Editor's Pick: Catherine Tomkins - A Night Owl Painting the City

Enter the imaginary world of Irish painter Catherine Tomkins as she is inspired from her second home, dreamy and spiritual Hanoi, to the canvas in her latest solo exhibition: "Companion".
December 09, 2022 | 12:45

Irish expat Catherine Tomkins is leaving Hanoi an extraordinary gift; a heartfelt exhibition inspired by the Vietnamese capital. With its colorful residents and a blooming art community, Hanoi held a special place in Catherine's heart, as if the city itself was a close companion hence the name of the exhibition.

Editor's Pick: Catherine Tomkins - A Night Owl Who Paints the City
With "Companion", Catherine wishes to express her love for Hanoi's peaceful nature and its special connection with the ancestors who are always with us in spirit.(Photo: CHAU & CO Gallery)

"Companion" is an on-going exhibition at CHAU & CO gallery hosted by Irish artist Catherine Tomkins.

Editor's Pick: Catherine Tomkins - A Night Owl Who Paints the City

Catherine Tomkins (Photo: CHAU & CO Gallery)

Catherine graduated from the Crawford School of Fine Art with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art, in 2010.

Her main medium is oil painting, though not exclusively. She also works with water-based materials, watercolors, gouache, Indian ink on paper and glass.

The Irish artist explores ideas of identity such as the female form, animals, skeletal structures, and narrative based scenes.

Earlier this year, Catherine took part in “The 5th Hanoi Art Connecting” held at Vincom Center for Contemporary Art (VCCA), a week long workshop. Later on, her work was featured in a exhibition.

She has also exhibited in other group shows this year here in Hanoi.

To capture playful yet peaceful characteristics of Hanoi, Catherine uses oil and water-based materials with a soft color palette. Urban colors dominate her canvases, namely blues and pinks with the addition of muted grays, reds, and yellows. The series shows many different sides of the capital city, mostly from the artist's imagination, and are up to the viewers' interpretation.

Speaking about the inspiration to switch from a darker color palette from previous collections to a lighter one, Catherine explained that it was a stylish choice with layers of meanings.

The first layer, the colors to represent the dream-like, spiritual atmosphere of the city. The art is reminiscent of morning mists over one of the city's many lakes. Several animalistic shapes can be made out although not easily identified. Think of it as watching the clouds inside of an art gallery.

Editor's Pick: Catherine Tomkins - A Night Owl Who Paints the City
The color pallete gives off the soft and hazy feel, a dream-like atmosphere like Hanoi’s lake view on a misty morning (Photo courtesy of Catherine Tomkins).

The animal subjects come in odd shapes, sometimes enlarged right in the middle, sometimes curved to the side. While there is no method to Catherine's madness, the rosy coloring invokes a calm and peaceful mood. As for the animal figures, Catherine, a student of history, invites people to read into the symbols that these animals represent in different cultures, in different periods of time through art.

Catherine also highlights the relationship between human and nature, human and other creatures, with a profound message of peace and stability.

For instant, in a piece titled "Owl Song", the owl means different things in different cultures such as death but also wisdom and protection. Doves means peace, and the position of two animals represents the balance between life and death. As the doves and owls friends or foes? That is for the viewer to decide.

Editor's Pick: Catherine Tomkins - A Night Owl Who Paints the City
A great source of inspiration that came to Catherine while in Vietnam was her own cat. This companionship that was developed between the two seems so unbreakable, Catherine often referred to her cat as “her muse” (Photo courtesy of Catherine Tomkins).

"Companion" is also Catherine's chance to honor Hanoi and all its unique traits. During her eight years in Hanoi, Catherine learned about the ancestor worship rite from the Vietnamese landlords or friends. Fascinated by this special practice, Catherine created her own small but beautiful altar to commune with her Irish ancestors.

This connection with the spiritual past gives Catherine's work a distinct, ghostly quality. However, the figures appear to be comforting rather than frightening, much like the spirits of ancient Hanoians felt throughout the capital.

Editor's Pick: Catherine Tomkins - A Night Owl Who Paints the City
Before leaving for Estonia, Europe's most digitalized nation, Catherine takes an artistic trip to honor the past, the ancestors who led the ways for younger generation (Photo courtesy of Catherine Tomkins).

Looking at Catherine's paintings is akin to peering into the choppy waters of West Lake or the misty, wintry mornings of Hanoi. Thanks to her artistic eyes, Catherine gives shape to a world obscuring the immensity of city life.

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