Cathy Garceran: Art in the Face of Adversity

Chat Botté, Paintings 16 x 31.5

As Chuck Close proved when he accomplished arguably some of the best paintings of his career after suffering a devastating spinal injury that confined him to a wheelchair and made it necessary for his brushes to be strapped to his hands in order for him to work, overcoming adversity sometimes strengthens an artist’s commitment.
    “When I discovered, four years ago, that I have Parkinson’s disease,” states the French painter Cathy Garceran, “I experienced great loneliness, anger, and a sense of injustice. I poured these emotions into my first abstract works, and the creations I present today are my expression of hope. I now use my left hand, and often work with tools not generally considered as intended for painting –– but the results are extraordinary. My art is my way of telling the world: “Hope gives you wings and courage.”
    Although one might be tempted to compare Garceran’s vigorous, spontaneous approach to form, line, and color to the Abstract Expressionists, her paintings are actually more in the mode of Tachisme, its European first cousin. That Garceran’s canvasses are generally on a relatively intimate easel-size, rather than on the often overblown muralistic scale of those American macho cowboys like Pollock and company, also connects her to the more refined tradition of European modernism. Like Wols, particularly, Garceran tends toward compositions in which her painterly gestures, marks, and strokes emanate outward from the approximate center of an overall color field in the manner of an explosive bundle of energy.
    In her acrylic on canvas piece composed in a long horizontal format, “Chat Bott�,” however, rather than radiating outward, Garceran’s central shapes appear to implode inward. Set against a pale blue field, cursive strokes of creamy white impasto are bolstered by convoluted gestures of darker blue and fine spatters of gray. The title of the painting, alluding to a famous fairy tale, translates into English as “Puss in Boots.” However, subjective interpretation being one of the joys of abstract painting, one viewer feels free to confess that for him, the composition of “Chat Bott�,” also conjured the effect of a moodily brewing storm cloud.
    On the other hand, in “Mister Mister,” another acrylic painting by Garceran, the various painterly gestures are all contained within a roughly rectangular white form “framed” within the canvas by a surrounding gray ground. Among the boldly delineated abstract red, black and gray strokes within the white rectangle a simplified face is clearly discernible. Perhaps it is that of Mister Mister himself! Here, the artist’s sophisticated yet faux-primitive figurativism is akin to that of the Cobra Group and A.R. Penck. For like both that Northern European art movement and the contemporary German Neo-Expressionists, Garceran appears to agree with the Art Brut master Jean Dubuffet that so-called “high culture” can often be “asphyxiating.”   
    Garceran’s practice of working not only with the usual brushes, palette knives, and sponges, but also with less conventional household implements such as silverware, window cleaning tools, and other instruments that she employs to apply paint, scrape into thick pigment, scratch into, or otherwise distress her surfaces lends her paintings considerable tactile, as well as visual, interest.
    Such textural effects are especially appealing in the scored surface of the explosions of white impasto enlivening the burnished, copper-colored ground of “A Coeur Ouvert.” The title, which translates as “Open Heart,” expresses the honest, direct quality of Cathy Garceran’s paintings, as well as the generous spirit with which she offers them, to share her “wings and courage” with others.
–– Peter Wiley

Cathy Garceran, Agora Gallery,
530 West 25th Street, July 5 - 25, 2014. Reception:
 Thursday July 10, 6 -8 pm

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