Catherine Elizabeth Richards is an artist who studied architecture. Her work expands the understanding of architecture at different scales; from discrete objects, sculpture and installations to city-wide interventions. Richards works between mediums, exploring architecture and perception with materials, experimental photography and video. We at Five-Dots had the opportunity to interview Catherine at her Newport, Kentucky studio, where she took the liberty to give us a full studio tour and breakdown of a long list of projects both old and new.
Whilst editing and compiling this specific interview, I (Megan) began to feel that it was an utter waste to not document the preceding hour long conversation held before our interview began. At the end of this particular interview, you will find a link to our extended interview. We, as always, hope you enjoy the read.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Catherine Richards: Two Years.
F-D: And how long have you maintained a residence in Cincinnati?
CR: Well, I went to school here, so about ten years. . .
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
CR: It was definitely ‘organic’. When I moved in here there was a lot of junk that needed to be taken care of. Everything in here now was either found, donated, or just things that I've accumulated. I know that I won’t be in this studio for forever and so I’m not going to put any of my personal money or investment into it.
F-D: That’s good to hear, it’s always upsetting when you hear about an artist pouring their funds and energy into a space that they don’t own; only to have to leave it when they move out of the space.
CR: Yea, of course. I will contradict myself and say that I did construct this wall. It was in the middle of the summer so I just about passed out everyday from the heat. I’d say it was worth it though. It took forever to move in, and get the space ready to inhabit— just because it is so big. It’s almost too much space; but I like complexity, so I filled it with projects.
F-D: Has the location of the studio (i.e the neighborhood, city, building etc) influenced your work in any way?
CR: Yes, Newport [Kentucky] is like a magic land. It feels like another world where I feel protected because I don’t know as many people over here. I know my neighbors and community because Newport has an amazing sense of community; but it's different when compared to when I’m in L.A., London, or New York bigger cities, or even downtown Cincinnati. I feel like I know too many people in those places. I’ve come to find that what is really important to me is to maintain a private world that is separate and outside of judgement. That way I can be very vulnerable. I think that this studio's location has offered me up that opportunity.
F-D: There’s safety in anonymity.
CR: Yes, I feel like I’m transported to another zone when ever I come over here.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself, inside the studio and out?
CR: I really like habits and ritual. Those are the things that set you up for success. I’m really interested in positive thinking and learning and growing, as well as psychology. The mind and the body are really important to me. A typical day— when I’m not working on other projects to make money— is to wake up, sit on the couch and drink two to three cups coffee with soy creamer, then work on any pressing emails or other things like that. Then I go to the gym where I lift weights and do cardio. That way any internal anger or aggression is worked out there and I can also get any excess energy out through the cardio. I then stay at the studio as long as possible until I can’t work any more. Then I go home. I come to the studio every single day unless I’m teaching.
I enjoy creating habits because then there isn’t a decision to make or expectation of ‘making up’ the next day. You just do it. I think making consistent behavioral choices is what allows me to be set up for success. I also believe in the subconscious. So, I believe that, even if you aren’t working on something, you are working on it. You’re thinking it through. . .
F-D: Mental accidents happen. . .
CR: Exactly. There’s always an overlap of ideas and things. You have to be able to take note of them. For example, there’s something magical that happens at night. When the light from the streetlights comes through the windows and hits the sequins on some of these pieces, they create crystalline formations all throughout the space. I’m able to discover things new when I allow myself to be present in the studio at a variety of times.
F-D: So light is an influence for you?
CR: Yes, that’s why photography and film are so important. The projection that I have up right now is just a Photoshop file that I’m currently working on. Time is really important to me. Having open time so that I can use it for all of these different things in non linear ways, is important.
F-D: Do you try to schedule, or perhaps ‘fit in’, time for thought?
F-D: . . . Or, do you function in working and thinking / evaluating at the same time?
CR: Yes. Both. Coming to the studio everyday inherently means that I am meditating on my work— that I’m thinking. I can be answering emails, drawing, etc. I think that being in this region has financially given me the opportunity to be open in my process. Having this much physical space to make work in really opens up my opportunity to be fluid in my making.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
CR: I create complex, psychological events and spaces through all different media. I'm exhaustive with media— I'm very rigorous in my attempt to explore it through handmade and digital processes. I'm trying to understanding the history of architecture and decoration in different ways. I’m very research oriented, I read a lot, and I read a lot about history (especially about the usage of different spaces), psychology, and other scientific material.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
CR: Fabric, wood, metal, paper, pen, dye, digital printing, foam. . . I built all of the pieces of furniture over there [points towards green, semi-circled chairs). I designed them for both children and individuals with Alzheimer’s. The project was exhibited at the Contemporary Art Center here in Cincinnati (Coral City, 2016) I wanted it to be a psychological experience but visually I was referencing wave formations. When you’re under water you have a lack of depth perception and your ability to calculate space is askew. I went with a group of scientists to observe the Coral Reef in the Bahamas before that project to look at that sort of idea. In combination with that idea, I wanted to discuss how shapes and forms act as a memory device. My grandmother had Alzheimers, so I’ve been fascinated with the disease ever since then. Patients with Alzheimers can sense things without logic—with the disease you can hear, respond, laugh, and see but you don’t have a sense of things. That was a really interesting project.
F-D: Can you tell us about your process and how it has evolved?
CR: I think I use a process that I learned while in undergrad. I think it evolved from someone else instigating me to be self instigated. That was what was hard. In architecture school you’re given your project: and I was told over and over again by my instructors that I was very intuitive and I was approaching projects in a very different way. What makes sense to me might be different than what makes sense to somebody else. I think I’ve taken that and had more ownership over that. I found my research questions and the things that I’m interested in and designed projects around those problems that I created for myself. It took me a while to become disciplined in my own work and feel like I know what I’m doing. I love what I’m doing and I always want to improve. I feel like I’m in a good spot. I have a lot of work and it means a lot to me. I just feel very directed.
F-D: Do you work with narratives, plot, or any generally progressing ideas?
CR: Definitely. Film, or things similar to that that I’m working on, absolutely have narratives; but the narratives are a continuum. But, like I said, I’m very much into rituals and habits and the body.—or body narrative. I think the physical action of working, itself, is a narrative. But I like to leave room for openness in that as well. I started doing yoga when I was five. My aunt practiced out in L.A. and so I practiced with her. So I’ve always been interested in that mindfulness— that sort of psychic connection and spiritual / mental exercises.
F-D: So, is that something that interested you when you were that young? Obviously you didn't have that sort of language, but do you believe that you intuitively knew that you were participating in mindfulness?
CR: I think so. . . I’m very extroverted as a person while maintaining introverted as an artist. That private world is so important. I simultaneously want to stimulate and allow other people to participate in these fantasies that I've created. I think that’s why I wanted to study architecture. I wanted to study imagination and I wanted to include others in that imagination. How can I imagine different places in the world and how do I make them real? Perhaps all of the work is a part of this narrative— perhaps to better answer your question— I’d replace narrative with ‘physcial prcoess’. Narrative can be a really difficult word to wrap your brain around.
F-D: Perhaps story telling, too could be a better category for your work?
CR: Absolutely. Also, my father is a classically trained actor, and so I grew up attending the theater and various operas all of the time. I was listening to a lot of opera and going to the Met and watching operas. That was my childhood. I love drama. I’m absolutely a story teller. 100%. That’s why I teach, too. You get that same feeling. That’s why I’m interested in film, too. You can immerse someone into a different world with such immediacy. This stage— I’m able to transform it with a different image or different objects, and I can film it and it's utterly transformative.
I’ve had a lot of ambition in the last couple of years. I just seem to think to myself, “What’s the most ambitious project that I can come up with?” Ok, let me digitally etch this eighteen foot tapestry into a mirror and put neon behind it and construct it out of steel so that it can last outside for forever. Let me make an entirely gold bracelet. Let’s make this crazy thirty foot long wave wall and let’s have it reference Zaha Hadid and what she did; and let's do it with etched foam. I’ve wanted to be extremely ambitious and build the hardest things out of the most interesting materials. I’ve wanted to dream big in that way. Now I’m trying to do that with less means. That’s why music is interesting. It’s free and it’s so immersive. I remember, I was in Copenhagen and I was talking to a musician whom I met there, and he felt that music was the most immediate, expressive thing that can change or affect you— quicker than any other art form. I remember being angry that I couldn’t do it. I was like, “I want that! I want that power.” For me, projection and larger installations can start to emulate that and begin to take over your sense of where you are. The flow state, it’s my favorite state of mental being, and I haven’t been in it enough. It’s something that I’m trying to be more active in. I’m in it right now because I’m talking about work and I have the projection up and it's all fun; but I like when you lose track of time. When you're just in the moment. I want other people to have that experience when they participate with my work. Where they lose sense of other things and are just in this focused thing.
F-D: So, then, do you think that the gallery / museum space is the appropriate avenue for that? Or do you think public sculpture and installation are more appropriate?
CR: It depends. People go to museums and galleries to look at things. A lot of people go to museums to be entertained. I say ‘ it depends’ because sometimes on the street, there is so much going on that you can’t really focus. I’ve done a good number or public projects, ranging from events to art shows. I’ve done curation with more instigation involving many other people— and it’s a difficult sphere to work in— but I really like it. I like that in a gallery, there’s that sense of calm and sanctity within it. Within this white box, anything can exist and you can transform it. The ritual of going into the gallery and studying something and giving it time is very important as well. Being able to have more creative control over all of those aspects is important. Both are important and everyone needs to be able to access art. For example, I want children and adults to like the work; I don’t know why exactly.
F-D: Perhaps you want to make something that can be fluid in between those levels of understanding.
CR: Yes, but It’s definitely like a brick wall though. For example, getting a show at a gallery is very hard. Getting the right gallery and getting work into museums, things like that, can be very difficult. I want opportunities for everyone. I get frustrated with museums and curators and how they pick work. It can be very clique-y. Like a cool kid group, or something. It feels arbitrary; I’d rather a gallerist take risks and really just believe in the work of the artists they show, rather than say, “Oh, I think this is cool or hip”. That’s not as lasting. I want to do something lasting and meaningful and there’s all kinds of good work out there.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your making?
CR: It absolutely does. I think because I studied architecture, I was forced to remove my interest in emotions because of my media. I’m trying to get back to that. I say that I'm working to get back to it, but it's all over the work. It has my personal history all over it. My mother was a textile and costume designer, my father an actor. The yoga and mindfulness, traveling. . . all of it. I like to integrate my experience but through the lens of another world that is accessible to others. My dad gave me a kimono when I was five, it’s a Japanese historic kimono, and that was the pattern that I used for all of the kimonos that I’ve created. Everything has meaning, but it is sort of hidden within something. That’s really important to me.
F-D: That’s it’s clouded?
CR: Yea, or assembled in a way in which you aren’t really sure exactly what it’s saying. That’s always been what I’m better at. Ambiguous, precarious. . .
F-D: In-between-ness. . .
CR: For sure.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
CR: Everything. Music, fashion, literature, travel, world culture, comedy, film, dialogue—talking.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
CR: It means that I can use everything and I can remember things and I can keep a lot of stuff. It means that I have space to do these projections and films and it means that I can build physical models and mock-ups of things to scale. Which is really great. I’ve been traveling a lot, so I’ve been trying to navigate the age old situation of ‘what work do I make here’ versus what 'work do I make when I’m in New York'.
F-D: Do you also have a studio in New York?
CR: No, but I share a space with a friend.
F-D: What do you work on when you’re traveling?
CR: Drawings, diagrams, 3D modeling, digital work—smaller things. I’m trying to figure out how I can use that small scale to my advantage.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
CR: I’m not very good at citing contemporary artists, but I’m definitely into the Black Mountain College. That's why it was such a huge, amazing opportunity to work with the Carl Solway Gallery [in Cincinnati]. I continue to work with them because they were the first people to represent John Cage and his work as well as Bunkminster Fuller and a lot of other architects and inter-disciplinary / experimental artists from that time period. Annie Albers, Eva Hess, Louise Bourgeois. . . There are so many other artists that I follow and pay attention to. I’m drawn toward female artists. I love Zaha Hadid as well. It’s hard to say what contemporary movement I feel strongly about. I feel a pull towards digital media and how that can be used. I think I’m using it in a different way from a lot of other people. I’m definitely related to architects. There are a few similarities that I see in relation to my work and trends in architecture: a movement toward shape, and how shapes can be used to communicate and how digital fabrication can be used within architecture. But then I’m using that idea in a more feminine, decorative, and less structural way. So that’s a definite dialogue. I also think the frenetic ‘jumping around’ of war and screen based culture that we have makes creating a meditative space all the more important. That culture keeps you from having a out of body, moment-to-moment experience— which I can’t always immediately access. That’s why I’m trying to facilitate that in my work.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
CR: Immerse yourself. I always try to immerse myself in my work, and practice. "Practice" is the motto. Just practice over and over. It’s all a process: the habits, the mental and physical exercise, talking about things, making things, just constantly going and doing. Just try to do the best job that you can.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
CR: I think I now say I’m an artist. I can’t technically say I’m an architect because I’m not licensed.
F-D: Is there a reason for that?
CR: Most architects aren’t licensed. I would have to finish some other tests and things. Honestly, I don’t ever want the liability to signing off on a building. I can do the design for it and then I would work with someone who has that license, who could go over all of the codes with me, and then they would sign off on it. There’s no need for me to do that. I’m not going to be working at an architecture firm. If someone were to ask me to design a building for them, and they wanted to pay me enough, I’d absolutely do it and I’m qualified to do that. I just wouldn’t stamp it.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
CR: Lots, I like taking a risk everyday. I did a presentation about teaching in my teaching philosophy that went over the idea of managing your ability to deal with fear. It’s one of the biggest things that you can do for yourself as an artist. That’s why I’m always dealing with psychology and process. I think that I’m not afraid to experiment. I’m not afraid to be misunderstood. It’s not always nice, but I think that taking risks is really important. It all feels like risk, a lot of the time.
F-D: Words of wisdom?
CR: Go for it. Believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. It doesn’t matter what you're bad at, it just matters what you're good at. Have a positive attitude and work hard. Dream big.