Cathy Wilkes



Not on display

Cathy Wilkes born 1966
Oil paint and ceramic saucer on canvas
Support: 255 × 205 mm
Purchased 2014


Untitled 2005 is a portrait-format painting by the Northern Irish artist Cathy Wilkes. A painted saucer is attached to the canvas, occupying the upper two thirds of the work. Blotted colours appear on the surface of the saucer, as if it has been used as a painter’s palette, and these are juxtaposed with three red zig-zag lines that cross it vertically and diagonally. In the area below the saucer the canvas has been punctured six times in two regular horizontal rows of three holes each. To the right of the punctures is a solid green globular shape with further patches of paint laid onto in a lighter green. At the centre of the bottom part of the composition, overlapping slightly with the lower row of puncture holes, is an almost circular lilac shape that appears to have been formed by drawing diluted paint across the canvas with fingers. Owing to their shape, colour and proximity to an item of kitchen crockery, the shapes are strongly reminiscent of fruit, perhaps a pear and a plum. The diminutive size of the work necessitates close examination, while the three-dimensional nature of both the saucer and puncture-holes brings the work beyond the flat plane of the canvas.

Wilkes works in sculpture and installation as well as painting, at times including paintings within her larger-scale installations – hanging on the wall, lying flat on a table, plinth or on the floor, and sometimes attached to other objects such as mannequins. Indeed, around 2003 she began producing painted works only for inclusion in larger installations: ‘At that time I wasn’t considering them as paintings; they were compositions that allowed tangential, less-focused aspects to enter into my work as it drew together; they didn’t have their own cosmos.’ (Wilkes quoted in Aspen Art Museum 2011, p.2.) Some of her paintings, like Untitled 2005, incorporate sculptural or collaged elements, illustrating the close relationship between her installations and paintings. Wilkes recognises the geometric fascination of these collaged elements: ‘The paintings with objects are very clearly concerned with geometry. Math is a way to calculate unknown distances or relations that are inconceivable in other ways. Geometry is an intuitive, sensorial language.’ (Quoted in Aspen Art Museum 2011, p.2.)

Untitled 2005 is one of a number of Wilkes’s painted works which employ the saucer as a motif, naturally identifying this with a number of her contemporaneous and later installations. She’s Pregnant Again 2005 (Arts Council Collection, UK) includes a similar painting, with a saucer on a background of painted shapes; the related work Non Verbal 2005 (The Modern Institute, Glasgow) includes a similarly sized painted canvas obscuring the face of mannequin and saucers painted with the same diagonal zig-zags on the floor. The interpretative possibilities thrown up by Wilkes’s installations are explorative and virtually endless, inviting free association of thought rather than the drawing of conclusions. However, the inclusion of the saucer painting in She’s Pregnant Again, an installation that also includes a high-tech pram, combined with the implicit domesticity of crockery and fruit, might perhaps suggest an alignment between saucer paintings like Untitled and ideas of maternity and motherhood.

Further reading
Will Bradley, ‘Quiet Radical’, Untitled, Summer 2001, pp.4–6.
Cathy Wilkes, exhibition catalogue, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh 2011.
Cathy Wilkes, exhibition catalogue, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen 2011.

Arthur Goodwin
September 2018

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Display caption

Wilkes’s paintings with objects are often concerned with geometry. She says ‘Objects come as part of a composition. There is tension; the relations between the object, the paint, the surface, all that… Geometry is an intuitive, sensorial language.’ The saucer, used here as a painting palette, is a recurring object in Wilkes’s paintings, bringing into the work an abstract geometrical form as well as an everyday domestic object.

Gallery label, August 2018

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