Catherine Abel is a successful Australian artist, renowned internationally for her striking figurative oil paintings. Through combining the stylised geometry of the Art Deco period with the clarity of the Italian Renaissance Masters, her works are powerfully seductive compositions of beauty, strength and grace.
Abel is a self-taught artist and began painting professionally after moving to Paris in 2000. She is influenced greatly by European art and history and is a much sought-after portraitist.
What is your earliest memory of an artwork and who was it by?
It’s not my earliest memory of an artwork but it’s an unforgettable moment when I first laid eyes on a picture of a painting by Tamara De Lempicka in the late 1980’s. I was stunned at how beautiful her portrayal of the female was. I knew right then and there I wanted to paint like her… but it was 10 years later before I picked up a brush!
What is your favourite time of day to be in your studio?
Early mornings are my favourite time in the studio but occasionally I get a second wind and work well into the night. I love when this happens. I feel a sense of achievement.
Talk us through a day in the life of Catherine Abel - What does a day in your life look like?
At the moment I’m doing the hard yards in the studio trying to produce as much as I can – which basically means I’m in the studio straight after breakfast and at the easel all day (8-9 hours) I use traditional techniques of layering and glazing which takes a lot more time than the methods of other contemporary artists and sometimes I feel like I have to work twice as many hours to produce the same amount of paintings. Doesn’t leave much time to have a life but I wouldn’t change anything.
You have mentioned recently how your style of working has changed. Tell us about these changes and what inspired this.
I feel there’s been an evolution of my work over the past five years that has happened organically, of its own unfolding, and in a sense all I’ve had to do is get out of the way and let it happen. What it means is that as my art progresses and my technique improves, I seem to be going back in time and seeking inspiration from earlier sources and artists.
Six months ago I travelled to Florence to attend a six week drawing, painting and art history intensive at the Florence Academy of Art and in studying the methods of the Renaissance artists, fell in love with the Neoclassicism movement (which the academy is very passionate about) and since then, my work seems to have leaped into a whole new realm.
Much of your work references a very particular period of art history - that of Art Deco. What is it about Art Deco that draws your attention?
I just love Art Deco for its design elements that have been a major source of never ending inspiration for my paintings over the past decade but as I mentioned I’m looking back to earlier times in history – back to the Romantic and Symbolist painters like Waterhouse, Klimt and Mucha, and the Art Nouveau era.
Where do you find the models and sitters that feature in your work? Are these ever imagined sitters or always drawn and painted from life?
I always work with a model but unless I’m specifically doing a portrait I like to paint the faces (and other details) from my imagination. I’ve had some beautiful models over the years – but lately I can’t seem to find my muse… I guess it’s lucky I’m focussing on still lifes for the moment !
What has been your most rewarding commission to date?
I did a portrait commission in Switzerland in 2011. I flew over from Australia to do the painting in Montagnola which is an Italian-speaking village overlooking Lake Lugano. I had my own small apartment which was part of a four storey villa but was separate from the family which was ideal because I could paint without being interrupted. I lived there for three months, painting all day and then exploring the countryside by foot in the afternoons. It was truly the most magical and beautiful thing to experience that part of the world in springtime and to have a purpose to be there.
What convinced you to join Bridgeman Studio for licensing and what are your hopes for working as a Bridgeman Studio artist?
Bridgeman Studio has been such a rewarding experience for me in terms of exposing my work to a wider, international audience. I mean, who would have thought my images would be so popular with the German public ?! I’m looking forward to seeing what happens - how the Bridgeman audience respond - with my recent still life works I’ve been doing since coming back from the Academy in Florence.
What would you most like to see your images licensed for?
I’m a big fan of literature especially early 20th century writers so I’m always very excited when one of my images is on a book – especially in a foreign language.
If you could pick 5 artists, dead or alive, to have dinner with who would they be and why?
Waterhouse - to pick his brains about composition, and the art of allegory.
Picasso - because he was a natural self-promoter and master at getting people to support his every move.
Tamara de Lempicka - for obvious reasons.
Kandinsky - to hear him philosophise about the other artists (me included!).
Bouguereau - to find out (once and for all) how he painted skin with such luminosity (no one seems to know for certain).
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