Catherine Barnes and Daphne Casdagli: dramatic paintings and prints at Bankside Gallery
By James Brewer
Can one faithfully depict the sea in a work of art?
The answer is that truly it is impossible. The sea “is a vehicle for drama – and what a challenge, with ever moving, ever present waves,” says the accomplished UK painter Catherine Barnes.
An artist cannot exactly capture the surge, billow and flow of the water, but can imply its nature not just by colour and form “but by the gesture you make, the quality of the paint and the way it is put on.”
Catherine has been exhibiting at Bankside Gallery, Thames Riverside, alongside her friend and near-neighbour in West Sussex, Daphne Casdagli, who showed limited-edition prints and works in various media.
The two women have complementary styles which swing from expressionism to impressionism to almost-abstract shaping. Distance across a gallery lends refreshed and figurative perception – one could imagine a soundscape of waves crashing to shore, for instance – to Catherine’s compositions which are bold sweeps of passion for pigment. Where the waters are seen to be still, they nevertheless intimate a deep intensity.
“Subject matter can be secondary to the gesture, with gesture as the outward sign of inward thought,” Catherine writes in her catalogue. “When both structure and gesture have equal weight, and are combined with the depiction of light, maybe, just maybe, the aesthetic fog can lift to become a personal vision ready to be shared.”
For that personal vision, Catherine has courted varied viewpoints, and in many instances, counts weathered rocks as defining elements in her marine domain.
Oils and acrylics offer separate ways of working. Catherine chooses oil “if I want to be sure I get recession, so the paint flies into the middle distance evenly, and the colours merge beautifully and can take as long as they like to dry.” Such are the canvases To the Wide Seas and In the South. Recession here is the illusion of depth in a picture, a notable example being Seeds of Time which pits sturdy slabs of foreground rock and wispy foliage against a vast brooding swell.
Acrylics facilitate a textured surface that is tactile and durable and the use collage underneath “as though I can paint behind the canvas.” She confided that there is some recycling going on: “I have torn up some of my old life drawings and used the back, and used tissue paper of the kind that wraps oranges.”
For one of the acrylics on show, Catherine evoked the music of the much-loved composer and educator Martin Read who died suddenly in 2012. Collaged into the left side of the picture is musical notation of a song, Allegro in Autumn, which he wrote for her, and which she now uses as the title in tribute to him.
Treatment of sea and shore studies may call for other than oil and acrylics. Sometimes, an appropriately starker answer is watercolour with pen and ink, as in The Rock, the Waves, and in Wild Breakers.
Catherine is conscious of, and draws impulse from, the contrast between relatively calm conditions with the waves in a more-or-less predictable pattern, at the coast near her home; and sea areas such as the Alderney Race where nothing is predictable to the extent that shipping can be endangered. Between Guernsey and Normandy, the channel hosts a ferocious current.
Among visitors to the private view at Bankside Gallery was Anthony Eyton, Catherine’s former tutor (and rock ‘n’ roll partner) at Camberwell College of Art. The Royal Academician continues to work and take commissions in his 95th year. He was keenly interested in the browser containing a selection of acrylics on paper accomplished by Catherine who has an affection for the history of ancient Greece. These works included some showing Greek ceramics in lekythos and kantharos styles.
Catherine’s catalogue includes praise from collectors who enjoy her work. Screenwriter Jim Hawkins wrote that in her work “the energy is in the light. Few other painters can create radiance in this way; the paintings glow and weave luminance in dazzling patterns from which shapes emerge, change, hint at solidity and melt.” Lecturer Alison Hermon ventured that the paintings intriguingly “suggest both security and tempest.”
Unsurprisingly, given the rhythmic nature of the pieces, professional musicians are among her fans. Opera singer Jacquelyn Fugelle spoke of the style as “immensely evocative and the colours so restful.” Tom Bullard, conductor and baritone, found that “she speaks to something more ethereal yet rooted in the earthly, as if finding something eternal in the finite.”.
London-born Catherine, who has been a visiting lecturer in art history at Southampton University and visiting artist and lecturer at Southampton City Art Gallery, was a founder member of Greenwich Printmakers. She has been showcased in many exhibitions and participated regularly in the Festival of Chichester.
Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers Fellow Daphne Casdagli describes her figure works as being inspired by landscape. She employs drypoint (printmaking from a design drawn on a plate) for her busy studies of nudes – she has plenty of subject-matter as she runs life drawing classes. She sees drypoint as lifting and extending life drawing onto the etching plate. Watching is one such pleasingly complex product of this formula.
Daphne combines drypoint and collagraphy (printing from a plate collaged with different textures) to produce one of her signature works, Landscape of Life, bringing to fruition the blend of her favoured genres, as is the case with for instance In Conversation.
She imbues with elemental vigour her impressions of undulating land and of marine activity, variously deploying etching, lithography, drypoint and collagraphy. In some of those studies, her syntax and presiding spirit appear, separately evolved, to have settled in a similar realm to that of Catherine Barnes.
For Hebrides Overture, Daphne combines watercolour and collage to give an evocative rendering of images conjured by the Felix Mendelssohn masterwork.
Daphne was born in Cairo, and her family left Egypt during the Suez crisis. She is of Greek origin – on her father’s side from Rhodes, and mother’s side Pelion, Volos. She studied in Paris and trained at Guildford and Farnham Schools of Art, completing training at the Royal College of Art; and for 25 years taught printmaking in London.
She has a close association with the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers and was curator responsible for the society’s archives. Among many successes have been exhibits in galleries in London and elsewhere in the UK, in Royal Academy summer shows, and in Athens.
Catherine and Daphne will each have studio exhibitions in June and July 2018 during the Festival of Chichester.