Cathy Abraham


Counting forms a fundamental part of my artistic practice, paying special attention to the numbers 9,18, and 36. I work systematically to unlock surface meaning in the search for a deeper understanding of the purpose of the everyday. My practice is grounded in a belief in the links between art and science; spiritual practice and in reincarnation; and the search for ways of shifting perspectives. I count brush marks as a form of meditation, allowing the mark of the brush to leave a visual trace as ghosts do.
Cathy lives and works in Cape Town.

Much of my work is spatiotemporal, meaning that it belongs to both time and space. Time in that it is allegorical, lamenting past traumas or occurrences; and space in that these ungraspable yet palpable forces continue to occupy tangible physical and emotional space in the present. I see this as a sensuous entanglement of existence simultaneously forming a visible metaphor for life in all its ungraspable transcendence.

I use repetitive processes, beginning with a small mark and subsequently grow them into larger works. Using drawing, either with a pen or pastel, as well as oil paint I repeatedly form the same mark; the works ultimately form themselves. My commitment is planted in three series which are evolving over time: scales, ripple-effects and ghostings. Together these form part of an ongoing body of work using the technique of systematic repetition as an underlying structure – Repetition in the form of counting and employing particular number combinations; and repeating the same marks to the rhythm of those counts. I have chosen the numbers 11, 13, 18 and 36 to form the basis for these repeated actions. Each of these numbers imbue significant connotations.

The scale drawings began as a reference to fish scales in an ode for those endangered and already extinct fish from our oceans. However, through the year long process of drawing or practicing scales, these works have come to represent concerns of a changeable ecology, disappearing resources and interconnectedness. As I ‘scaled up’, I began to notice that no matter how I tried to create uniformity by mimicking a machine-like repetition of drawing scales, the irregularity of my hand would make a visible impression. This impression is what created the illusion of waves and ripples.

Using a curve or a wave as a starting point, the pastel drawings are stirred by the sense of movement in water and the concurrent, often colliding shapes that emerge. Titled, causation, this series is pointing to the moment of cause and the resulting consequences, highlighting outcomes unintended.

The ‘ghostings’ are composed from an overlapping series of brushmarks. At first laden with paint the brush begins to make its mark yet through the sequence of strokes, its colour diminishes until there is only an unstable, fragmented residue which I have called ‘ghosting’. While events or wounded historical experiences may remain locked in the past, their inaccessibility becomes manifest through the meditative process of painting and drawing. Intergenerational trauma both psychological and ecological has a haunting force. These brushmarks represent such experiences, both acknowledging their impact and liberating them from their cause.

I cannot be sure what residues of ghostliness haunt and inspire me, as there are so many events I would like to forget, yet I remain aware of these experiences and their after-effects. By repeatedly drawing or painting the seemingly same mark, I am hoping to find expression for the inexpressible, bringing into existence that which is intangible yet felt.

Date & country of birth: 1 December 1968, South Africa

Country of residence: South Africa

Solo Exhibitions
2022 Cubicle series, Evererard Read gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
2021 Featured artist Turbine Art Fair, Johannesburg, South Africa
2021 The abyss of deep time, The Fourth, Cape Town, South Africa
2019 A Deeper Kind of Nothing and The Monument, Gallery Glen Carlou
2018 A Deeper Kind of Nothing, Michaelis Galleries, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.
2013 Undying Entanglement, South African Jewish Museum, Cape Town, South Africa.
2012 Trace, In Toto Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa.
2011 Essence, The White House, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa.
2010 Memory Stains, IBI Art Alliance Francaise, Johannesburg, South Africa.
2009 Stripped, IBI Art Alliance Francaise, Johannesburg, South Africa.
2008 Naked, Joao Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa.

Selected Group Exhibitions
2021 Dining with ghosts at House Party, The Fourth, Cape Town
2021 Winter show, Gallery Gallery, Stanley Rd, Johannesburg
2019 Conversations with Irma, Irma Stern Museum, curated by Christopher Peter
2016 The Shape of Nothing, Michaelis Graduate Show, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa. The Spirit of Stern, curated by Michael Chandler, Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town, South Africa. The Space Between, curated by Mari Macdonald, South African Jewish Museum, Cape Town, South Africa.
2015 Art/Out of the Ordinary, curated by Marilyn Martin, Association of Visual Arts (AVA), Cape Town, South Africa. Art on Paper VI, curated by Cheryl Rumbak, Kalk Bay Modern, Cape Town, South Africa.
2014 Seeking Eden, curated by Margie Murgatroyd, Casa Labia, Cape Town, South Africa.
2013 My Mother’s Garden, Arts on Main, Johannesburg, South Africa. In Good Company, curated by Michael Chandler, Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town, South Africa.
2011 Domestic Departures, The Forge, Cape Town, South Africa.
2009 The Great South African Nude, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa. Spring Art Fair, SMAC Gallery, Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Press & Publications
Speakes, O. 2020. Breathing Space: Cathy Abraham’s A Deeper Kind of Nothing. Artthrob
Cape Talk Radio interview with Pippa Hudson
Jolly, L. 2013. Complete Immersion: Honouring opposite but entangled forces of feminism through art. Cape Times. 2 October: 11.

Teaching 2017 – 2018 assisted Virginia Mackenny professor of painting at Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT


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