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

Q & A - Drawing Home

(writer Katie Brennan) So in "Drawing home", which at the end of your artist statement you say you feel is a place of spirit, are these motifs and icons that run through out the pieces in the show how you represent your home? The coyote, the feather, the rocks, homes and tally marks are all repeated - why is this? Where or how did these icons first come to you? Please elaborate on how the each icon / symbol adds to this sense of home.

(artist Cat Fink)For me a physical home (as opposed to house) is something that is familiar, comfortable.  I’ve been collecting feathers and stones since I was a toddler, and in my studio every surface holds a collection of them.  My hands know their individual weight and feel.  They naturally became ‘icons’ of this series.  In many cultures there is a tradition of leaving a small stone to say ‘I was here for a time’, a way of connecting to place.  The tally marks and repeated stick houses—I love the shapes and patterns, I love the idea of counting things as a way of recognizing and connecting to something (I love math too).  The tally marks also look like fences, scars, scattered sticks, sewing, obsession, and I’ve used them as such in other bodies of work.


KB   Does your interest in what home is come merely from living in a place that has no address or two addresses, or is this something that you have always thought about and investigated?

CF   My interest grew out of living transiently, moving according to the time of year between one place and another, and noticing that I no longer felt I had a home, and then noticing how uncomfortable that made me feel.  Prior to this I had lived in the same house and city for 18 years, and before that in the same small community for 23 years.  In both places these were homes that I or my family owned, so it was not just familiarity but that these places were ‘mine’.


KB   In your statement you write: "I will take the questions I am asking and wind them around what is familiar and what is new. I will translate this vision and draw out the answers I seek". So are these pieces answers to questions? Do they answer them fully? What are the questions that you are asking?

CF   I was trying to figure out just what ‘home’ was to me.  A way of defining something is by understanding what it is not.  I stated paying a lot of attention to how other people spoke and thought about home, how they described it, how attached (or not) they were to home.  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 a 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.

Creating these drawings did answer me¸ but not in a way measurable in words.  Simply, I am now comfortable in my moveable life in a way that time and the repetitive cycle of moving here to there could not have caused on their own.


KB   You also write "I feel like Coyote of the stories, caught in the chaos not entirely of her own making". Could you describe Coyote more - both what you know about him and his story and your own personal interpretation of this?

CF   (this is from the artist statement for my show Crazy Wisdom in 2010)

I have heard artists’ work compared to the Trickster stories, Raven or Coyote or Rabbit or Spider.  I know of a painter who says she is the Coyote Weesakeejak.  Being an artist myself, I believe her.  The artists I know create their work to put beauty and wisdom, laughter and healing into this world.

Coyote is the Trickster I know best.  In her stories she can be subtle and surprising, teasing and outrageous, serious and utterly compassionate, a magician, a clown, a healer, a foolish creator of great beauty.  She shows us where we have been, where we don’t want to be anymore, and where we need to go.  She is wise in a very crazy way.

Being an artist, and therefore possibly also being a trickster, it makes sense that when I became a Buddhist in the Tibetan tradition, my lineage teacher would be a teacher of crazy wisdom.  I did not know that the Tibetans have a long tradition of teachers who are yeshe cholwa—wisdom crazy—and yes, my teacher was a master’s master of crazy wisdom.  The thing is that when you work with anything long enough it begins to make sense.

Crazy wisdom is full of contradictions.  It is in fact a perfect mirror of life.  It is life and its contradictions that inspire my drawings.  Take, for instance, my drawing “Old Coyote Trick (standing out)”.  Sometimes the thing that is strongest in us is the thing that breaks us.  That is definitely crazy, but understanding that craziness brings us wisdom. 


KB   I also noticed some marks that look like mapping line systems - like in Laid to Rest. Are you mapping something or do these gestural marks represent / come about for some other reason?

CF   These are maps but not in the geographical sense.  They are maps of connections between lamas and students in several Tibetan Buddhist lineages, and personal maps that I invented called prayer patterns.  These fall into the idea of home as a place of the spirit.


KB   I'm also curious about your use of space in each piece - they are all fairly shallow. A background with the objects placed above it. Your previous work has this quality of space as well  – although there is also often a horizon line of some kind in each piece. This is not the overall case with the work in "Drawing Home". Can you talk about this shift? And also about how these indeterminate spaces function? Is somewhat like a story telling device similar to a theatrical set with a stage and a back drop or something else that compels you to make these kind of "display" or "window" like spaces?

CF   I call my style of drawings ‘narrative still life’.  Each drawing is a story set out in front of the viewer.  I leave it up to them to tell themselves the story, which I don’t expect will be the same as mine.


KB   I'm also wondering about the role process and materials play in your work. All of the pieces are done in the same, rich mediums (pastel, charcoal and other drawing and painting materials). What draws you to this combination of materials and to your particular use of them? I imagine a richness of colour is something that is important in your work.

CF   I LOVE COLOUR!  I was the kid who desperately wanted the biggest Crayola box with the built-in sharpener.  The bigger the crayon box, the better.  Pastels and coloured pencils have amazingly huge ‘crayon boxes’—such fun to play with!  I love the feel of the drawing medium in my hand going straight onto the paper, and using my fingers to blend or mark or erase what I have done.  I love the ease and lack of preparation and cleanup.  Painting is fun too, but I’m always feeling like the brush is getting in my way of really understanding what I am doing and creating.


KB   Is your process for each piece quite similar, or do you begin them all differently? Do you sketch them out beforehand or is it a more intuitive practice that you follow? All the pieces seem carefully honed for shape, form and balance – a result that I think could both come from prep. sketches or could come through massaging things into place. Do your multiple homes effect or change your work in any way?

CF   My process is fairly consistent and very intuitive.  I begin with words, the title, rather than an image, and let the words just sit in my mind while I am doing other things, usually over a number of days and while I am finishing a previous drawing.  I start to notice ideas, objects, colours that connect to the title and I’ll note these down in my sketchbook.  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.  I don’t do any prep sketches.  Once I am drawing, I freely mix the drawn still life with imagined elements including original text that I have written.  I do all of my drawing when I am living in my northern studio.


KB   Lastly, I am very curious about your decision to title the feather pieces after the Archangels - oh, it just dawned on me that maybe the feathers come from their wings. I myself, often evoke the Archangels during meditation and whenever I feel I need a little extra help. I haven't thought to use them in the studio before this though. Is this part of what helps make 'spirit' your home? Is your spiritual practice intrinsically tied into your art making practice or do they exist separately side by side?

CF   My spiritual practice and my drawing practice are entwined.  I find that what I learn in one practice transfers to the other and vice versa.  They strengthen, enrich and encourage layers of meaning in how I understand my practice and my life. 


Email exchange between writer Katie Brennan and artist Cat Fink

May 2011

Copyright Katie Brennan and Cat Fink