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

2020 Bermuda Biennial

The Haze Of Memory

Catherine White

Catherine White describes her 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork as a prologue to her life. The piece was inspired by a roll of undeveloped film that she found shortly after the death of her father. In developing the film, Catherine discovered a series of portraits of family and friends that her father had taken before she was born. The resulting insight into a day she never knew, yet longed for, led her to explore the notion of remembrance.

In Figment, portraits of Catherine’s father and mother, both discovered on that fateful roll of film, are printed onto a sheet of aluminium substrate. Hung at eye level, the result is an intimate experience that allows the viewer to join them in the frame. Whilst the reflection places the viewer in a time long gone, the coated surface of the material distorts the mirror image, mimicking the haze of memory.

Created as a way of re-connecting with her father, Figment is a quiet, emotive work, that simultaneously breaks down and puts up a barrier between the past and present. We caught up with Catherine, who lives in London where she works as an interior architect, to talk about the 2020 Bermuda Biennial and how her fine art practice strives to evoke the ephemeral nature of memory.

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Figment by Catherine White, 2020.
UV print on aluminium. 12 x 36 in.

BNG: Figment was inspired by a roll of undeveloped film your late father had taken before you were born. What was it like to discover these photographs?

CW: It was really exciting and also a bit overwhelming. I had three rolls of film that I found and after sending them off to a specialised photo processing firm only two were viable, and then they could only develop them in black and white, not colour.  I had no idea what would be on the film, so to find an entire roll of beautiful portraits of friends and family on a dreamy day out was a real gift. Seeing the world through my late father’s eyes was like being given an extra day with him. 

BNG: When and how did you start thinking about turning the photographs into an artwork?

CW: Immediately I knew I wanted to do something with them. I felt that they embodied a moment as a group, so how to best translate that to other people was an exciting challenge. It was probably a year or so before I started seriously exploring what to do with them.  I tend to let concepts sit a bit instead of forcing them. I have another piece I am developing from that series but in a much more intimate format. 

Catherine developed the film after her father died.

BNG: Could you please talk us through the process of creating Figment?

CW: Two of the photographs which resonated most with me were of my parents looking directly into the lens of the camera. Possibly the one of my father was taken by my mother? I felt as if there was a moment passing between them. I was looking for a way of capturing that moment and showing it in a way that would allow me to think on what they were thinking about. With families and children on the boat, perhaps their minds had turned to a family of their own.

I started by overlaying transparencies of the portraits to represent a combined thought. The strongest representation was simple; a family portrait without me in it, but that was complete when I stood in front of it. A figment of their imagination. A prologue to my story. 

BNG: You have in the past described your landscape works as “looking back from afar”. The same could be said for Figment. How does our memory of people and places alter them and how do you attempt to capture this in your work?  

CW: I often focus on details or moments. Pairing the concept down to its bare bones can help the essence of the memory increase in strength or resonance. Removing the noise and focusing on the moment or detail allows me to bring you to that memory. Being often away from Bermuda and my late father creates a perspective that allows for reflection.  

The film unearthed unseen photographs of her parents.

BNG: This is your first Bermuda Biennial. What does it mean to you to be included in the exhibition?

CW: It is an honour. I’ve grown up seeing the Biennial and admiring participating artists. This year is no different, although I am so sad I have not been able to visit in the flesh! 

BNG: What are you working on at the moment?

CW: I have a few pieces I am developing, again looking back.  My mother’s house is “home” and there is a certain sense of emotional safety when I look out of her windows and see her garden. I’m looking at ways of exploring that concept, capturing that emotion. 

Follow Catherine White at @c_white_art