Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Artist Uncovered: Cat Outram

Liberating constraints

An etcher with thirty years experience Cat Outram practises in Edinburgh Printmakers studio where we meet. She is well known for her beautifully detailed and linear black and white drawings of Edinburgh and the varied Scottish landscape and for her studies of plants and objects. Is it purely coincidental that an enduring first impression of the UK as a seven year-old, is the snowy scenery that met her upon her arrival from Kenya?

Winter twilight 29x50cms
image courtesy of the artist

It was while studying Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art that she discovered printmaking. She took to it like a duck to water and promptly abandoned her paints and brushes much to the consternation of her D&P tutors!
Monochrome etching complements perfectly her fascination with light and tone and she thrives on the challenges it presents. In her preparatory sketches, she has trained herself to drain the colours out of the picture much like the process of black and white photography. She mentions Ansel Adams as particularly inspirational.

Top Flat Panorama 29x73cms
image courtesy of the artist

It is well-known that artists creativity is stirred up when faced with a challenge either self-imposed or brought upon them. Monet and his experiments with light and Matisse and his collages particularly come to mind. Outram explains that she decided to become an artist following the birth of her two sons and the ensuing restrictions on her time and movements. This career fitted well with her commitments and the necessity of making a living and enabled her to transcend her homebound circumstances. Her window series are particularly poignant and evocative of that period.

Seedheads 49x21cms
AiH collection, image courtesy of the artist

When she decided to introduce colours into her work, she had to find a way to do so within the technical constraints of printmaking and within her own range of skills. Unlike lithography or screenprinting where colour is an integral part of the process from the start, with etching, each colour requires a different plate. This is a painstaking process that needs great accuracy from the printmaker who has to line up each plate perfectly with the marks of the previous impression. She admits struggling with this level of precision and often ends up with rejects.

Snow with Beech Leaves  30x21cms
image courtesy of the artist

The artist had to find a solution to get round this problem. At that time, one of her sons, now grown-up, was in China and she reminded herself that Chinese art often introduces one colour only in a drawing to great effect. She promptly saw the potential for her etchings and has since made this single coloured spot distinctive of her style.

Earlier this year Outram took part in a collaborative project organised jointly by the Scottish Poetry Library and Edinburgh Printmakers that brought together twenty-four poets and twenty-four printmakers. The remit was very open but like etching, poetry is a discipline rich in constraints, rhyme, form and vocabulary among many others. When she and Ken Cockburn the poet discovered this shared characteristic in their respective practices they both set out to introduce parameters in their project for inspiration. The culmination of these collaborations is exhibited this month in both the SPL and EP gallery.

Close up, Possible Connections  29x42cms
image courtesy of the artist

Cat Outram had been searching for ways of expressing ideas through her art and she is now thinking about using her own words in her work. With this introduction of words and possibly, the use of a brush instead of the traditional needle to draw with, it is clear that at this point in her life when she has more time to devote to her practice than ever before, the artist is already looking for fresh boundaries and challenges that will continue to sustain and renew her imagination.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh.

With thanks to Cat Outram.

Related links:
Edinburgh Printmakers 'The Written Image'  http://www.edinburghprintmakers.co.uk/exhibitions/the-written-image
Scottish Poetry Library 'The Spoken Image'

And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.