The London-based artist uses her medium to tell stories of family, sisterhood and connection.
Like many working artists, Catherine Repko remembers a childhood fuelled by creativity. She had a handful of encouraging art teachers that helped grow her confidence in the field, which meant that by the time she graduated, her sight was undeniably set on art school. “I don’t really remember making that decision, it just was,” she tells It’s Nice That.
A key influence in Catherine’s development as an artist was her grandmother, a hobbyist painter and inspiration no less. She recalls spending her days observing her work, while her grandmother would teach her craft and how, specifically, to draw twisted leaves. “My mum is one of 11, so I had a lot of cousins as well as siblings; I felt really special that my grandmother was spending that time with me to teach me how to draw.” What’s more, Catherine’s father’s job enabled them all to travel to Europe from the US and, from 1992, they moved to Florence while she was aged between five and nine. The city’s quintessential art and architecture enlightened Catherine, setting her on a path only intensified by visiting various other European cities and galleries. Then, as she reached her teens, their lives changed dramatically. “But those early years were so formative and I can see now, as a 30-year-old, how important that time was, how it shaped my identity and lead to my studio practice today.”
Thinking back to those years growing up in Italy, Catherine takes note of these moments with great fondness – especially now, as past memories of travelling remain a distant thought that will likely stay that way for a few months to come. But this type of dreaming only adds to Catherine’s artistic persona, which revolves around dreamscapes, pastel-tinted colours and hazy afternoons spent in the sun. Her work often depicts the sweet embrace between subjects, where gentle postures and hand gestures take centre stage in her thoughtful – and often cropped – compositions. It’s a subject matter and aesthetic that’s linked to her relationship with her family, whereby her father, who now lives California, would document their lives with a camera recorder: “Not just of me and my sisters, but also these crazy tours of the places we lived or went to,” she says. “It’s kind of incredible and I see it so much in the work I make now – I feel like it’s a continuation of what he was doing in some way.”
Catherine’s most recent paintings have largely been influenced by her three sisters, depicting their relationship in a signature cropped and abstract manner. “I’m interested in the space between us, our relationship growing up together and what connects us now as adults; how the support and significance of this relationship resonates between us and with wider relationships,” she notes, evoking a sense of familiarity and intimacy throughout.
Everything that Catherine puts her hands towards nurtures this craving for travel and connection. One of her most recent pieces, Our Common Ground (2020), arose from observing a photograph that she took of her mum and then-pregnant sister the first time they met outside during the initial lockdown. They met in a park near her mother’s flat, and her mum and sister were laying on the grass in a “beautiful way” while they were conversing – they hadn’t seen their mum in months. It features a gentle colour palette, where rusty reds, warm yellows and earthy blues which equate to a serene and calming backdrop. It’s a scene so familiar that it takes you back to all the days spent in parks during the warmer months.
Another piece, My sister got married (2020), was crafted after her sister got engaged and married during the lockdown. “I was processing that a lot in the studio, the excitement but also the wave of intense emotion I felt at the time,” she says. “I’m an overly nostalgic person, and I often process change in a very emotional way.” Catherine also got engaged a few months later, so the notion of marriage very much frequented her thoughts.
While Catherine continues to finish the final stretch of her MA in painting at the Royal College of Art, frustratingly, her upcoming shows have been postponed and her course has been hugely disrupted. Yet Catherine’s works manage to transcend the current state of the world in an inimitable manner, and we could spend all afternoon sweeping through her collections. “I want to open up questions, and mostly I want the works to hold a certain amount of weight in them – whether it’s the weight of love, grief, hope or desperation,” she concludes. “I want the work to bring joy to the audience in some way; I want someone to want to look at the work, and ideally stay with the work.”