Catherine Repko: A Canvas of Sisterhood and Tradition

Catherine Repko

Emerging artist Catherine Repko draws inspiration from her unbreakable ties with her three sisters, manifesting in a poignant exploration of identity and kinship. Her work spans memories from childhood innocence to the complexities of adulthood, beautifully reflected on canvas.

For Repko, painting is an integral part of her existence, allowing her to capture the fleeting moments that define her journey. The canvas becomes a sanctuary where she explores and understands life’s complexities, serving as a conduit for introspection and revelation, particularly with her sisters and their relationship and connection.

Catherine Repko: A Canvas of Sisterhood and Tradition
Catherine Repko
Photo courtesy of Catherine Repko
© Catherine Repko

I just started painting: that’s what felt relevant to me at that moment in my life, something I was working through via painting

Catherine Repko

Sisters often serve as each other’s confidantes, defenders, and cheerleaders. They uniquely understand each other’s unspoken thoughts, emotions, and gestures, often communicating with just a look or a smile. This unspoken language, honed over years of shared experiences, becomes a source of strength and comfort. The bond of sisterhood remains constant, a safe harbour in the fierce sea of growing up.

These very sentiments are reflected in her current body of work, showcased in her new solo exhibition, ‘A New Season’s Dawning,’ at London’s Huxley-Parlour. The exhibition features several large-scale works that delve into transitions and symbolic moments of change.

One of her pieces that stands out to me, which I particularly like, is “hand-me-down,” which depicts an intimate conversation between sisters. The figures in the painting are minimalistic, with Repko emphasizing shape and form over intricate details, using a subdued yet earthy colour palette. The spatial arrangement of the figures with the younger sisters huddled as the elder imparts tradition, wisdom, and stories, evoking the significance of family, relationships, and sisterhood.

In most of Repko’s paintings, facial features are minimized, except for a singular ear, a recurring symbol representing inherited information or ‘sisters’ whispers,’ signifying something sacred and secret known only to sisters, as Repko describes it.

Repko’s representation of sisterhood is rich in emotional depth and abstract form, drawing viewers in with its alluring quality. Repko achieves a highly textural appearance in her works, mixing powdered marble dust with oil paint, creating a surface reminiscent of the fresco aesthetic used in mural painting, similar to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. Repko’s abstract works leave ample room for interpretation, allowing viewers to imagine the context of the scenes and the relationships between the figures. Her work contributes significantly to contemporary art discourse on family dynamics and human connection.

Repko started her career as an artist on solid ground, graduating from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Painting in 2021; she was the recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant in 2020 and has since presented numerous solo exhibitions, including “Gatherer” at Huxley-Parlour gallery last year. Hailing from the United States, she currently resides and works in London. Rekpo is an emerging artist to pay attention to.

Could you start by introducing yourself and sharing your journey into the arts? What motivated you to become an artist?

Catherine Repko: I am an artist based in London. Though originally from the USA, our family moved all around Europe for my dad’s job, which took us to Florence for a good chunk of our childhood in then 90s, which was a time that I think was incredibly formative for my siblings and I – and I’m sure a huge part of what led us to a love for the arts, and visual art in particular in my case.

My maternal grandmother was a hobby artist and talented painter; my paternal grandmother was a classical pianist, so there were influences within our extended family, too. We were lucky to have our parents exposing us to great art and culture at a young age and some encouraging school teachers along the way. As far as I can remember, I knew I wanted to go to art school for university, which is what brought me to London fourteen years ago to attend art school at 19, and ten years later, I started my MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art in 2019.

Catherine Repko: A Canvas of Sisterhood and Tradition
hand-me-down, 2023
Catherine Repko
© Catherine Repko
Image courtesy Huxley-Parlour London
Q: Your practice focuses on your relationship with your three sisters and its impact on familial ties and identity, spanning from childhood to adulthood. Could we delve more into your practice, the significance of your relationship with your sisters, and why they are a crucial source of your inspiration?

Catherine Repko: As is probably evident in the work I’m very close to my sisters, and about 4 years ago during my first year at the Royal College of Art I began making paintings based on the relationship between us – I guess I didn’t really feel like that sororal relationship was something I saw focused on or celebrated a lot in artwork I was aware of or looking at the time, but I didn’t think about it too much, I just started painting: that’s what felt relevant to me at that moment in my life, something I was working through via painting. But it opened up a door to me creatively that has since developed into something increasingly abstract and still evolving.

Your exhibition at Huxley-Parlour, ‘A New Season’s Dawning’, consists of new large-scale canvases created over the past year, exploring social rituals and symbolic moments of change and transition. Can you tell us more about the exhibition and the essence behind the exhibition title?

Catherine Repko: The works in this exhibition reflect on the time leading up to my wedding earlier this year. There’s the idea of a sister getting married, the period of transition for one nuclear family, and the shift to creating new families (or the potential to) – and just kind of sitting with that transition. Sitting with that time in the leadup to a new season of your own life – there can be excitement and joy, but also some sadness or longing held within the same moment.

Catherine Repko: A Canvas of Sisterhood and Tradition

I don’t plan work out ahead of time in the studio; I try to be as silent as possible with myself, and connect the dots of the work later when preparing a show, and it was clear to me that this body of work is about that time of transition, of a new season’s dawning.

Q: How have your artistic style and color palette evolved overtime, particularly in your latest works? What inspired the subdued colour choices in these pieces?

Catherine Repko: I don’t think the colours are very subdued in these works, I see the colours here working to create something more like a glow, but a subtle glow maybe, bouncing off the canvas and off each other. The colour is of course the most important element of the painting, and it’s what I’m working with or battling with in the studio far beyond the actual figures in the painting.

To me the colours are figures themselves and carry their own relationship to one another withinthe canvas. I suppose the colour palette evolves all the time, and organically, when you’re working with them day after day. I work with a very strict limited palette of one red, one blue, one yellow and a titanium white – because just within that very strict boundary, the options for colour mixing are so vast – it feels overwhelming when I let another colour enter the picture. I’m working with this one set of rules and seeing where I can push it and how far it can go – and so far, it’s felt almost limitless.

Catherine Repko: A Canvas of Sisterhood and Tradition
matriarch, 2023
Catherine Repko
© Catherine Repko
Image courtesy Huxley-Parlour London
Q: Additionally, can you explain the decision to blend powdered marble dust with oil paint, which results in a highly textural appearance in paintings, and how does the textural quality contribute to the overall impact of your work?

Catherine Repko: I do sometimes mix marble dust into my paints, which transforms the paint into more of a paste consistency, allowing me approach the material in a slightly more sculptural way, which feels more exciting or visceral to me in the act of actually painting the canvas. And, perhaps more importantly, it dries to a stone-like and matte quality, which to me is a reference to fresco painting, in appearance or quality, which I was very influenced by as a kid when we lived in Italy, and still am to this day. To me it feels closer to creating something of an object, something sculptural, putting something to stone.

Catherine Repko: A Canvas of Sisterhood and Tradition
a summer recital, 2023
Catherine Repko
© Catherine Repko
Image courtesy Huxley-Parlour London
Q: The ear appears repeatedly your artwork. What significance does this symbol hold in your exploration of memory and intimacy?

Catherine Repko: The repeated ear relates to me to this idea of ‘sisters whispers’. Something sacred and secret that only “you” (sisters?) know or understand. Additionally it references listening for something, passing information through generations, through close ties. Inherited information. To a presence we cannot see but we can feel or hear.

Q: How do you hope your audience interprets the complexities of sisterhood and familial bonds portrayed in your art? What do you wish them to feel or understand?

Catherine Repko: I hope someone looking at the work would sit with it long enough to see beyond simply the representation of sisters, and that they’ll see or feel other layers of enquiry held within the works. Ideas around identity, around the self, around doubt, fear, longing, as well as seeing the love letter to my sisters and a celebration of close human bonds or friendships that are present too.

Q: Looking ahead, how do you foresee the influence of your relationship with your sisters shaping your future projects? Are there aspects of this bond you haven’t yet explored in your art?

Catherine Repko: In the work my sisters have evolved into characters who now have taken on their own life and form, they become metaphor, echo, shadow, presence. Possibilities are endless. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t tend to plan paintings ahead of time, and at the end of making a body of work the fear that you’ll never paint again always comes. But inevitably the work does keep flowing, and you continue. I think to live means to always have something to make work about, because the painting is directly related to the self and to life. Life is constantly evolving so there is so much more work to be made, always.

Catherine Repko: A Canvas of Sisterhood and Tradition
the founding, 2023
Catherine Repko
© Catherine Repko
Image courtesy Huxley-Parlour London
Q: Every artist has their essentials. What are three items you consider indispensable in your studio?

Catherine Repko: Without listing obvious art supplies like paints and pallet knives, I would say headphones/speaker, my old crocs, and snacks. I’m good to go if I’ve got those three things.

Q: Lastly, what does art mean to you?

Catherine Repko: For me it means access to a way of living more deeply than I would be able to otherwise.

©2024 Catherine Repko

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