Optical Experiences: An Interview with Cat Mueller

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If you look at the sky, particularly when the light is quite bright or evenly dispersed, you may notice a certain optical phenomenon known as ‘floaters’. The term refers to those shadowy globules that float in your field of vision, often not enough to disrupt your visual experience of the world, but nevertheless present. If you attempted to focus on them and pin them down you would find it near impossible; the floaters move with your eyes and remain elusive, on the edge of vision and certainty.

Cat Mueller has been drawing attention to these floaters and other optical experiences through her paintings, drawings and various experiments with installation work. Her works employ high impact colours and repetitive patterns of mark-making to create physical manifestations of the optical effects usually only experienced as transitory and ephemeral, under certain conditions of light and atmosphere. Some of her works evoke atmosphere by using subtle, ambiguous horizon lines created with spray paint, some achieve the effect through dotting technique, and there are others which create an impression of depth and space through the layering of various looping marks with an airbrush.

Cat Mueller graduated with Honours from the ANU School of Art Painting workshop in 2015. Since then she has participated in a residency at CCAS Gorman House in 2016, recently held a solo exhibition at CCAS Manuka called Morph, and is gearing up for her second solo show this year, to be held at ANCA gallery in Dickson. I visited Cat at her exhibition Morph and later at her studio to ask some questions about her art practice since leaving the Painting workshop and completing a residency at CCAS.

Morph was a show of small-scale paintings, comprised of multi-coloured dots which are layered together to create a pointillist, atmospheric effect. Looking at the images, they seemed to shimmer, appearing consistent at a distance but dispersing the closer you got to them. According to Cat, each painting took around four or five hours to make, and she would sit with them until completion, often without any breaks. She produced 16 works in a period of two months.

When I asked her about the dedication needed to complete a body of work like this, she was reflective on her working process and evolution as an artist. Working on a smaller scale, she said, is a good counterpoint to creating large works in the studio. Cat enjoys making things in a social setting, whether around the dinner table or at a party; the portability of her Morph works was both a response to the desire to work around friends and a reaction to the pressure to paint so constantly.

The pressure to create works is familiar to most, if not all, artists. Cat experiences this frustration with making works, and specifically paintings: ‘I was painting in third year and really getting sick of it, and getting into installation, light and video, really getting into those optical effects.’ The initial obsession with optical effects, such as the floaters, has grown into her current practice, resulting in a diverse range of paintings, drawings, textile and installation works. Cat has been working both within and outside painting for a number of years, but her recent works display a renewed dedication to painting as an art form. The results are gorgeous, exhilarating investigations into the possibilities of colour.

Cat Mueller is one of the artists featured in this year’s annual Blaze exhibition at CCAS in Gorman House. Head there before April 15 to see her work! You should probably also make time in your life to go see her show in Dickson when it opens on the 17th of May.