Los Angeles, California / United States
Cathy, you have a very interesting background! You are a former actress who later began documenting your experiences with photography. Tell us more about you and your journey into the art world (brief bio / history / backstory)?
My venture into the art world began when I was a child growing up in Minnesota. I attach my interest in photography to when I was 5 years old and gifted a Polaroid camera to help the time go by as I was bed bound and immobile in a full-body cast from a car accident.
I remember taking meaningless photographs as a way to vent my anger of being alone in a bed with no other forms of entertainment. A pack of Polaroids cost $20. My parents would keep feeding me this habit of consuming Polaroids to keep me sane. This was when I began to associate art and photography with pain and emotions. I naturally gravitated toward poetry and the connection of analogous interpretations of life through art.
I had always thought of art as a hobby when I was younger. I was raised in a corporate family, and art just wasn’t an option for a career path. Our family was transferred to Memphis just before I began high school. In my act of rebellion, I became a musician and fled to Los Angeles soon after graduating. I began acting as a way to make money to support my music career. Photography re-entered my life as a career during the Writer’s Guild strike in 2008. I got an amazing job as a nightlife photographer capturing celebrity events and fundraisers at the Playboy Mansion and raves in large venues. I ventured back into fine art photography and reconnected art with the poetry of life after taking a few classes at the former Julia Dean Photo Workshops, presently known as the Los Angeles Center of Photography.
You also started taking landscape and architectural photos of Hollywood at night. What inspired you to do that?
The “Studio Walls” series came from an analogous association with how guarded the actual Hollywood Sign is as well as how much of a struggle it is to actually break into Hollywood as an actress beyond smalls roles. I photographed Movie Studios around Los Angeles at night. The long exposures made the street lights turn in to stars. I overlaid photographs of rejection that surrounded the Hollywood Sign on top of these long exposures to express my feeling towards the Entertainment Industry. I have always thought that if I wanted to make it a big-time actress in Hollywood films, I first needed to break the law and touch the Hollywood Sign, which is surrounded by gates and has helicopters on patrol when you pass barriers.
Your subsequent work explores your own ancestry and the history of immigration in your immediate family. Could you please tell us more about that?
Yes, this series is called “Pilgrimage of Heritage”. This venture into researching my heritage began out of a lack of communication and distancing between my father and me. Growing up, I had heard stories of how my Sicilian ancestors immigrated to the United States. As a second-generation Sicilian-American, I only knew that there was a heated argument between family members, which resulted in half of the family moving to the US and the others staying in central Sicily. In this series, I spent a summer in Italy researching our genealogy and photographing everything. I met with a distant cousin who wondered what happened to the Immordinos that fled to the US. We swapped information. My distant cousins showed me around the town. I ended up making these images more of photo collages than a documentary because I wanted my own style to represent the mashing and merging of cultures. Through learning more about my paternal heritage, I began to understand my father’s backstory. I had never known my paternal grandfather. My grandmother didn’t mention too much about our heritage. It was interesting to learn that my grandfathers’ and grandmothers’ mothers were both sisters who married two brothers, and the only resulting child was my father. By learning about the past, I felt more connected to my own present.
You are a single mum to two children on the Spectrum. How did it change your personal and professional life?
Having children changes anyone’s life. My first son, Leo, has mild autism. If it weren’t for some repetitive stemming behaviors, I would say he was more along the ADD diagnoses with difficulty focusing on anything less interesting to him. Leo is doing well enough to attend a private school with very small classroom sizes, so he gets the attention he needs for schooling and can stay more focused. He is very high functioning.
My youngest son, Dino, was quite the challenge. The challenges with him started in utero. I was working on a review show at the Second City theater during the pregnancy. At six weeks gestation, I was put on bed rest from mild complications. Before he was born, I was hospitalized for two months. This resulted in the “Cry for Help” series. He met developmental milestones months after when he should have. Because of his delays, he had many appointments with specials, therapists and others to try and get him to catch up. Even though we started speech therapy at six months, he didn’t learn how to talk until he was four and a half years old.
It is harder to keep friends and maintain a career as an Entertainer with a special needs child unless there is a support system. I ultimately gave up being an actress. I focused more on working as a fine art photographer and less on trying to find portrait or event clients. I show in art fairs internationally and have to hire help to get the business side taken care of. Everything changed. It is not easy. I like the challenge and the struggle for the most part, except when it becomes overwhelming. While doing fine art photography, I could still pursue making and exhibiting work and being the mother my children need me to be. I wouldn’t say it is perfect, but we work through it. Dino was kicked out of 2 schools before I found a school for autistic kids. Now that Dino is almost 7, most of his behavior issues are manageable.
My personal life is still a work in progress. I began dating with the constant fear or insecurity of whether they will accept my children for who they are. It’s overwhelming like I have a secret I am hiding beyond the fact I am a single mother with kids. It is painful and emotional, and I recommend the experience for any artist needing fuel for their craft. The only time I ever really saw friends was at art openings and art fairs. That has all changed since the lockdown and pandemic. Through Dino’s Applied Behavior Analysis team, I have learned how to parent, reason, and connect with my children. It can be stressful and overwhelming, but I have become a master at internalizing it and just making more art to express my emotions.
You are also raising awareness about a condition called Toxemia based on your own experience. What is it?
Toxemia is also known as pre-eclampsia that can turn in to eclampsia. This is when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure, which can easily result in stroke and the loss of life for the pregnant woman and child. I had this with both pregnancies. I believe I was in my third trimester when this showed up with Leo. My Ex-husband was stressing me out constantly. It also didn’t help that our home was under construction, and the neighbors and the City were giving us a hard time negotiating our permits. I began having a feeling on the roof of my mouth, similar to when you eat ice cream too fast. I also had flashing lights in my vision. I thought nothing of it until I brought it up to my gynaecologist. He was very upset I didn’t tell him about this right away and rush to the nearest emergency room. I had no awareness of toxemia before this event. Thankfully nothing happened until after Leo was born. My pre-eclampsia turned in to eclampsia. I had a mild stroke and only had to have my blood pressure meds amped up. With Dino, the blood pressure issue crept back in during my two-month hospital stay. There was a lot of things that happened in those two months beyond toxemia.
How did you feel about motherhood in the past and how do you feel about it now?
I have always wanted children. It gives me a purpose to live. Motherhood is a very important role in society. I feel so strongly about it that I think mothers should be paid to stay home and raise their children while cooking them nutritious food instead of rushing between school schedules, over-working to make ends meet and not having enough time or a support system that allows mothers to cook healthy meals. I understand how this might be a mistake as the over-population of the planet and the destruction of the Earth are becoming more pronounced. People might run off and have more kids to earn a living. It could be a grand idea for the Mars population and cryptocurrency.
Anyway, back to the question, I love being a mother. I love hanging out with my children and sharing life, and making memories with them. I love teaching them about art and culture and dragging them around on adventures. I love cuddling with them. I know these things won’t last forever, but I will treasure them for as long as possible. Also, surprisingly, motherhood was more challenging when my ex lived in the house. He would stress all of us out to the point of the kids not focusing on school work and other things. Life got better when he left. I don’t know if other single moms would agree with me on that.
What are your greatest challenges right now? How was your art practice affected by the pandemic?
My greatest challenges right now are that internal feeling of hopelessness. It feels like the end of Act 2 for me. All is lost. It is up to me to figure out what is going to happen next. The last piece of art I sold was last year during the National Arts Drive. Pre-lockdown, the previous piece of art I sold was during the Art Palm Springs art fair. Both of those were nearly a year ago. With the Art Industry focusing more on a pay to play type of environment, I find myself wondering how much I am willing to invest in a field that satisfies my need for expression and being heard but pays little financially in return. This is a Universal struggle I feel a lot of people face at some point in their lives. My art practice changed during the pandemic as well. I stopped focusing on photo collages and shifting into experimentation with a CO2 laser and cyanotype emulsion. The resulting work has been very poetic for me. They are a bunch of self-portraits where part or all of me are ash that I wipe away from the image. I also apply hand coloring. This newer work is more about the darkness or depression of one’s self when it feels like all is lost or what is the point in anything. I guess you could call this my blue period.
What is the message behind your art?
My work revolves around family and sociology. It captures the human condition - telling emotional and intellectual stories through two-dimensional photography. While all of the bodies of work revolve around my own personal experiences in life, I find the connection to other people’s life experiences similar. It is a way of opening dialogue and beginning a conversation. In the “Heads” series, for example, I examine insecurities of identity. With “Pilgrimage of Heritage”, I explore the depth of cultural identity. With “Residency in Motherhood”, I take a closer look at how motherhood challenges views on identity and self-worth. Identity seems to be a common thread, and educating or bringing awareness to topics like autism, toxemia, pregnancy complications, etc.
What does your art do for you?
Making art gives me an avenue for expression, unlike anything else in this world. I do a lot of work purely for myself. Once it is created, I might bury it or burn it just to release that overwhelming emotion. It is very therapeutic. I like to take my photography to the next level by adding that emotion back to the work. It becomes poetic. I imagine if I didn’t make art, I would have to be heavily medicated to exist in this world.
What are your plans for the future (career, parenting etc.)?
My plans at this moment are to keep making art to keep my sanity during this never-ending lockdown. I plan to take my art to the next level once the world relaxes in regards to the pandemic. While my time at the moment is limited in the art world due to lockdowns, my children are at home five days out of the week. I help them with their “distance learning” until schools resume. I am just taking one day at a time and trying to focus on what matters.
What advice do you have for fellow art mums?
My advice would be to do three things daily toward your craft, whether that be submitting for exhibitions, post on social media, making new art, or even researching new things. Don’t limit yourself during these times. Make time for yourself and your work. It is OK to take a break and regroup. When this happens, it can be the best time to reinvent yourself, try something new and rediscover your passion. I also recommend getting your kids involved in your art or process as it strengthens their bond and makes your relationship stronger with them.