Art for the Soul
UK artist Catherine Hyde works with layers of paint, pastel, gold and silver leaf, and mica to create dreamlike imagery that explores the interplay between animals, landscape and imagination
We had the opportunity to talk to Hyde about her art and the role that nature plays in it.
OSM: Your work is filled with archetypal and ecological imagery from nature—animals, trees, night, dusk, dawn, water, stars, the moon, seasonal cycles and more. Animals in particular appear again and again in your work: the stag, hare, owl, crow and fish. What inspires you to paint these animals? Do you feel in some way personally connected to them or to the symbolism they embody?
CH: I love all the animals I paint, for themselves and their beauty. I try to convey their essence in my paintings. I also paint animals I know and have observed in the English landscape. To view them you need to be quiet and unobtrusive. I find it deeply thrilling—a gift—to chance upon a stag or see an owl fly by. The encounter heightens my own connection with nature, and I become part of the story.
OSM: In honor of spring, and the hare’s association with fertility, we are featuring a special selection of your hare paintings in our online gallery. As a nocturnal animal that is seen mostly at dawn and dusk, the hare is associated with the magic attributed to these “border” times when our eyes can play tricks on us. Is this one of the reasons that hares appeal to you, and is this why they appear so frequently in your work? What does the hare mean to you?
CH: I am fascinated by the mythology and symbolism surrounding animals. The hare is perhaps one of my favorite creatures and I use it in my art for many purposes—for its fertility and mysterious movements in the landscape, but also to suggest stillness and contemplation. It has become very much an image of self—at times quiet and unobtrusive, and at others flying between earth and air, occupying its own dimension.
OSM: In traditional totemic cultures, a totem animal is perceived and experienced as a guide, protector, or relative. In popular usage, a “totem animal” is an animal that offers personal guidance or inspiration through its attributes and symbolism. Do the animals you paint have a totemic resonance for you? Do you have a “totem” animal?
CH: At one time I could have said the hare was my main totem animal, but in maturity I am suspecting that the owl is, too.
OSM: I would like to ask you about your wonderfully poetic titles. They add another layer of meaning to your work, and often shape the narrative of the imagery. How important are titles to you, and which comes first: the title or the painting?
CH: Poetry is very important to me. I love the visual impact of words, so sometimes the words for a painting are there before the art, and sometimes they come later, when I have had a chance to consider what I have created. I like to use titles to enhance and suggest. Some painters are not concerned about this and would regard titles as completely irrelevant—and possibly even bad practice—but I have always been aware that both words and images are a fundamental part of who I am, and I need both elements to express myself.
OSM: You have explained that your work explores the liminal spaces that “lie between dream and consciousness, land and water, earth and sky, dusk and dawn.” Liminal spaces are often described as “betwixt and between,” or “no-longer but not-yet.” They are indeterminate places or states in which objects, events, sensations, or thoughts have yet to fully take shape. Can you tell us about a couple of your paintings that are especially liminal and what inspired them?
CH: My painting “Full Moon at the Edge of the Silver Dawn” comes to mind. It is based on the River Helford in Cornwall, which is a tidal inlet. It is a deeply magical place, with steep banks of trees coming down to the waters edge. It is very much a place of meeting points. I became quite obsessed with the shift between the water line and the land. The hare in the painting acts as a vehicle of movement in the implied stillness of the water and the landscape. She is airborne. The fish lies under the water. The band of mist above her conceals and reveals stars, the moon, and a small stag high on the hill. My intention was to capture the moment in-between, when the world is in suspension.
Another painting, “The Still Earth” is a dawn image, and again, there is an “above” and “below.” The owl moves with its own purpose into the light and the hare is of the earth, running to a different story. They are connected and not connected. The landscape is still, and the boundary between earth and air is abstracted. The line is wavering, suggesting points where one can become part of the other.
OSM: I think that liminal quality is what people like best about your work. In fairy tales, liminal spaces are often where magic happens or where one can discover a “door” between worlds. Your paintings feel like that—like portals between landscape and imagination—where nature is still enchanted, and anything can happen.
You can find Catherine’s paintings, prints, and notecards in galleries throughout the UK, where she has shown for 30 years, online at: catherinehyde.co.uk, and in the U.S., at True North Gallery. In addition to her work as a fine artist, Catherine has illustrated three books (The Princess Blankets, Firebird and Little Evie in the Woods) and has a fourth due out this fall, called The Tree of Stars, which she wrote and illustrated.