Catherine Story

Blue Rosebud


Not on display

Catherine Story born 1968
Oil paint and sawdust on cardboard
Support: 875 × 640 mm
Purchased 2015


Blue Rosebud 2009 is a portrait-format painting in oil on cardboard by the British artist Catherine Story that depicts a blue-coloured swivel chair. The chair fills the painting, monumentalising and celebrating this homely piece of furniture. The painting is one of a small group of paintings that Story made of a beige swivel chair in her studio that she had been on the point of throwing away. In 2013 she explained how, having prevented herself from discarding it:

I saw it afresh from the back and I realised that the history of the chair, as well as the form itself, mirrored many of the stories that were in my mind. From the back it became an owl that I’d seen in the desert, and from the front it looked like a rosebud, so that it related to Citizen Kane and subconscious meanings. The swivel foot seemed to be many conflicting shapes, but the title [referring to two paintings in the group titled Big Foot] referred to a big peacemaker.
(‘Catherine Story in Conversation with Simon Grant’, in Tate Britain 2013, p.90.)

The subject of Story’s paintings can be located in the strangeness of the familiar and what happens when this is translated through painting. Her work attends to the way this strangeness affects the material or dimensions of an object, but also the way it might animate and transform a motif into something else.

In 2009, the year she painted Blue Rosebud, Story also created a body of work in response to a trip she had made the previous year to Monument Valley in Colorado. This work embodied her response to a landscape that had previously existed for her solely as representation and in her imagination as a backdrop for movies. Monument Valley is not only a landscape but a natural film set, and Story’s subsequent paintings and sculptures played with such ambiguities of subject. Her response to the features of this particular landscape and the architecture it contains marked a change in her practice, through which she allowed her interest in cinema to shape the artifice of her work. In particular, the filmic landscape suggested how within film, artifice and reality and imagination and memory can create images that are strange, disembodied and questionable yet materially actual. Her motifs became embodied presences – sometimes anthropomorphised – that can shift between different representational registers. As she explained in the 2013 interview quoted above, the outline of the swivel chair represents from one view the outline of a rosebud. But named as ‘rosebud’ in the work’s title, it also refers to the talisman in Orson Welles’s film Citizen Kane, thus communicating how emotion and related experience can be invested in objects. This titular double meaning occurs again in two of Story’s chair paintings named Big Foot, which both describes the chair’s appearance and suggests it as a place of peace after the Native American Sioux chief Big Foot.

The four other paintings of this subject – Rosebud, Red Rosebud, Big Foot (I) and Big Foot (II) (all 2009 and in private collections) – were painted on baking paper, which Story has described as a skin, organic and fragile. She has also noted its double relation to the heat of the desert as well as the domestic setting of her own childhood. The artist’s use of this material draws attention to a characteristic aspect of her work: the transformations she brings to bear on her subject motifs. These transformations reveal how Story’s paintings and sculptures are formed from a tension between the subject, the story or memory it might unlock for her, and what aspects of this are materially communicated through illusion and representation. For Story, Rosebud is at once a chair, a particular chair used in her studio, and a cypher for personal and collective memory; a memory born of an imagination informed by film. Unlike the other four paintings in this series, Blue Rosebud has not been painted on the fragile material of baking paper but on stiff cardboard. Instead of simply rendering the image in black oil paint (or, in the case of Red Rosebud, a thin wash of colour), here the blue paint of the chair has been mixed with sawdust to give it substance. This serves to emphasise the degree to which the painting is both an imagined image and a palpable thing, just as the image on the cinema’s silver screen appears real but is actually ephemeral and illusory.

Further reading
Catherine Story, Pylon, exhibition catalogue, Carl Freedman Gallery, London 2009.
Andrew Wilson (ed.), Painting Now: Five Contemporary Artists, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2013.

Andrew Wilson
May 2015

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