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Artist profile - Catherine MacDiarmid

PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 July 2019

Personal space by Catherine MacDiarmid

Personal space by Catherine MacDiarmid

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People who don't quite fit in take centre stage in an exhibition by Kendal artist Catherine MacDiarmid

Catherine McDiarmid mixing paintCatherine McDiarmid mixing paint

Fresh from flirting with fame on TV, artist Catherine MacDiarmid is coming home for her first solo exhibition in 21 years. The Kendal-based painter's upcoming exhibition, entitled Personal, at the town's Brewery Arts Centre will be a combination of new and retrospectives of the three strands of her work.

The first involves her interpretation of personal space. 'I find inspiration from crowds of people around me and the space I am in,' she said. 'Some paintings involve my children and other individuals interacting on dance floors in artificial light.

'I particularly spotlight a person who looks a bit out of place, not quite belonging to the crowd they are in. I am captivated when I see someone who doesn't quite belong, or stands alone among others for a variety of reasons, and I seek to communicate this in these paintings.

'These people can also have masks or guises that set them apart. Are we ever truly ourselves? Are we only true to ourselves when alone?'

Behind the tiger paint by Catherine MacDiarmidBehind the tiger paint by Catherine MacDiarmid

Her second strand of work, Behind the Paint, comes out of her bread and butter work of being a face painter, a role she performs at shows and events throughout Cumbria and Lancashire.

It is obvious that Catherine draws inspiration for both these strands from her own children, two of whom are on the autism spectrum. 'My son Marcus, 13, is highly intelligent and wants to fit in, but doesn't always. He used to love dressing up and having his face painted when he was younger,' she explains. 'Having two boys with Autism Spectrum Condition I discovered that they found disguises a helpful tool which displaced themselves from the world around. 'They still enjoy dressing up, although less so as they get older, and these other personas fascinate me. I was keen to see how much of the original character remains when protected by a guise, and whether I could still paint that person behind the paint.'

Catherine's third strand is portraiture. 'Faces are the most interesting things we see and I can't remember a time when I didn't paint people. I am fascinated by portraiture and how much it can disguise or reveal the inner person. The sitter can choose to reveal as much or as little as they want and I seek to capture something of the external self as well as the inner self. It is all really about a conversation between artist and subject.'

Catherine McDiarmid self-portraitCatherine McDiarmid self-portrait

This skill gained her prominence in Sky TV's Portrait Artist of the Year. She had appeared in two previous series, with actors Ashley Jensen and Ross Kemp both choosing Catherine's paintings as the one to take home and keep. But despite that, she did not reach the semi-finals.

This year her portrait of actress Georgina Campbell got her through to paint jazz legend Courtney Pine in the semi-final. Judges praised her work but somehow she missed out on a final place.

As well as the exposure on screen, Catherine's art has been featured in a national tour of Whitwell Galleries throughout England of the Sky TV semi-finalists. It certainly worked, with Catherine getting three new commissions for portraits from the programme, which helps keep the cash flow going, important for a single mother of three.

Catherine, who has been an adult learner tutor at Brewery Arts in Kendal for 24 years, has won various awards including the Pegasus Art Prize in Artist and Illustrators Artist of the Year 2017, and first prize in the Brewery Open 2002, among others. She was featured in the BP Portrait Show in 2001 and 2002.

She was elected a member of the prestigious Lakes Artists Society in 2014 and exhibits regularly in their summer exhibition in Grasmere. She is also a founder member of Green Door Artists in Kendal and South Lakes. Catherine is Kendal born and bred, going to the local schools. She took up oil-painting and portrait painting by the age of 13, attained A levels in English and Art at Kirkbie Kendal School, before studying at Carlisle College of Art and Design and De Montfort University in Leicester, where she got a First in Art.

She returned to Kendal and started painting in her mum's garage, while working as a cleaner at Westmorland General Hospital. Bringing up the children has stalled her career. Even now she has to drive two of the three children to different schools in different towns in South Lakeland. 'Every minute they are at school, I paint, not doing any housework or other chores.'

The Sky series featuring Catherine is being repeated on Channel 4 on Saturdays until August 24th.

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