Abstract artist Catie Radney creates a lot of figures. Asked if she knows the people in her paintings, she says she only recognizes them later after the painting is complete. “I don’t recognize the figures when I start. But once the painting is finished and some time has passed, I encounter the painting again and I instinctively know what the figures represent. It is my story. I see the emotions and what the figures represent—and I see my struggles. It can be painful sometimes, but good or bad, I learn something about myself.”
A busy mom of 3 and full-time painter, Radney graduated from the University of Alabama and apprenticed with celebrated Alabama artist Hugh Williams. She attributes her growth as an artist to her time with this esteemed teacher/mentor. But it’s her dedication to her craft and her relentless pursuit of her passion that keep her in the studio producing outstanding works of color, shape and form.
Radney uses a kaleidoscope of colors that she lays down on the surface first. “I never like to limit the number of colors I use,” she says. “When I’m happy with the combination of colors, I begin to look at the painting in small sections. I never look at the painting as whole.” She explains this is why she is often surprised by the end result as she has not been focusing on the larger composition, but on the vignettes. “When I look at smaller sections, that’s when the stories start to emerge. As I pursue these stories, figures begin to reveal themselves. That’s when I reimagine the surface subtracting color by adding a solid. Sometimes the process can become trance-like, and I end up chasing shape after shape. That’s why knowing when the painting is complete is so hard. It’s a struggle to let go of these figures and I can sometimes get lost in a piece. I wish I had the guts to leave them sooner. When I do have the confidence to leave them, those are the best ones.”
“My first job was teaching art in the school system. I did not have any art training, but I loved my class and was excited about the challenge. I only taught for a few years before I left to raise babies. I had a natural talent for painting and color. But that only gets you so far and you have to work hard and study. I had a chip on my shoulder about not being good enough, so I set out to study my butt off and took every class, read every book, traveled and painted. I tried all different styles going through the journey that artists go through: painting children, flowers, landscapes –lots of pretty paintings, and then selling them.”
Then I met my mentor Hugh Williams. He took me under his wing and taught me everything, and I saw the entire world with different eyes. I traveled with him to Italy several times to paint.” Those trips to Italy began her love of travel, and today she admits her greatest extravagance has become the traveling.
Her appreciation of her mentor’s contributions is always close at hand. “His critiques could be harsh, but that’s how I learn. I am my own worst critic. But when he gave me a compliment, I felt great!”
“SHIFTING STILL” • Acrylic on Board • When asked about her favorite piece, she picked this one—a piece she had courage to walk away from.
Art as Healing
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder after graduating from college, she found studio time to be the best way of expending her extra energy. Her drive keeps her painting every day, and the studio where she paints has also taken on a creative character of its own. Her workspace houses a collection of treasures as unique as her paintings, and maybe the artist herself.
Maintaining healthy work habits takes effort. Radney works on 8-10 paintings at a time, and also gives herself smaller paper assignments each day in addition to keeping journals. Sharing how she copes with this diagnosis gives her a sense that she might help others who struggle to find direction. After all, “painting has saved my life,” she says.