Yorkshire-based artist, Catherine Corfield, in conversation with Refresh curator Shefali Wardell.
SW: Tell me about your painting?
CC: It is all based around my own experience. I spent ages trying to paint things or work out what kind of thing I should be painting; what people like, what people buy. Then lockdown really changed everything for me because it gave me that time to paint whatever I want to and stop trying. I had much more quality time but I became quite sentimental, with the family and missing people. I was spending time being with my children but also out in nature. We were only allowed to go out for a walk once a day, not allowed to drive anywhere.
I think I just started painting what I loved and what I was enjoying at the time. And I just found where I wanted to be with my artwork, so all of this comes from there really.
SW: Was that a really big difference from what you were doing before? What kind of things would you do before to try and make work you thought other people would want?
CC: I was doing a lot of really bright, bold jazz paintings. They were acrylic paintings and they sold really, really well but I was just painting and selling and I felt a little bit lost with all of it. I enjoyed painting them but it gets to a point where you want to do something else. So when I started painting what I loved doing and what I was interested in, this all came from there really.
SW: It’s a difficult decision to make, to actually step away from something that you know is selling. You were already in a good position as an artist in that you were selling work. It sounds as if you felt you weren’t staying fresh or that you had something else you wanted to investigate, which is a really big decision. How have people responded to your newer stuff?
CC: Amazing actually. The response has been overwhelming, with the amount of feedback I’ve got from people. I’ve had a lot of sales as well, and people buying prints. I’ve been able to start selling prints for the first time because so many people have been interested in this. On Facebook I’ve gained over 8000 followers now, just really from last year.
I think people connect with my work a bit more because everybody is stuck in the same situation and it resonates a bit more with people than what I was doing before. That was bold and colourful and bright. There is more of a personal element with this and I think people connect to that.
SW: It’s interesting because I always think that bold, bright stuff is relatively commercial. From what I’ve done with exhibitions, and also my own work, there are certain types of work that sell a bit better than others. Even quite bold abstract work isn’t too bad an idea if you want to sell work, so it’s interesting that you started doing something quite different that people are still connecting to.
Reading what you said about romanticism and a few other things about technology and population, I connected with that in your work. I live in a really big city but that said, because none of us have been able to do anything, we’ve all embraced nature a bit more. I live in the suburbs and spent most of last year going out for nice walks, and every second sentence with people was saying how thankful we are that we live in this part of London because it’s green and worrying about how this was going for people stuck in tower blocks. So I can really see that sense of escapism that comes with romanticism in the work.
CC: Yes I do think my work is still quite colourful but it’s about the landscape now really. A few people have said is it too bright? I went to talk to an art critic last year and he said I’ve noticed there are no bits of rubbish or bins or anything. Actually where I live there isn’t anything like that. I am right on the edge of the city and it’s beautiful round here. Yorkshire is so beautiful. So I don’t see all the bins and the rubbish, I just see beauty and try to capture that in the paintings. And I like colours.
SW: Yes the are really colourful for landscapes in a way. You have the quality of light in them, and you can smell the fresh air if you look at the first painting you sent us. Are you from Yorkshire?
CC: No I’m actually from Berkshire down south. I think one of the influences on the romanticism and beautiful landscapes is that I actually grew up in Slough Trading Estate. So different, and I think that’s why I romanticise this and I feel so lucky to be able to live in the place where I can just go out for a walk and be minutes from the countryside. I’ve been here for about 13 years now.
SW: Is this the first time with your landscapes that you have really embraced Yorkshire and where you’re living in painting?
CC: I think I did a lot of cityscapes before, mainly buildings, after the jazz. Then I just stopped for a while as I was busy with my other arts company and it wasn’t until we all got locked down I found painting again.
SW: Obviously the pandemic has been awful in many ways but it’s also been an opportunity as we’ve all been sort of imprisoned where we are, so we’ve had to engage with our environment a lot more.
CC: Yes and I think some have been luckier than others, although even if you live in the worst place you could think of I think people are still inspired, and there’s that chance to reflect on what everyone is doing. Art has gone crazy now, with the amount of people who are actually creating because they’ve got the time to do it and some nice stuff is coming out.
SW: Definitely and I think it has reminded people of things that you can do to to make yourself feel better. How did you become a painter, and a successful painter too?
CC: I went to university and studied fine art there and painting is what I’ve always done. I enjoy other things like printmaking and sculpture. I run art workshops for children and young people with my company, so I do get to dabble in all the other forms but painting is what I love doing.
Every painting I do I see as a learning tool. I try to better myself and improve my skill. Once I decided that was what I wanted to do I have always tried to get better. I love painting, so it was fun but I thought that I was going to take it seriously.
SW: Where did you go to university?
CC: I went to Northampton for my first degree then I did my masters at the University of Greenwich.
SW: Was that painting?
CC: No, it was arts management. So that’s why I started my own arts company because it made sense as the next step. I wanted to be an artist though, so I run the company but lockdown changed everything again and all that work stopped. I went back to painting again so it’s been really good for me.
SW: I think that’s useful for people to know because in terms of arts management or business ideas, the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Yet the two are often presented with the artist model with the person slaving away or the business model that has nothing to do with the art, but you can’t really sustain yourself unless you understand a little but of both I suppose?
CC: Exactly. I think it’s really important to be able to market yourself because that is part of being and artist and it’s not just about painting. You could stay in your studio and paint for hours and hours but if you don’t know how to get yourself out there you’re not going to get very far apart from being an amazing painter. The masters degree taught me a lot.
SW: It is good to hear that because the painting is a really high standard and obviously made by someone who has put a lot of effort into their craft, but that hasn’t meant that you had to shut yourself away. Do you exhibit your work a lot or do you tend to do more private sales or competitions?
CC: No, I started exhibiting a lot but it has obviously had to all go online. I was in a couple of galleries in Yorkshire who were selling my work and then I did local art fairs and exhibitions. More recently I have started to enter competitions and art shows and it has been a gradual step into it. It has gone from exhibiting now and then and having some work in the galleries to being on the ball all the time and constantly looking for opportunities and shows and exhibitions.
Obviously, it is all online now and it’s harder I think. It is easier for people to show work but it’s different seeing it online from how it is in the flesh I think, so you have got to work a little bit harder to sell your work.
SW: It’s interesting to hear that. I personally really hope that the move to everything online will be temporary. With this show it has always been half online but I was very sure that I wanted to be able to put on the physical part as well, so we’ve always had one foot in both. Do you think that you’ve found having everything online is almost a bit less accessible because there is so much other work?
CC: Yes I think it’s saturated with artwork. You can reach more people online and it is amazing to be online. I did an online art exhibition with a company, which reached 32,000 people who went into the solo exhibition to have a look around but on the other hand people like to see your work in the flesh, especially when they are buying work. You want to see what you are buying with artwork before you buy it because it’s different isn’t it. Light changes, photos change how your paintings work and how they look. I think it is really important to be showing your work to people. You may not reach as many people in galleries but it is a different experience to being online.
SW: Yes, speaking as someone who is not a painter at all, I know if I go to see my favourite oil painters, I like the fact that I can smell the paintings. I don’t have a studio that smells of linseed. Is it always oil for you or are there other types of paints you use?
CC: I’ve just moved on to oil paints. I was painting in acrylics for years and I enjoyed them. I did oil painting at university and then moved on to acrylics and I think one of the reasons for this was because of the drying time and the clean-up time. I didn’t have a dedicated space to leave everything out and I had babies crawling around! I needed to have it cleaner and tidier but now I have got my own space it’s much easier to paint with oils if I need to leave it out. I find I’m learning more skills now using the oil paints. There’s a different quality. Oil paints are probably what I’m going to stick to now.
SW: What advice have you got for someone who wants to start oil painting?
CC: You just need to throw yourself in to the deep end. Get some decent oil paints, some linseed oil and some thinner and just start painting. Don’t try and create a masterpiece, just experiment with tone, colour, composition etc. Every painting you do you’ll improve and learn about how the oil paint works. There’s a wealth of tutorials online on Youtube with really experienced artists who can teach you the basics. They are really good for when you’re starting out. I think you need to learn the basics first.