Cathy Breslaw is a Southern California contemporary visual artist who has been featured in over 37 solo exhibitions and has participated in over 50 group exhibitions across the U.S. in museums, art centers, college and university galleries, and commercial galleries.
Breslaw’s work is in many private and corporate collections and 3 works are in the collection of the Czong Institute of Contemporary Art, a museum in Seoul Korea. She holds an MFA from Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California where she received two fellowships. Breslaw holds a BA degree in American Studies from George Washington University in Washington D.C. and an MSW, a masters degree in psychiatric Social Work from Howard University in Washington D.C. Since the 90’s Breslaw has been exhibiting professionally while exploring and expanding her art practice, continually experimenting to include accessible commercial materials. Her mostly large format wall, floor, sculptural and installation works engage concepts of light, space, cosmology, the interconnected fragile and ephemeral nature of life, the powerful forces of nature as well as environmental issues.
Breslaw has been a speaker at colleges and universities, teaches Art History at Coastline College, and has been a contributing writer for Vanguard Culture, and has a blog artfullifebycathy.blogspot.com which is focused on creativity, exhibition reviews for museums and galleries. She was chair of the Carlsbad Arts Commission and has been a juror for various exhibitions in San Diego County. She can be followed on her webpage cathybreslaw.com, on Facebook at Cathy Breslaw Contemporary Visual Artist, and Instagram @cathybreslaw.
Were there defining moments that shaped the person you are and therefore the artist you are today?
Cathy: There were several defining moments for me. I have been making art as long as I can remember, which is probably 5 years old. It has always been a part of myself but not one that I considered a “career” until the 1990’s when I began to enter competitions, exhibit my work and focus more closely on my art practice.
Considering I had two siblings who were much older and that my parents were mostly absent running a retail business together, I often found myself alone with a housekeeper. Art was how I passed the time, coloring with crayons on paper, and then when I was a bit older, seeing that I enjoyed art, gifts given were some paint-by-number kits. I recall that I didn’t like “coloring within the lines” nor did I like the “paint-by number” plan. When I was 9 I took Saturday art workshops, then at 11 or 12 I took private art lessons at an artist’s home. When my teacher passed away from cancer, I continued with art mainly at school during art classes. Continuing into college where I took no art classes, thereafter I didn’t think of art as a career(mainly because my parents didn’t see it as a way for getting a job), yet always carved out time and a place to make art(mostly watercolor/acrylic paintings). When I graduated from college I asked for a copper enameling kiln as my aunt created copper enameled plaques that interested me. I went on to make cloisonne jewelry and to experiment with acrylic painting, and watercolors – all on my own but with no formal training.
In my 20’s, simultaneously to years of working in the business world and receiving a masters’ degree in psychiatric social work with the desire to become a therapist, I always made space in my apartments for art-making and mostly watercolor painting. I had a natural and persistent drive to create with my hands. I also played around with photography back when you could play in the darkroom with manipulating images. I began taking some watercolor workshops, then later on took formal college studio courses in Color Theory, 2, and 3-D Design and Drawing. So, in the 1990s while raising my sons I began focusing seriously on my art-making. I began exhibiting and entering competitions and also taught drawing, water media painting and mixed media to adults and children. In spite of success in exhibiting and selling my work, I thought about giving up my art and getting a “real” job. Interestingly I was offered a lucrative outside sales position but that same day I received a letter in the mail from the national publisher of New American Paintings, saying I won a spot to have several of my images published in their hardcopy nationally distributed publications. I felt this was a “sign” to continue making art.
Still, I felt a pressing need for guidance to move my work forward and so I searched for a teacher/mentor from a professional artist that I could perhaps meet with one-on-one. I found that person in Roland Reiss, a contemporary artist, and chair of the visual arts graduate program at Claremont Graduate University in the Los Angeles area. This was a pivotal moment for me.
Once per month, I drove the 2 hours to LA to meet with Roland at his studio/home. There we discussed contemporary art, he critiqued my artwork I would bring, and I learned about the current influencers in the art world, learned about reference materials and printed publications that would help guide and shape my ideas about how to proceed in my work. Meetings with Roland who was a tremendously generous teacher/mentor, the meetings went on for about 3-4 years but also during this time I applied and got into graduate school and earned a Masters Degree in Fine Art in Painting from Claremont Graduate University in 2006.
Since my children were still in school, I commuted to the university 2 hours each way four-five days per week. These years pre and post-school were an incredibly fertile time for me and my work.
Since 2006, I have had over 37 solo exhibitions, and over 55 group exhibitions across the U.S. and South Korea in small museums, college and university galleries, art centers, and commercial galleries. It has been an incredible gift to share my work with others.
What personality trait do you have that has been most helpful in your art career?
Cathy: I believe that my persistent drive to create, and my unrelenting curiosity about the world around me has been most helpful to me. I would also say that I have a need to share my work with others which is why I have always sought out ways/places to do so. I think it’s important to consistently ask questions.
Can you share a usual day in your life, and what a day in the studio is like..we love the details, and what music would you listen to and do you have any pets accompany you?
Cathy: I have to admit that not every day is filled with the creative flow – I have found that my creativity ebbs and flows over time and I have no real way of “controlling” this process. So, each day I enter my space I contemplate what has come the day or days before. I keep an art journal where I write notes about my work, where it may or may not be going etc… If it’s a good day, I continue with a process of creating work, while other days I may be researching ideas on the internet looking at new materials, images of ideas, or other artists’ works, or researching places that may be interested in exhibiting my work. Or, sometimes I am re-organizing my space, looking at my materials, cleaning the space, or just “thinking” or meditating on ideas. I sometimes listen to rock music, mostly past musical groups, but sometimes classical, sometimes opera, sometimes relaxation and “new age” sorts of music. I also sometimes listen to podcasts depending on what stages my work is in and how much concentration is needed for each task. Sometimes I light a candle, light tiny electric lights I have hung, or ring a quiet bell.
You say your ideas stem from research and reading about space and time, as well as structural forms appearing in the natural world. Can you expand on this idea?
Cathy: Since I was a kid, I’ve always tried visualizing “outer space” and had a sense of wonder about it – what’s in it, in the dark spaces, the stars, the planets etc. and thinking about the meaning of the universe. All in general terms. I’ve read laymens’ books about space and time – string theory, black holes, the Hadron Collider in Europe, Einstein’s gravitational waves, The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene and many videos by all kinds of astronomers and astro-physisists. I can’t say I entirely understand all the concepts and details but I seek to understand and have it explained to me ideas about the sources and meaning of the universe. The “structural forms” are basically nature’s forms like plants, geological forms, etc. Currently, I am fascinated by nature and these forms and many of current works (mostly on paper) originate from these thoughts and ideas.
You’ve had a lot of exhibitions. If you could choose one, which would it be and why?
Cathy: That is like asking which is your favorite child! (There really is no one “favorite”) I’ve appreciated and been grateful for all my exhibitions because it’s been a chance to share my work with the world. I take so much joy in this idea. Also, I learn so much from each exhibition. In my solo exhibitions I have been able to curate them – select the works, organize the works, and sometimes participate in installing them(if it’s local). It’s a challenge to see a floor plan on paper and then come up with the best way to design the space with my works. In the recent few years, I have chosen to focus mainly on creating work rather than on exhibitions because of the time, energy, and effort it takes – lots of details down to the packing and shipping etc…being an artist, you are a “one-man band”. I have had interns a few times which was a good experience but prefer to work on my own.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Cathy: The 2 most memorable responses I have had were a solo exhibition at the University of Tulsa in Tulsa Oklahoma and at the Patterson-Appleton Center for the Visual Arts in Dallas Texas. At the University of Tulsa, a group of dance majors from the Performing Arts Department saw my exhibition and were inspired to create a choreographed dance with music and it was performed in the space of the exhibition. I didn’t see it in person but have the video (https://youtu.be/KCbapFUIJ5c) Also, at the art center in Dallas, a group of school children wrote and performed a haiku poem as a response to my exhibition. (https://youtu.be/i5KRAvRwez0)
These two experiences touched me in a very personal and deep way as it was a wonderful outward demonstration and connection that others felt and could express about my work. It’s the best response I could imagine!
What is the best way to reach people that are interested in your art?
Cathy: Anytime I can share my work in the “world”, it presents an opportunity for people to see and/or purchase my work. I have a webpage: www.cathybreslaw.com, Instagram: @cathybreslaw, FB: https://www.facebook.com/CathyBreslawContemporaryVisualArtist, and Saatchi online: https://www.saatchiart.com/account/artworks/558456
Over years, I have also developed an email list and do send one via mailchimp when I have exhibitions someplace.
What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Cathy: The most challenging part is being patient in developing ideas and creating art. I am not in control of how quickly or when ideas materialize for me. I am not a “pre-planner” in my art-making. I don’t do preliminary drawings or have a particular exact plan in executing a piece of art. I have to allow time and space for ideas to evidence themselves so I‘ve learned to do research in the meantime and that helps during the challenging times.
Where did you get inspiration for Sensations? What’s the story behind it?
Cathy: About 5 years ago, we went to Alaska and we spent one whole day on the Prince Edwards Sound off the coast of Valdez. We were taken to the Columbia glacier nearby. As the boat cruised through the area there were many pieces of ice that separated from the glacier.
This was both exquisitely beautiful and troubling at the same time. It was clear that a kind of global warming was at play. As I reviewed my photos from this day on the water I was struck by the amazing sculptural qualities of these separated chunks of ice. So when I was thinking about an installation for my exhibition at San Diego Mesa College, I was focused on creating my idea of this event in my life. Also included in the installation of mixed media, was a slide show of manipulated photos taken that one day, with sound art included – I asked a sound artist to collaborate with me on my idea.
Where did you get inspiration for your “Disappearances” installation? What’s the story behind it?
Cathy: In 2017, we visited Costa Rica. This country is one of the most eco-diverse areas on the planet.
As we traveled from the capital San Jose to Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast( a turtle sanctuary), to the mountainous center of the country to the Pacific coast, we experienced the most amazing plants, topographical changes, butterflies, water features, and birds. In discussions with tour guides, I became aware of the diminishing populations of various bird species which were so central to the beauty and eco-balance of this region of the world. I wanted to somehow translate some of what I was experiencing and created “Disappearances”, an installation. I had been nominated for the San Diego Art Prize and this was a perfect time to present my interpretation of this climate change caused phenomenon.
Do you see your art as serving a purpose beyond art?
Cathy: I guess this question is asking if I think of my work as something beyond observing it as an art object and does it have another purpose? Truthfully, I believe it is “enough” to bring it into the world as art. This answer would be up to the viewer of my work. In that case, there would be folks who would quickly walk past my work, some who would stop to ponder the meaning and allow the experience of it to wash over them, and still others who sit somewhere in between. I try not to think about this question because I have no control over how my work is seen or experienced. I do not make political art or conceptual art with social and cultural conflicts or messages. I see my work as an experience to have – if observers are open to it and take a moment in time to experience it, it may have permanent relevance. And of course, if they purchase my work there is more meaning created wherever that art piece “lands”. For example, in 2016 I created a commission work for the Margo Perot Wing, Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas Texas. I was really happy to do this commission because it was the largest wall work to date that I have created 15’ x 16’ (triptych) and more importantly because it was in a large open space where most visitors would see it and that it was in a space like a hospital, a place of healing.
What are you working on now, and what are your plans for the future?
Cathy: This has been a pivotal time for me. In February 2019 we moved to Los Angeles and to a much smaller home. We went from more of a suburban, coastline town/community to a city environment. My studio space is one-quarter of the size of my previous studio. So, I have focused on creating art in a different way with different materials than earlier. I began as a watercolor painter and now I have circled back to using some of that along with pastels, markers, graphite, colored pencils, and more on vellum paper, and drawing papers. Also, the scale of my works in the last year and a half have been much smaller than earlier. The pandemic has also influenced my work because I am way more isolated and not traveling and not visiting museums and galleries and art centers. I continue to spend time at online museum galleries etc. I also teach Art History at Coastline College Orange County CA which keeps me connected to visual history and to people studying art. I am also an arts writer – I have my own blog: artfullifebycathy.blogspot.com as well as writing for Vanguard Culture, an online arts publication. All of these influence my work and how I approach it.
When COVID travel lifts, I plan to travel more internationally, as because of my remote work, I can live or travel anywhere and not have work interruptions.