10 minutes with… Cathie Pilkington RA

Published 26 July 2014

Each month, we have a quick chat with one of our Academicians to find out what they’re up to and what the RA means to them.

  • The newly elected Academician uses a variety of media in her sculptures, from ready-made objects to domestic materials creating often humorous tableaus, with a hint of the macabre. Two of her painted bronzes, Reclining Doll and Twinkle, in her typically doll-like style, feature in this year’s Summer Exhibition. The former piece was awarded the Sunny Dupree Family Award for a Woman Artist.

    What are you working on at the moment?

    I have been taking a break from sculpture for a couple of months since my last show to develop a body of collages and prints. I am trying to find ways of translating the physicality of sculpture into two dimensions – I am experimenting with a process called Mokulito, which is a lithographic process using a wooden board instead of plate or stone. This means you have an amazing surface to draw on and carve into and the grain of the wood translates into the final print. It’s very seductive.

    I am also making a group of painted still-life sculptures called ‘The Unsettling Muses’. They are a kind of blend of Picasso, De Chirico and a ‘Girls’ World’ hairdressing toy.

    What is your earliest memory of art?

    I don’t think I stepped foot inside an art gallery until I was doing A level art, but I have very clear ‘material phenomena’ memories which started when rummaging in my Dad’s incredible bits ‘n’ bobs drawer in the kitchen. In my first year at school we did a recycling project that involved building a life-size man called ‘Junky Joe’ out of old cans and string.

    I was also pretty obsessed about making animals out of air-drying clay and painting them with enamel paint and I used to like climbing on this civic sculpture in Stockport town centre. When I was about eight or nine we visited Walter Potter’s Museum of Curiosities on the way to Cornwall. I was hooked… so, nothing much has changed.

    What work of art do you wish you’d made?

    I wish I had made Mike Kelly’s show The Uncanny. But, if I had to choose one work it would be a toss up between Picasso’s Bull’s Head, with the bicycle seat and handlebars and Meret Oppenheim’s furry teacup Object - both magical material transformations.

  • Cathie Pilkington RA, Reclining Doll

    Cathie Pilkington RA, Reclining Doll.

  • How do you know when a work is finished?

    Ah, that’s an ongoing question! I work with lots of different materials and use lots of different processes simultaneously. The work and ideas evolve through the making process so I am interested in what the work does at different stages of its making. I satisfy my desire to make lots of different kinds of work by consciously making some highly finished and others much more provisional and immediate. When something is finished it ‘settles’ in the room.

  • Where were you when you found out you had been elected?

    I was at home with my eight-year-old year old daughter and her two friends watching The Munsters. It was an unforgettable moment.

    What does the RA mean to you?

    I love the RA. For artists to elect artists feels like a wonderful kind of democratic validation and support. To be part of such an historic institution that’s determined to move forward and be current is incredibly exciting – and your parties are really great!

    If you were president for the day what would you change?

    A woman as president? Wow! Wouldn’t that be enough change for one day?