A Colour Study

Catherine White

London based artist and interior designer Catherine White, who was born and raised in Bermuda, credits “looking back from afar” with bestowing her a unique perspective on our island’s natural beauty

Catherine worked for the renowned British architect Norman Foster – the mind behind The Gherkin, one of London’s most recognisable landmarks – before setting up her own studio ten years ago. The modernist approach of her design work is echoed in her art practice which translates Bermuda’s rich organic textures through a minimalist lens.

Originally intended as a reference for her interiors clients, Horseshoe Rock (Colour Study) is a working sample for the first in a series of Bermuda inspired rugs. Although not conceived as an artwork, the study, in which the jagged layers of limestone are reduced to striking bands of colour, holds its own in Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape, the rich texture inviting the viewer to take a closer look. 

We caught up with Catherine to discuss how she turned a photograph, taken on a morning beach walk, into an eye-catching rug and how her work aims to “delve into the essence of the island.”

Clockwise from top left: Leafy Screens by Marion Watlington-Vorley, 2000. Water colour on paper; In My Life #12 by Catherine Lapsley, 2015. Acrylic on canvas; Horseshoe Rock (Colour Study), by Catherine White, 2012-2016. Tibetan brash wool; Untitled by Otto Trott, c.2005. Oil on canvas.

BNG: The design was inspired by a walk along Horseshoe Bay. Could you please tell us about this?

CW: Walking along the coast and secluded beaches, I happened upon a rock which had quite a few different colours, which had interesting colour adjacencies.  I was really inspired by these pairings that you find in nature that you wouldn’t necessarily think to put together.  The vibrancy of the algaes and the contrast of the oxidised limestone strata. I thought these colours would make a beautiful rug, so decided to develop further.  

A reference photograph of the rocks which inspired the design.

BNG: The colours are inspired by the natural tones found in the limestone rocks at Horseshoe Beach. How did you go about matching these? 

CW: I sketched out the concept, and then chose colours I thought most representative of the essence of each colour band. The negative space of “white” in these pieces is the development of a technique of rendering sketches in my early interior design practice. Scanning in a line drawing, and then filling in the negative space into blocks of colour to render the sketch. I always liked the aesthetic of removing the dark sketch lines and letting the planes of colour speak for themselves, further abstracting the drawing. In this instance it allows the colours to have their own space, whilst retaining a relationship with the original rock.

I created an initial sketch using Photoshop, and then when developing the actual rugs with the suppliers, I chose commercially dyed colour reference “poms” for one version, which were extremely close to the colour match on the sketch. For another version, I was much more limited in colour due to the technique of dying the wool with natural dyes. So I diverted a bit from the original, and chose colours which worked together to create the essence of the piece, and also choosing silks to accentuate the deep red colour as well as the solid black.  

Horseshoe Rock rug by Catherine White.

BNG: The piece on display in Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape is in fact a colour study for a (much larger) rug. Could you please explain the purpose of this swatch in developing the rug?

CW: This piece is a working sample. Intended as a reference for designers and clients, there is a scale sample of what I consider an interesting portion of the rug, showing the thickness of the lines, and texture of the rug. The squares alongside the pattern are colour references for the rest of the design which enables the specifier to colour match other elements of the intended installed space. 

BNG: It was never intended to be an artwork yet it perfectly encapsulates Line, Shape & Form, one of the sections in Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape. How does it feel to see it displayed alongside the other works in the exhibition?

CW: I feel very honoured! I am so grateful that through technology I can visit the exhibition and see the other works. Such a beautiful range of techniques. I also think design has a real place in the oeuvre of “art”, so I am proud to be able to represent that. My work intends to evoke a feeling and for me personally, a memory, not only to provide something that is aesthetically pleasing. 

The rug at Blackburne Place, home to James and Katie Berry.

BNG: Horseshoe Rock was the first rug that you produced. Could you please talk us through the process?

CW: It was quite a few years from concept (maybe 3?) to even start developing the first samples. I was in New York and always knew I wanted to work with ABC Carpet and Home as they have such a vast collection and work with designers all over the world. I popped into their showroom on Broadway and started the process. Alongside that process I worked with a supplier in the UK on another version which is more graphic and can be easily modified to different colour palettes. I’ve already created a few versions of the original piece as it lends itself to customisation.

BNG: You have also produced prints inspired by the same design. Which came first, the rug or the print? How did the two mediums feed into the design? 

CW: The print came first. Whilst developing the concept, it struck me that the design would look wonderful as a screenprint. Thinking along the lines of accessibility, affordability and sustainability, I decided to create giclee print. This way I would not be limited on colours, could create an archival piece of art on beautiful stock, whilst not “over” printing, and storing excess prints that may not sell immediately. This also kept the cost down as keeping the colours to a minimum, in hopes that the work would be accessible to more people.

Horseshoe by Catherine White, Giclée print on Hahnemuhle Museum Etching paper.

BNG: You have designed a couple of different rugs, each one inspired by abstract details found in the Bermuda landscape. Have you always examined and abstracted the natural world around you in this way?

CW: I have always appreciated the natural forms of Bermuda and the colours, but I suppose the reflection on these has become more advanced from about 2000 onwards as I now spend the majority of my time in London, UK. I especially like delving into the details as you call it, or essence of the island, so as to evoke a feeling, emotion or memory.

Find out more about Catherine White here