Those who enter the world of Catherine Thiry dive head-first into a journey straight to the heart.
Catherine was born in 1962 in Lasne, in the Belgian province of Walloon Brabant, where she still lives today. Having focused on painting for thirty years, she began transitioning to sculpture in 2004, using clay to help her create bronze pieces. Since then, sculpture has become an important part of her artistic oeuvre.
"I'm fascinated by people's experiences, not their thoughts."
Catherine Thiry is a true artist, both on paper and in the way she approaches life. Her work is created through the spontaneous translation of emotions into colours and shapes.
Her studio is located in a room adjacent to her home, which means she can come and go as she pleases. This works out well, as her creativity cannot be bound by rituals or routines. Her living space and her workspace merge to form a continuous and unified whole, interrupted only by a single door. Once opened, we find ourselves on the threshold of the artist's studio – which is bathed in a mix of natural and artificial light – and are immediately struck by the beauty of her work. The floor is littered with the remnants of her latest creation and the door to the garden stands ajar. It's easy to imagine how this space allows Catherine to fully indulge her passion.
Back in her home, which reminds us of a warm and inviting mountain cabin, we catch glimpses of Catherine's work. Stepping into her home is like being submerged in Catherine's world. And it feels good.
She explains that she uses short strokes to create her clay sculptures before casting them in bronze or iron composite – a mix of polyester and iron powder that creates a lovely, almost flamboyant rust-coloured finish through the process of oxidation. Once the clay original has been cast into its final mould, Catherine destroys it and starts afresh. There is very little time between the last sculptural movement or brush stroke and a new upsurge of inspiration, at most a few days.
How did you transition to sculpture? 'I'd been painting for thirty years and sculpture was the next logical step. Ten years ago I started sketching sculptures for fun and Pam, a sculptor friend of mine, found my attempts quite charming. She encouraged me to pursue it further. Sculpting with clay is quite easy and I had fun with it. People soon began following my work, so I carried on, without giving up painting. I'll always be a painter at heart. In fact, many people describe my sculptures as painting-like.'
Who taught you the art of sculpture? 'I never received formal training to become a painter or a sculptor; I learned by doing. I spent fifteen years painting portraits, which was a great learning experience and taught me various techniques. I'm convinced that classes would have discouraged me and may have caused me to stray from the path I ended up taking; even though I can't imagine doing anything else. When I was young, I had a talent for drawing. I see painting and sculpting as a physical necessity. I'm drawn to this profession because it gives me a way to express myself. Painting and sculpting allow me to physically express my emotions. When I'm in my studio, I understand my purpose in life. I feel more at home here than anywhere else. Spending time here every day has become second nature to me.'
How long does it take to finish a piece? 'When I first get started, I do whatever feels right. I create what I feel. I finish some pieces very quickly. Sometimes, all it takes is a few motions or a few minutes. Funny enough, I can't really say what makes me consider a work to be finished. There's just something inside me that knows when it's done. My sculptures, even those I make using clay that never dries up, still have to go to the foundry on the agreed date to be cast in bronze. This means I can't take as long as I want. It's different with my paintings. Sometimes, it takes ages for me to give a painting the green light. Despite adding touch-ups here and there, I try my best to keep things spontaneous. The more spontaneous the brush strokes, the more successful I am at expressing myself through the canvas.'
What kind of response do you expect from your audience? 'I like to inspire people to get in touch with their feelings – to quiet their minds, step outside the physical and intellectual realm, and step into the world of emotions. I'm fascinated by people's experiences, not their thoughts. Some people have been moved to tears by one of my paintings. This tends to happen more with my paintings than my sculptures. It's strange, but I'm not always aware of how I feel when I'm creating a new piece. Sometimes it takes a while for me to name or explain a work, despite having created it myself.'
What inspires you? 'Emotions are the centre of my universe. It's easy to read the evolution of my personality through my work. Every brush stroke or shape is stamped with my identity, which develops over time. For my latest exhibition, I chose to display a series on monkeys questioning the idea of humanity. But I also like to paint and sculpt horses. They give me freedom and confidence. They're my mentors, my boatmen on the river of life, and my hands will always sculpt them. Always.'