Retro '70s pop culture inspires Belfast sculptors anarchic creatures

Artist Cathy Hart with her baby giraffe sculpture
By Jenny Lee

A QUIRKY, unique and oddly familiar menagerie of strange beasts and fantastical creatures has invaded Belfast's Vault Studios.

The sculptures are the creation of Belfast artist Cathy Hart, who has drawn upon inspiration from her childhood and the pop culture of the 1970s.

From the Pink Panther and Danger Mouse to Sesame Street, as well as some references to Shakespeare, Cathy combines mild steel and mixed media to make her expressive creatures.

She works intuitively through each step of the process by welding, wrapping newspaper, binding tape, sewing or covering the work with plaster, to bring her creations to life.

And for this new body of work Cathy channels raw energy by stripping away materiality to expose the underlying framework of newspaper and masking tape on some of her pieces.

After having worked as a primary teacher for over 20 years, Cathy turned her attention to her love of art, graduating from London's Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design in 2004 with a BA in Fine Art: Sculpture.

Although Cathy has exhibited regularly in London's Peckham Studios and Dulwich Open House, as well as showing her funky wire chickens, walking butterflies, birds and mischievous dogs to acclaim at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, this is her first solo show in Belfast.

"The opportunity to exhibit in my home town is special and invokes a lot of nostalgia for the place I grew up," she says.

"My work became a bit more whimsical and minimal with sculpture that got into the Chelsea Flower Show.

"It was great to get so many sales and have collectors, but I got a bit tired of doing repeats and wanted to go back to my art college roots and make creatures that are more three-dimensional in form."

Highland Hoppers, by Belfast artist Cathy Hart

Cathy, who also works as an art technician in Victoria College, was delighted to get a studio space in the East Belfast Vault four years ago when she returned to the city.

"Because my art involves welding, you can't really do that in your spare bedroom," she laughs.

"I've been busy since I came back here, building up my collection and I'm so excited that my creatures are getting to play in this amazing, cavernous space."

The exhibition takes its name from the musical term, 'mosso', which means moved, or animated, and Cathy brings movement and energy into her sculptures by their stances.

Although she says she "enjoys making creatures that make people smile", her art also works at a deeper subconscious level.

Beneath the playfulness of characters like the Highland Hoppers, Shakespearean Troubadours and the statuesque Baby Giraffe, belie an underlying challenge of transformation and of the loss and longing that resonates through the echoes of childhood.

"I love that my work is able to evoke smiles, but there is also ambiguity and so sculptures can seem at once strange yet familiar, exuberant yet forlorn, mischievous yet awkward," she explains.

"Some even go as far as saying they look a bit sinister. That is fine - people bring their own thoughts and beliefs - and I like that tension between playful and sinister that their personalities present."

:: Mosso runs until November 14 at Vault Studios, Tower Street, Belfast. You can follow Cathy on Facebook at 'Cathy Hart artist' and on Instagram at 'cathyoncloud9'.

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