A winner of our ‘This Difference’ bookmark competition last year, we visited Violet’s East London studio and discussed her inspirations, motivations and her nostalgia for the Austrian mountains that surrounded her growing up.
Deeply personal, Violet Frances Cato’s works use painting, drawing, video, sculpture, and installation to explore her varied thoughts. Often about isolation, alienation, and other autobiographical issues, she uses recurring shapes and themes to link both her experience of caring for a disabled child, and memories from her childhood in Austria.
We met up with Violet in her East London home where she lives and works:
Where did you grow up and how do you think it’s affected your work?
I grew up in Austria and I think the landscape is still very much in my mind. Especially since I don’t live there anymore, I think I’ve romanticised it over the years. It has the most beautiful countryside and mountains; I clearly remember them from my childhood. In my work I often subconsciously reference mountains, or things piled high, and I think that’s my memories of the Austrian mountains coming through.
When did you move to London?
When I was 19. I came over to work as a waitress and while I was here, I got into art and studied my degree.
Can you give me a brief overview of what your art is about, what you try to convey in your artworks?
Now I’ve got a lot of work to look back on, it’s hard to see a common thread of one thing that my work is about. I’ve always found it hard to pin myself to one thing that I should represent. I think the closest I could define it as would be ‘a search’. A light, or a searching for something that doesn’t exist in this world so you can’t really pinpoint it. It’s trying to capture a feeling, a certain moment of longing.
What do you think motivates you to create your work?
If I have the time, my art is all I want to do. There’s nothing else that I would prefer to do. I guess my motivation is a need to express.
You live and work in London, to what extent does this city affect your artwork?
Whenever I come back to London, I feel like a weight has been lifted off me. In Germany and Austria, it feels heavy to me, whereas here I feel free. I don’t know if that’s because it’s a city or because it’s an island, but I feel like I can breathe again whenever I’m in London.
You’ve said in the past that you invite your audience to question what is ‘good art’ and what is ‘bad art’, why do you like pushing this line, and what is good art and bad art to you?
The thing with the culture of exhibiting is there’s this huge pressure that young artists feel, like they must show their work. This means that what ends up in galleries is not necessarily the best thing that these people are making. What I’m now trying to do is just look at myself and what I want to make, without any outside influences.
How do you think we can step out of this mindset of creating under pressure? How would you encourage someone to do that?
For me, I used to spend so much time looking and applying for things, I even found myself making things just for certain applications which is totally the wrong way. Now I don’t apply for anything and forget about my CV. After the exhibitions I’ve done I’m not sure how important they really were, the only thing that’s important is you and your relationship to your work. That mindset really helped me.
Particularly in this age of social media, where people feel so much pressure to share their work and be in exhibitions and galleries and constantly appear busy and productive. I wonder if they would have been developing their work in a different style or pushing their work to new place had it not been for this pressure and distraction.
Your work is often quite surreal, where does this come from?
Maybe it’s because it’s meaning is so difficult to grasp, I’m not even sure what it is that I’m trying to express. Sometimes it’s really sad and melancholic, and at other times it’s quite comical; I like flipping between the two combinations.
Who are your biggest artistic influences?
Philip Guston, Cy Twombly, Basquiat. I love their work but don’t look to them as influences. I’ve been very into William Kentridge’s charcoal work recently, I like how he describes his process.
How has your artistic style developed over time?
I had no artistic education in Austria, so I’m proud of how my drawing skills have developed over the years.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Sometimes I see people on the street and think I’d love to draw them. Mostly I’m inspired by things I see, things that get absorbed and then come out of my imagination much later.
Where is your sanctuary? (Either real or imagined)
It’s an empty space. There’s nothing there, it’s quiet and there’s no sound. A vacuum.
What are your artistic plans for the rest of this year, do you have anything lined up that you can share with us?
I have the group exhibition with you for This Difference in September. Other than that, I’m focusing on getting closer to my own work.
What are your hopes for the future? (both artistic and otherwise)
Because I’ve let go of the whole commercial pressure aspect, I aim to become obsessed with my work, absorbed in my own process and my art.
We love the bookmark you created for our competition, could you tell us a bit more about the thought process behind your design and what it means to you?
At the time I saw the ad for your competition, I was struggling with my own work and also with difficulties with my daughter’s disability. I kept looking at myself and how I am different and realised that’s okay. I think the frustration comes from trying to be like other people, comparing myself and my life to others. I created this video featuring a mechanical toy dinosaur, I made a dress for it with printed diamonds. The bookmark is a still from this video.