Thursday, February 02, 2017

Arms Race Catharine MacTavish

catharine mactavish arms race 1984 detail
I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario last week.
The most interesting piece for me was this painting by Toronto artist Catherine MacTavish.
I liked the scale of it.
I liked the layers of acrylic paint over and under beads.
I liked the slashes that are used as if drawn marks.
catharine mactavish arms race 1984 acrylic, glass and plastic beads, metal grommets
The painting dates from the mid 80's and I assume that the title refers to the nuclear arms race of that period of history.

The bead-marks are intuitive yet obsessive.  They attract yet repulse.
I yearn to touch them, even pick at them but they look as if they might rub away.

I'm afraid of that.
catharine mactavish arms race collection of Art Gallery of Ontario
It's white like a piece of paper, only extra large.
A cosmic scale.
arms race detail of acrylic and bead painting by Catherine MacTavish
It's hard to find information about this artist but there are several paragraphs on the Paul Petro gallery web site - here and here.

From these I learned that Catharine MacTavish studied at Queens University in Montreal and then at York University in Toronto during the early 70's and that she then exhibited at both artist-run and public galleries.  I learned that her work is included in important public collections, (the Canada Council Art Bank and the AGO) and that she acquired a Masters degree in 2005.  I learned that although she removed herself from the art scene during the late 80's she continued to make art.

"Each piece entails a slow conceptual and technical percolation, she produces one dense painting every two or three years."  Paul Petro. 


  1. Viewing this is serving to antidote the effect of too much tumult chattering out of our Nations capital of late. It's wonderful work, and I too love the scale, It becomes an environment. How could a piece about the Nuclear Arms race be calming? Yet, it is.

  2. I have been thinking about this painting some more.

    These are fearful times, it's hard for artists to believe in ourselves and our work - I mean believing that it is important enough to keep making art when so much trouble is rising up in the larger world.

    This painting was made during the time period of the nuclear stand offs of the late cold war was a healing thing for the artist to make. It took her years. I believe that her art-making got her through, and I believe that the resulting painting is helping us now, thirty years later, to cope because it makes us realize that although there are hard times, humanity does prevail. x

  3. You're absolutely right Judy, humanity and art prevails at the end. Thanks for showcasing this MacTavish piece. It's beautiful.


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx