What Catherine Higham’s new series can tell us about the changing nature of Sheffield.

15 February 2018

A local artist says her new exhibition reflects on the unique history Sheffield is choosing to forget.

Catherine Higham is a painter whose fascination with landscape as an artform started on a trip to Boggle Hole, near Whitby, 20 years ago. Now an established artist and landscape architect, with exhibitions up and down the country, Catherine unveiled her latest collection Gone at the Cupola Gallery last week.

Catherine creates these abstract landscapes in two self-titled styles. Deliberate Action or the manual application of pencil and pen marks, and poured paint or Serendipity allowing letting paint run without interference causing the resulting artwork to be ‘simply a record of its own making.’

Describing the exhibition as exploring “natural and artificial environments in flux, obscured or on the edge of collapse,” Sheffield’s edgeland landscapes provided a lot of inspiration.

The natural and synthetic landscape of Sheffield has made significant leaps since she started working in the 90’s.  On some debates Catherine holds a firm opinion. As a landscape architect she’s concerned with creating positive outdoor public spaces, a viewpoint under siege as evident in the 5,000 trees felled under the council’s ‘Streets Ahead’ scheme. “Mature existing trees are essential for their spatial and structural qualities, for shade, defining boundaries, marking important thresholds and historic events… the removal of a healthy tree which has decades of life left for the sake of a slightly wonky kerbstone or pavement is surely unwarranted.

However some changes come with their positives and negatives. When Catherine lived in Upperthorpe 15 years ago the “grittiness of Kelham Island with it’s derelict factories, layers of detritus and dark underbelly was part of its appeal, as well as the large empty warehouses which offered cheap rent for art and music studios.”  Although she doesn’t feel the same aggression to Kelham Island regeneration schemes as other locals who’ve opted to spray paint “No more Yuppies” on the walls of Russell Street. “Places like this are never static and cannot be wrapped in cotton wool; they are continually shifting in form and use.   Artwork in my current exhibition explores these types of transient environments; the challenge is how to express them – perhaps the images can only be momentary snap-shots.”   

Catherine doesn’t feel lost in the changes her city has made. She embraces them and translates them onto canvas in her unique expressionist style. “I leave empty space intentionally so viewers can fill in the gaps, complete the work.  I like the idea of making simple, quiet pictures when we are constantly bombarded with information and visual clutter on social media, in email inboxes etc… so I suppose I hope this exhibition offers a moment of calm or stillness.

Gone is on exhibition at the Cupola Gallery on Middlewood Road until the 10th of March.


You can reach Catherine for commissions at http://www.cjhigham.co.uk/


Written by Nathan Makalena

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