Catherine Story: when the ordinary becomes terrifying

 In ArtCrit


(Above: Cinema (II) Catherine Story, 2009)
If ever I saw a debut show which contained the seeds of future greatness – and not too distant greatness at that – it is this exhibition of paintings and maquettes by Catherine Story. She paints the innocuous objects of our domestic environments, but they take on a darkly oneiric life (as if in a uncomfortable dream). An old thirties corner-cupboard now looks like it has a sinister embrace. The dark black cubby hole at its centre has become a kind of facial abyss. A large ball of whitish cotton wool – or is it clay? – now seems to throb with fleshiness. Story has made a maquette in the shape of an electricity pylon, but filling in its form, so it looks like a kind of anthropomorphic robot with ears. She has gone on to paint these maquettes: in one extraordinary work on plywood, there are two of them, in ¬†shades of white and grey, as if they are a couple on a walk. I want to know: how many other people remember looking out the car window as a child, watching the pylons dotting the landscape and imagining they were alive, an army of robots. Story’s painting displays as much acumen as austerity – the palette of greys, whites and browns echoes that of Picasso and Braque’s analytical Cubism (and her work has that much discipline for this to be an appropriate echo). Her painting style is disarmingly plain, but sharply consistent, with a purposed modesty, and its complemented by the brown paper she often paints on , as well as by the abscence of picture frames.


The objects in her pictures gain a mysterious solidity thanks to carefully-textured paint – oil mixed with sawdust, I believe. Titles add a third, often metaphorical layer to this unnerving work. That ball of what looked like cotton wool is “Planet X”, a reference to the astronomer who took photos of Pluto with his telescope without realising it before he died – thus this image of a squidgy ball becomes a fable about chance and a dark episode of missed greatness. This is utterly brilliant minimal surrealism (if you want a ‘ism’ for it).

Catherine Story, Carl Freedman Gallery, 44a Charlotte St, London EC2. Exhibition continues until Nov 21.

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