her work, another set of icons is revealed: seas of tally marks, outlines of child-like houses, silhouetted coyotes, simple hand prints and small circles of the sun and the moon. Short lines of text can also be found. The text and hand drawn icons add a diaristic feel to these pieces, Fink’s personal shorthand for events and thoughts about home and belonging. The tally marks act as an accounting of events, peoples, experiences – whatever they denote, its numbers are numerous. Fink likes “the idea of counting things as a way of recognizing and connecting”.[iv]

 

The idea of traces as an act of connecting with a place is also evident in the spidery brown lines running in between and around the objects in the Laid to Rest works. These lines do not run straight. Rather they seem to describe the relationship between the objects by what shape they take; a parallelogram, a triangle, a sharp, spiky traverse, etc. They seem like fanciful maps of the route one took throughout a day or on the way to work. Fink agrees that these lines act as maps, however, they are not maps of the physical. Instead “[t]hey are maps of connections between lamas and students in several Tibetan Buddhist lineages, and personal maps that I invented called prayer patterns”.[v]

 

Each tableau of objects in Drawing Home is set into a shallow pictorial space, a compositional device Fink calls “narrative still life”, which creates spaces akin to the kind of display cases in which one would find insect specimens. Each drawing is created through a process that begins with words or a title. Fink sits with these phrases until ideas, objects and colours come to her. “When I have enough to give me the bones of the drawing, I start going through my object collections in my studio and pull out what becomes the still life that I draw directly from”.[vi] The objects in Fink’s drawing, like insects pinned to a board, similarly float, suspended above their dappled and richly coloured backgrounds.

 

All of these investigations into home come from Fink’s experience of living in a place with no fixed addresses.

 

In one place I lived on and off for 4 years, not a single house or building had a street address. I loved it there! To find the house I was looking for, I had to learn the landscape and pay close attention to the landmarks because those acted as addresses. It created an intimacy with the land and a requirement to be fully present in the moment that I had not experienced in any other community. Everyone living there relied on knowledge of the actual environment where they lived, as opposed to an imposed order of names and numbers that had no connection to the environment over which they were laid.  Not only that but there was meaning and story attached to these landmarks so that learning the land also meant learning the people and the history.[vii]

 

This sentiment of an intimate and personal connection to place is echoed in Fink’s drawings. In order to understand her thoughts on home, we must first become intimately aware and attentive to the landmarks within her artistic landscape. The rocks, the feathers, the tally marks, the small houses, Coyote, the sun and the moon. They all add up to mean “home”.

 

 

 

Copyright Katie Brennan.  Used with permission.  Check out Katie's website at katiebrennan.ca.


[i] Fink, Cat. “Artist Statement.” Gallery Vertigo. Vernon, 2011.

[ii] Fink, Cat. Email Interview. 14 May 2011.

[iii] Kalnin, Jim and Lois Huey-Heck. The Spirituality of Art. Kelowna: Northstone Publishing, 2006.

[iv] Fink, Cat. Email Interview. 14 May 2011.

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