Catherine Mackey wanders around cities looking for unexpected moments of beauty, often finding them on an architectural scale. Her gaze leaps from the tapestries of high-rise buildings, to a line of factory windows and the rhythm of salt-stained piers. At first, Mackey seeks architecture at its most simple and pragmatic, then discovers beneath it a rich layer which humanizes the urban environment: construction scars, old signage, utility symbols, fading posters and other human-scale artifacts–all of which suggest stories about the buildings and the people who used them. This visual memory of the past reminds her of both the constancy of change and the sense of loss which pervades our urban existence, themes which inhabit her paintings.
On her process: “In the studio my practice reflects layered urban story-telling. It all starts with found treasure - old posters acquired from city streets around the world. The process of soaking and separating these damaged, dirty posters is a delicate exercise which reveals unexpected juxtapositions of images and words telling stories of people, music events, visiting circuses, and political campaigns in urban neighborhoods far from our own. The poster fragments form the first, unplanned, layer of a painting. Then more of these pre-used narratives are woven in with layers of paint as the piece develops and the final image emerges. Process and subject matter become intertwined. Accidents and unexpected happenings energize the image. The poster-treasure, hinting at past lives and stories of the city, sometimes shouts for attention, becoming the subject itself, and sometimes whispers its interaction with the painted subject, waiting to be discovered.”
Mackey’s move from a career in interior architecture to a life as a full-time artist coincided with her move from London to the Bay Area in the late nineties. Her creative energies turned away from highly designed and controlled environments toward the exploration of accidental and organic moments found in the urban environment. In her creative process the playful interaction between collage and paint reveals the city at all levels, from rooftops to sidewalks, from downtown to waterfront. Mackey lives in San Francisco and works from her studio in a converted mayonnaise factory in the Mission District. Her paintings can be found in homes across the U.S. and Europe, and as far afield as Australia and China.
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