Interview: Cathy Abraham of Art Gazette
“Prioritising art over other expendable or dispensable items is akin to planting trees. It expresses a belief in the longevity of communicating across generations and investing in the future.”
Cathy Abraham was born in 1968 in Cape Town where she currently lives and works. She specialised in process-based art at the Michaelis School of Fine Arts, University of Cape Town (UCT), where she graduated with a Post Graduate Diploma (PGDIP) in 2016 and a Master’s in Fine Art with Distinction in 2018. Abraham’s creative work brings together seemingly disparate entities through participation and a ritual based practice. She uses mediums that reflect the subject matter which include film, mixed media, installation and participation as well as painting and sculpture. Most recently in 2018, Abraham’s MFA culminated in a solo exhibition titled, A Deeper Kind of Nothing.
Your work as an artist liaison for Art Gazette: how do you go about sourcing new artists and artworks, what is your process?
I look at a lot of work online and see what works I feel could be a good fit for Art Gazette’s platform. Often through art books, visiting exhibitions and following artists on Instagram, I will find works that catch my eye. Initially, I will present these new artists to the Art Gazette panel and if all agree, I will write to the artist and invite them to have a conversation and see what we do.
Describe what your day-to-day looks like?
Studio visits, meeting with artists, presenting new artists to the panel online and making selections of artworks to purchase comprises most of my ‘everyday’ at Art Gazette. More specifically I spend quite a bit of time on my computer, researching artists all over the world and making selections of artworks that are submitted. Once an artist sends a new portfolio through, the panel make a selection. I feel incredibly lucky to spend much of the day communicating with incredible artists all over the world. This connection, especially at this time of Covid and isolation, has helped to bridge gaps and form new ties discovering so many new and exciting projects that artists are working on.
Your latest, most interesting finds and why? Especially for art at The Robertson Small Hotel?
We are currently working with Sannell Aggenbach on a series of archival image and thread based works. We look forward to installing these works at the Robertson Small at our next visit.
Art Gazette’s place in the industry what makes it fundamental for both emerging artists as well as new collectors and how did you come to work with the organisation?
Art Gazette is filling a very much needed gap in our art world whereby we are able to provide consistent financial support to the artists that are on board. We are committed to an ongoing relationship with our artists and aim to purchase as regularly as possible. One of the main benefits of creating works to sell to Art Gazette is that an exploratory space is supported in the artists practice. Often new ideas are formatted whilst creating series for Art Gazette and these ideas go on to be the basis for bigger projects that the artists are working on.
New collectors are able to start or expand their art collections with Art Gazette when they buy 10 or more works from us. We have already curated an incredible inventory of accessible smaller works which are easily re-curated into collections for residential or professional spaces.
I met one of the founding members of Art Gazette, Morné Visagie, whilst completing my MFA at Michaelis School of Art. He invited me to come onboard for Art Gazette. I felt it was a refreshing and exciting approach in the art world and I am very excited to be a part of it. Working for Art Gazette allows me to have enormous freedom within my own studio practice as the stability of a regular income is a grounding force.
Further to that: can you please comment on the importance of making artwork more accessible thereby encouraging the growth of young collectors?
Everyone who loves art and wants to own art should be able to have access to it and be able to find affordable ways of acquiring art.
In return artists also need and want support. Artists cannot only rely on galleries to sell and promote their work. Here in South Africa, we have an abundance of artists in relation to galleries for representation. Which is why alternative accessible platforms are needed to embrace methods that encourage trade. The more people are encouraged to invest and collect art, the more robust the industry will become not only to support the artists but to promote and expand the love and importance of art in this world. Hence, these diverse and alternative platforms can offer young adults the opportunity to purchase and own work that they can afford, and slowly build an art collection. Prioritising art over other expendable or dispensable items is akin to planting trees. It expresses a belief in the longevity of communicating across generations and investing in the future.
Advice for young collectors: how do they get started? What are the fundamentals of growing an art collection?
Invest in what you love. Living with art is like having a relationship. The works you buy need to live with you and grow with you. I believe it is essential to evolve your living spaces around the art you buy. Seeking out art that enhances your philosophies and dreams is a good place to start.
Let’s talk about your art. You say counting forms a fundamental part of your artistic practice, with special attention to the numbers 9, 18 and 36. Please can you elaborate on this and on why these numbers in particular?
Yes, each of these number imbue significant connotations. I have found that it helps if I use numbers as an underlying structure to my work, especially the larger works. I have dipped into the teachings of Kabbalah from Jewish mysticism. Therein is a system called Gematria whereby numbers hold and unlock meaning. It is an alphanumeric code of assigning a numerical value to a name, work or phrase according to its letters. For example, the number 18, means ‘life’ and 36 means ‘double life’. Infusing these numbers into my repetitive processes, helps me to hold the concept of what my work is about. I use these numbers as I would a material, counting brushmarks or loops of a drawing as well as small measurements of time.
In your work it feels like your mission is to gain deeper understanding and then to deliver the message, one of your latest exhibitions ‘A Deeper Kind of Nothing’ is particularly poignant and hard-hitting. Can you describe your journey with this exhibition and how you came to conceive the artworks?
The title ‘A Deeper Kind of Nothing’ came from the work Lawrence Krauss did in his book ‘a universe from nothing’ where he explains that nothing is the space where something once was. I used the impact of two psychological forces to expand on this idea. One was to do with being Asthmatic. As a child, I was told that Asthma was nothing, that it was psychosomatic. The other was to do with the feeling of walking on eggshells, something I experienced for many years. Both these experiences had a significant impact. I worked with my particular inability to blow a balloon as a result of being asthmatic, bronzing a series of 13 exhales. These weighty, solid sculptures are no longer the same nothing that I thought them to be. In addition, for over 5 years I collected all the eggshells that we used in our home. I then began a process of painting each broken piece with 8 layers of paint and ultimately coding each piece. The 7128 eggshells were installed on a 6 x 3m light box with fans blowing on them. Taking something ordinarily discarded and deemed to be worthless, painting them and allowing them to ‘dance’ on a light box resulted in them no longer being ‘nothing’.
How has lockdown and the pandemic effected your work and processes?
Lockdown and the pandemic provided me with both the time and space to work in my studio which is at home. Because most of my job at Art Gazette is online, working remotely allowed me much more time in my studio. Usually, when driving in to town, I would spend at least 2/3 hours commuting. Without the commute, I was able to better manage my time. Often, I would begin my day at 4am with at least 4-5 hours of studio time which resulted in a massive new body of work to unfold.
Message of inspiration for emerging artists or young people wanting to get into the creative fields?
No matter what, do the work. It is only by doing that the creative process unfolds. Imagining and conceiving of an idea is just the starting point.
Future plans? Any new exhibitions coming up? Tell us all about it.
Right now, I am in Jhb about to install my solo booth at the Turbine Art Fair which opens on the 30th of September. Next week I am opening a solo show at The Fourth in Cape Town which will open on the 6th of October. The overarching title for both these shows is The Abyss of Deep Time. There are three bodies of work that form these shows comprising of ripples, scales and ghosts. I look forward to a few group shows coming up too as well as participating in the Cubicle series at Everard Read Cape Town in August 2022.