The Search for Appealing Incongruity: An Interview with Cat Delett

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Atticus Review Print Annual Spread, Vol2, 2019Cat Delett’s piece titled “The Parade” is the cover image for Volume 2 of our Print Annual. Cat is an artist based in Maplewood, New Jersey. She is Director of Communications and gallery curator at an arts nonprofit in Orange, NJ. I’ve been a fan for a while, and have a few Cat Delett rabbits on the bookshelf in my living room. I’m really glad to have her as our cover artist for Volume 2. -David Olimpio

Cat Delett

Artist, Cat Delett


Chapter XX-Nothing by Cat Delett

Chapter XX-Nothing

David Olimpio: If our history in magazine covers is any indication, we at Atticus Review tend to like visual art that is narrative in style. We like paintings that tell a story. You mention this in your bio — that your art tells a story. Can you talk a little bit about what that means to you and what your process around that is?

Cat Delett: Oh yes. I’ve always been a storyteller, and I use a lot of personal symbolism and words in my paintings to that end. I think we all have stories that shape who we are and some we share with the world and some we keep hidden. What we show the world is not always our full self — sometimes we only show the parts which are acceptable to society, friends, family and keep the other parts hidden. My paintings are about both the hidden and revealed stories and how they intersect or collide. I create a sense of ambiguity by using layers and paint transparency to selectively hide and reveal aspects of the work to lead the viewer through the story. When people look at my paintings, I want them to see something familiar and personal to them, something that speaks to their own hidden stories.

Her Course is Set by Cat Delett

Her Course is Set

DO: I especially like how you sometimes insert word/phrases into your art. How did you begin doing that? What were your influences in that approach?

CD: One day, my father was cleaning out some things from his house. He gave me a stack of old LIFE magazines from the 1960’s. The headlines and pull quotes caught my attention. Phrases like “It seemed darkly possible that chaos would descend” and “Her Course Is Set” intrigued and inspired me. I had the idea to juxtapose the words with songbirds, because it had an appealing incongruity. That led to me using my mothers very old copy of A Child’s History of England by Dickens, and her copy of The Yearling which she had used as a teacher. These pieces all have a special place for me because I was able to repurpose books that belonged to my mother and turn them into art that now hangs all around the country. Sometimes I write the words on the painting rather than using printed materials. It depends on the piece. Although I can’t point to specific influences, I’m sure coming from a graphic design background, constantly absorbing art and digesting books, and being obsessed with music lyrics had a large impact on my approach to creating art.

All I Really Know by Cat Delett

All I Really Know

DO: You’ve mentioned in your bio that your art tends to be personal in nature. This might be an annoying question, but I’m going to ask it anyway: Do you feel like your art is cathartic?

I believe being creative in any way is cathartic, whether or not the end result has personal meaning, and everyone should find a creative outlet. Most of my paintings do have a personal connection, pieces of my own story. I have a personal lexicon that finds its way into what I create, and I can’t imagine creating art any other way. I think the best paintings make you feel something and if you aren’t putting something personal into it, how can you get feeling out of it?

DO: What art and literature have in common these days is it can be difficult to make a living at it. As somebody who works for an arts nonprofit and is familiar with the “business” of art, what do you think are some of the solutions to this predicament? Do you think “community” plays a part? If so, how much? (I guess that’s kind of two questions in one.)

CD: This is a question that comes up all the time among my circle of creative friends. Most artists and writers I know have more than one gig. I think it’s all about creating a balance of work that encompasses both your “passion work” and your “bread-and-butter work.” A part-time job or freelance work, either as a creative or something completely different, often funds the passion part.

I think community plays a role in art from multiple sides. Within the community of artists, I think it’s important that we support and lift each other up. There is room for everyone, and artists should celebrate each other’s wins rather than feel competitive. The community around the artists needs to support us because otherwise we can’t create. This doesn’t just mean buying, it also means sharing information about your favorite creatives and showing up at openings and events, even if you can’t buy.

Backing up even farther, there is also the larger community, who needs to remember the importance of creativity in daily life. Making sure there are spaces for people to create and share their work with the community is so very important, and not just people who identify as artists, writers, or performers. Everyone should experience the opportunity to be creative. It is good for individual mental and physical health and it’s good for the collective health of neighborhoods. This is why recently I’ve gotten more involved in creative placemaking — and if I start talking about that we’ll be here all day….

DO: I should end on something light: What was your favorite TV show growing up? I guess I had lots, and one of them was The Monkees, which sort of had a resurgence during my childhood. Do you think TV has influenced you artistically? There’s definitely some part of the Monkees in my writing.

Hideously Dull by Cat DelettCD: Hmmm… I can’t say I had a favorite TV show growing up, it was more about the experience of watching TV. My dad would come home and, because he had back problems, he’d lie on the floor watching TV on these special wedge-shaped pillows. My favorite part of the day would be lying next to him watching whatever he was watching. Do I think TV has influenced me artistically? I think everyone is influenced by their entire sphere of experience, so yes, probably TV (and pop culture) has influenced me, but so have books, art, music, the people who surround me, and all my collective experiences in the world, including this one. Thank you for the opportunity to interact with you and Atticus Review!

 




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Atticus Review is a weekly online journal that publishes stories, poems, flash prose, creative nonfiction, mixed media, book reviews, and other genre-busting words of wisdom and interactive literary whimsy.

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