by June Pichel Cook
GREENSBORO – “Milking Butterflies,” an exhibit by Cathy Cone at the Highland Center for the Arts, combines old and new technologies to create mesmerizing images, illusions, and narratives. The exhibit will be on display at the Center until September 6.
The images are a blend of disparate elements forming a harmonious whole that piques curiosity and fascinates. She has described her work as combining painting and photography, independent art forms working independently, yet forming a whole.
“Nature has been making images forever,” Cone said. “It speaks to me.”
Cone resurrects old tintypes and scans them, then adds elements to the scanned images, works Photoshop magic, and/or paints to create absorbing images. The printed photo becomes a contemplative field for painting and mark making, she noted. She began collecting tintypes in the 1970s. Tintypes are an early form of photography used in the 1850s and 1860s. When scanned, the tintypes are untouched, Cone explained. They are time travelers with “scratches, residue of mice droppings, aged with a patina.”
Cone’s work was summed up by one viewer as a level of images that are mesmerizing with “some pictures changed before my eyes so that I came away with the feeling that I had seen three or four or five different visions.”
Her “Other Series” portraits are old images that have been marked in some fashion with cutouts, paints, cloth, designs, lace, and other innumerable elements. The face in the portrait becomes a backdrop that recedes and advances as one studies the image. The disparate, added elements are seamless, all blending togethe in a subtle way without boundaries.
“Boy With Chicken” with the feathers becoming abstract patterns and “Pod, “a woman’s face, framed in a circle of colorful swirls and shapes are intriguing. Both works are archival inkjet prints, additions, and gouache.
Most unusual and engaging is “Invite,” a blended profile of a young woman and man’s full face merging. Her eye and his merge together as one; their lips form one mouth. The shadowing of his chin becomes part of her silhouette, yet they are both distinctive within themselves. The work, archival pigment inkjet ink and gouache, is enchanting and fascinating, prompting the viewer to contemplate the message it imparts.
“Mirror” is particularly curious. The handheld mirror, an old-fashioned mirror found on every dresser is delineated by white dots, as if we are seeing through the mirror back and the frontal face reflection simultaneously.
The “Acapella Crack Series” are enigmatic narratives, “Blossom,” “Garden Manuscript” and “Indigo.” The designs, colors, forms and marks superimposed and intermingled into the old photo images make one wonder who were the people in the photograph, what were they doing, when was the picture taken, what were they thinking.
A fun series is the “Animal Guide Series,” spoofs with a dominant animal, bird, or fish silhouetted shape used as the backdrop for the photographic image projected on it. “Fish” becomes the staging for a first Communion; a strong, female face dominates “Bear;” “Sheep” displays two groups of men and boys; “Lion,” a fading man’s face.
“Porcelain Blue” is different as the paint dominates; the photographic image is almost indistinguishable under the brilliant blues and undulating sea-creature tentacles of light.
Cone was raised by her grandmother, who had been born with a large birthmark in the shape of a fish on her face. The story that her grandmother recounted many times piqued a child’s fantasy. When Cone’s great-grandmother was pregnant, she was cleaning a fish and cut her finger. She put her finger in her mouth and marked her unborn baby (Cone’s grandmother) with the birthmark. Cone saw the birthmark as a beautiful pattern imbued with magic.
“These nurtured my imagination and held a transformative power by me – a kind of magical soul medicine.”
She holds a Master of Fine Arts from Maine Media College and has exhibited at Decordova Museum and Vermont Center for Photography. Her work is in numerous collections, including IBM, MCI, and Hallmark Fame Art Collection.