Eyes follow you from behind a slit in a translucent sheet. A tear, loosely sewn, cuts across an image. A nose emerges, and elsewhere faces float in repose, softened and semi-hidden. Overlays, cuts, and stitches in the smoky surface create a game of hide and seek. Perhaps we’ve caught someone mid-dream, but who? The person in the portrait or the artist herself?
The photographic work of Cathy Cone plays with consciousness. Images shift, twist, and transform in her studio, their depths revealed through the artist’s material interventions. In her recent series, Apparent Close-Up, she combines portraiture, found imagery, paint, vellum, and thread. The resulting prints dance along the edge of a threshold, reeling between the known and unknown, between visibility and obscurity. Doubling abounds in these images as if hinting at the world of dreams and all that lurks below the surface. The portraits force the viewer to question what they are searching for and what form of intimacy they may desire in the act of looking.
Using the photogravure process, Cone’s images retain an aura of otherworldliness. The tonal quality is velvety, one might even say sensual, adding a physical form to the dreamlike compositions. Photogravure, a process in which a photographic image is etched into a copper plate, provides a wide array of tones to the resulting impressions. The artist began to play with the process during a residency, finding her own intimate approach to the technique.
“I began by making portraits with my camera. The gravure plates are covered with a protective sheet similar in color to vellum. Immediately this covering became the material that guided my process,” Cone explains. “I began cutting the vellum and photographing through it. I re-photographed some of the gravures that were collaged with source material I found at a local antique shop. I also used clay paint on some of the printed plates before exposing them.”
Cone works in an expanded form of photography, bringing in other materials, and showing her hand in the cuts and folds that create three-dimensional space brimming with mystery and enigma, adding an element of surrealism to the work. From her first experiments with a Diana camera, whose penchant for light leaks lends itself to soft, Pictorialist exposures, the artist has pursued a personal approach to surrealism, explaining, “I’ve been interested in mysticism and alternative ideas in many different modalities.” She cites the work of Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Leonora Carrington, Man Ray, and Miro as creative influences.
Cone’s title comes from her long-term study of tai chi. Apparent Close-up, Cone explains, is a tai chi term where “the notion is to walk focusing on the horizon line with the idea that the closer one gets the further it recedes.” The artist has referred to her studio practice as one of response and translation. Drawn to images that charge her with surprise at first glance, she then takes them back to her studio and attempts to translate this feeling, responding directly to it, constructing what she knows in order to find out what she doesn’t. Much like the walk to the horizon, the work itself is movement, approaching and following, discovering and going ever-forward towards the future.