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Installation, Penn College, Williamsport, PA. Foreground image: Floor piece Labyrinth, 96" diameter, Industrial mesh, yarn, beads. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


Transformations, Photo: Cathy Breslaw.



Artist: Cathy Breslaw of Carlsbad, California, USA

Interview 108

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Born in Coral Gables, Florida and raised in Baltimore, Cathy Breslaw received her BA in American Studies from George Washington Univeristy, Washington D.C., and went on to earn a Masters of Social Work from Howard University and her MFA from Claremont Graduate University. Her work has been featured in over 28 solo exhibitions and 45 group exhibitions. Cathy's website | Blog


Artist: Cathy Breslaw working on installation, size variable, industrial mesh. Photo: Melissa Au.


Tell us about your work?

Making art has been a continuous thread throughout my life. Punctuated by the joy and reverence I have for nature and a relentless curiosity about the world around me, my work combines sculpture, painting and drawing. Many of my ideas stem from research and reading about space and time as well as structural forms appearing in the natural world. I am especially drawn to transparent-like elements and have been primarily using industrial mesh and other commercial plastic materials to create my works. Layering and examining transparencies as they relate to light and shadow is central to my studio practice. Colour plays an integral role in enhancing the atmospheric transparency of the materials. The work, sharing forms of painting, sculpture and installation leads the viewer to take an intimate look at seemingly ordinary materials that because of what has been done to them, transcends their function.


Blue Breeze, 83" x 32", industrial mesh, commercial wire mesh. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


From where do you get your inspiration?

I am inspired by many things – as diverse as the light of dawn and dusk of each day, the shadows cast on sidewalks and walls from nearby objects in nature or the material world, the wondrous light of the sky as it shines on the horizon where ocean meets sky, the experience of how gentle breezes sway the trees, everything seen and felt in the atmosphere surrounding and within the spaces I occupy, and fabrics and other materials whose colour or composition reflect transparencies. I am also inspired by how each moment helps create the next and how everything in the universe is interconnected.


Lightness of Being #1, 99" x 96", industrial mesh. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.

Gestures, 94" x 82", industrial mesh, styrofoam pieces, paint, yarn, beads, fabric. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


Why did you choose to go into fibre art and how did you decide on this medium?

I believe my artistic sensibility and personal aesthetic has developed over my entire lifetime. My work engages materiality in many forms. It has its roots in childhood and the family fabric business. Spending a multitude of hours around fabrics of all kinds - seeing colours and feeling textures and patterns presented on an array of fabric types, made an indelible impression, which followed me into adulthood and into the art I make. So, it is not surprising that given my years in southern California light and space, mixed in with materials, urge me to create mostly large scale wall, floor and installation works that reflect the ephemeral transparent lightness of the environment in which I live, highlighting the fragility of life. I believe that the materials I use choose me as they are connected to my unique visual language. The material I use looks like fabric but is in fact, plastic. The mesh is a close cousin to tulle fabric in its look but not in its feel. It is a stretchy material that is difficult to sew with, as I also use a transparent thread, which is stretchy and it makes even sewing on a machine a frustrating process of thread and sewing needle breakage. Another method I have been successful with is applying heat to the mesh, which is also a method of 'gluing' the pieces together to create the work.


Weightless solo exhibition, of wall, floor and suspended installation works at Charleston Heights Art Center, Las Vegas, Nevada. Fall 2009. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.

Explorations: Space and Light solo exhibition at Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield, CA. Spring 2011. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.

Installation, Penn College, Williamsport, PA. Images shown: Collections, Gestures, I Can't Contain Myself. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your fibre work?

I also create drawings on translucent plastics or transparent Mylar, using inks, pastels, archival markers, acrylic paints and collage. I also use commercial wire mesh, and other transparent plastics. I don't like to limit my thinking about materials so that in the future I may use things I find in daily life.


Collections, 108" x 54", industrial mesh, yarn, rope, paint, plastic thread. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


What specific historic artists have influenced your work?

When I began creating art as a kid, I was drawn to watercolours, pastels and paint. My family took me to museums where I saw impressionist paintings by Renoir, Monet and van Gogh and the sculpture of Degas. I recall being drawn to the colour and vitality and expressiveness of those works. Later on as an adult, I became interested in Alexander Calder's colourful mobiles made from metal and wire. I was also drawn to Wassily Kandinsky's lyrical and sometimes geometric abstract watercolours and paintings. The works of these artists have influenced the way I view art and range of what could be created.


World of Threads Suggests the Book:
Wassily Kandinsky: 1866-1944 a Revolution in Painting


Metamorphosis, 96" in diameter, industrial mesh, Tyvek, paint. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.

Metamorphosis, detail. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work?  

There are many contemporary artists whose works have influenced me. From the 1960s and 70s I love the installation work of Eva Hesse and the variety of materials including fibre, fiberglass, and polyester resin. I also enjoy the work of Lynda Benglis who creates sculptural works of plaster, canvas and paint. More recent works by Judy Pfaff, who creates large engaging installations, prints and sculpture using wire, plastics, paint, welded steel and other materials to create her work. I am also interested in the work of Tam Van Tran, a Vietnamese artist who creates wall work and sculpture made with ceramics, paint and other materials. I am also drawn to several Japanese contemporary textile artists whose general aesthetic has a simplicity and ephemeral quality to their fibre and sculptural works, to which my work has an affinity.


World of Threads Recommends The Book:
Eva Hesse


A Matter of Space, room sized installation dealing with cosmology and concepts of space and time. Further, investigating the space around us that is invisible, and contemplations of how that materializes. Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside, CA, 11-2011 to 2-2012. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.

Transformations, (dimensions variable) suspended installation of many multi-coloured organic shaped forms dealing with the concept of 'growth' – in the form of seeds growing and transforming into seedling/plant-life. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


What other fibre artists are you interested in?

When I think about art, I never think about it as a category of past or present, or fibre materials they use or not. I believe that 'good' art uses materials that speak through the artists in a personal way to create work that investigates possibilities of what can be created. The art I enjoy most is art that pushes the boundaries of what 'art' is about and what materials it can be made from. It doesn't matter to me if the artist makes representational or abstract work; photography, installation, video or sculpture and I admire work from all these points of view. I look for work that is authentic – truthful – and I feel I can tell the difference – whether an artist is trying to copy the types of work others make or if they have a serious art practice investigating their own voice.


Above, Below and Beyond, dimensions variable, industrial mesh, paint, Walkers Point Center for the Arts, reflective material/stickers, Milwaukee, WI. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


Tell us about your training, how it has influenced you and how you have applied what you have learnt.

I have been making art all my life. When I was growing up I took private art lessons for a time. I was introduced to different materials – painting on canvas, drawing with pastels, and created a sculpture out of coloured glass pieces that were remnants. The first time I recall being 'hooked' on making art was when I was about 11 or 12, taking private art lessons at a woman artist's home. She gave us coloured glass remnants and I built a small sculpture with Elmer's glue. I was mesmerized. I think that was the beginning of my awareness of light, colour and forms. After that time frame, I made art on my own, with basically watercolour paints, and drawing tools. I had no further training except what I received in public school. My parents didn't encourage me to pursue art in college because of its lack of reliability for ultimately finding work. Once out of college and working, I simultaneously painted on my own and made cloisonné jewelry and copper enamel jewelry. I always kept a space in whatever home I lived in for making art. I took random workshops, community college classes in drawing, design, and painting. I also worked on my own for a time doing graphic design and took courses in that field. I had various teachers along the way who encouraged my painting and drawing. I also taught watercolour painting, drawing and mixed media adult education classes. When my sons were in elementary school, I sought out a more serious teacher who helped give voice to my work. Roland Reiss was the chair for the School of Visual Arts at Claremont Graduate University and he agreed to meet with me as a private student for several years. I then attended Claremont and received an MFA in painting in 2006. I believe every bit of my training from childhood on, had a significant collective impact on my work. I think I was destined to make art. I was a painter for many years until graduate school, when I began experimenting with other kinds of materials, and in most recent years an industrial plastic mesh and other transparent materials.


World of Threads Suggests The Book:
Roland Reiss : A Seventeen Year Survey


Atmosphere 1, 31" x 26", industrial mesh, spray-paint. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


Please explain how you developed your own style and how do you describe your art to people?

I believe my style of working has evolved over the years as I gained confidence in my process of working. Studying the works of other good artists, researching and reading about concepts that interest me including space and time, cosmology, light, natural organic structures and forms, and the ephemeral and fragile nature of life – have all influenced the development of my work. I describe my work to people as: I create wall, floor and installation works using industrial mesh and other transparent-like materials that deal mostly with the concept of space and light and the fragility and fleeting nature of life.


Atmosphere 2, 13" x 10 ½", industrial mesh, spray paint. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.

Atmosphere 3, 12" x 12 ½", industrial mesh, spray paint. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


How did you initially start showing your work in galleries and do you find it more difficult to show and sell your work than non-fibre artists?

I initially started showing my work in local artist run galleries. It gave me the chance to learn about how to frame and install my work and how to present myself to the public. It was also a good opportunity to converse with other artists and develop a community of like-minded people. Since I began as a painter who worked on canvas and paper, and then now in a much more unique manner, I definitely have to focus the places I show my work to galleries, and art centers that have an affinity to contemporary work that matches my aesthetic. I believe all artists are faced with this challenge. I don't really like to categorize my work as fibre vs. non-fibre – It straddles the line of both and I find it enters both worlds nicely.


Swept Away at Sunset, 38" x 45", industrial mesh, paint, drawings, mixed media, (partially suspended). Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


How much do you improvise when you are working on location?

I show my work all over the U.S.A. so often, I ship my work with instructions and allow the curators at the other end to use a bit of interpretation when they hang my works or install an installation. I see the relationship between the curator and myself to be a collaborative one in some respects and I have to allow for their input. Rarely do I get the chance to install my own show – when I do, I definitely improvise a bit on the installation work. Each work is handled a bit differently in differing spaces. I want to allow for this and I like that this possibility exists.


Swept Away at Sea, dimensions variable, industrial mesh, paint, drawings, partially suspended wire mesh. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


You work in installations a lot, however you also produce a number of wall pieces. Talk to us about that:

I make wall, floor and suspended installation works. They each present challenges. I don't feel that any are easy answers about how to create or install the works. I am a person who believes I should always be challenging myself whether it is a personal goal or professional one with my work. I want to expand my thinking with everything I create. I strive to communicate what I am thinking about with my work and this is a challenging process.


Weightless, suspended installation of commercial wire mesh organically shaped forms – as a result of a group exhibition called: Art and Industry with the York Arts Center, York, PA. Five artists were selected to work alongside manufacturers in the northeast US to create art pieces with their commercially manufactured products. (In my case a screen company called New York Wire Company) 2008. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.


Tell us about your studio and how you work:

My studio is about 20' x 30'. Not all the walls are usable as one 'wall' is actually a white drape that covers the width of one side of the room. Behind the curtain are many of my stored materials. I don't have tons of natural light so I had lots of overhead natural light tubes installed. It's really important to have this light because of the transparency of the materials and thread I use to make my work. I usually have one wall or part of a wall dedicated to thoughts and ideas – I will print out images, quotes from other people that I find meaningful and post-it notes with thoughts I have about the work. I move slowly from one body of work to the next. Sometimes there is a specific exhibition I am working on with new work for that, or sometimes I am just creating new work in general. For me, the creative process is tough – I have learned over the years that thoughts, concepts and ideas take time to develop and then to materialize them is another process of lots of trial and error and discovery. I think the trial and error part is essential and this can be hard, as I have to deal with failures. I try and allow time in the creative process for 'play'. I like to think of a part of it as playing with materials and thoughts. That takes the pressure off of producing work. I want to produce work that is intentional although once I get started I am using an intuitive process to actually create the work.


Artist Cathy Breslaw. Photo: Melissa Au.

Cathy working on installation, sizes variable, industrial mesh, paint. Photo: Melissa Au.

Cathy working on drawing, sizes – variable, industrial mesh. Photo: Melissa Au.


What interests you about the World of Threads festival?

I have been reading the interviews from the World of Threads for a few years now. I really enjoy them and I love to know about how other contemporary artists work, think and create their work. It is very inspiring to me to understand their process of working and it often opens doors to artists who I have never heard of and can now research and enjoy. I think the festival exhibition is a wonderful idea to bring artists from all over the world to exhibit work that has a similar aesthetic and who make high quality work. It makes a powerful statement to view them all together in one venue and though I have not seen the show in person, I enjoy viewing it online.


Space Clash, 25" x 38", ink, paint, markers on plastic. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.

Street Bubbles, 25" x 40", ink, paint, markers on plastic. Photo: Cathy Breslaw.



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