Cathy Daley

Curated by: John McKinnon

24 January 1984 - 11 February 1984
Opening Reception 24 January 1984 8pm

East Gallery:

Turn the Other Cheek

In this exhibition of new figurative work, Cathy Daley deals with the theme of communication and the effect of subjectivity on relationships and understanding. The artist explores the subject using different mediums and two distinct approaches: A series of portraits painted in oil with text and two large scale drawings which form a diptych.


Paintings of faces talking or thinking are grouped by subject matter and address the viewer in ‘everyday’ language.

These works show how subjectivity dominates people’s views and reveal that opinion is often mistaken for knowledge.


The second part of the show consists of one work. It is composed of two large scale emblematic drawings which form a diptych. Each half of the diptych portrays a pair of life size figures whose attempted embrace is obstructed by their own subjective illusions.

Cathy Daley
Mercer Union

Martin Dowding
Vanguard, April 1984

If Edward Munch’s The Cry reflects the epitome of sickly despair then these haunting, humorous portraits by Cathy Daley are certainly the embodiment of many of our lesser every day faults and neuroses. Her paintings and drawings are portraits that reflect the minutiae of urban alienation, frustration, caution, fear, hatred and love, all precisely evoked in acrylics on thirty-one boards and two much larger quite different but ultimately essential pieces.

At the base of each portrait Daley has written in a controlled free hand aggravating yet accurate platitudes of everyday living, which serve as titles and contributing texture to the portraits. The image and the text here form a nexus projecting, in psycho logical (and aesthetic) terms, what the nervous soul in each portrait wants us to believe in order that he/she may believe them him/herself. (Both sexes are surely represented here, but it is not always clear which face or voice comes from which sex–and this only adds to the sense of mystery in the show).

A broad spectrum of our tenuously held notions of belief are coalesced in such pieces as the cynical, laughing flesh-toned “How could you expect them to believe that”. The nagging grey-white face in ”That’s their view… they’ve got you believing it”, wags a censuring finger at us like some ancient puritanical grand mother damning modern reformations. Our failure to communicate in the alienated/alienating society peers out from the stark walls with the doubting, ugly face telling us “It’s not what you’re saying…”, or the grey faced furrowed brow exuding the anguish of “Why don’t you just say it”.

The variation of expression (in the images and the text), the colour and mood, are heightened by the some times ironic, sometimes humorous but eminently believable faces, sincere in their misconceptions, peering out from the small boards–these are not miniatures but “smalls”, the heads being slightly smaller than adult life size. The facial focus ranges from the dark brooding male uttering “It’s skepticism that moves mountains” to the snow-white feminine form whispering ”You’re convinced you’re powerless”. If there is a feminist statement here. it is in the irony and contrast achieved in juxtaposing the supposedly masculine mood of power in skepticism (both remarkably well done in the expression in the face and in the text) with the stereotyped mood of inhibited, perceived powerlessness. (But the artist is a woman here, and there is unquestionable power in her statement).

The emotions are evoked by the precision in the intense relationship between colour, text (context and sequence) and the succinct encapsulation of nuance and character. The facial expressions and text are mutually reciprocal, self-enhancing.

Two pieces in the show, the titles of which lend more to the overall effect than the actual subject and technique, are cumbersome but intriguing in contrast. We see no faces at all in the two large diptychs Our Illusions Divide Us #1 & #2. Four large grey-black and brown amorphous figures embrace in a dark swirling whirlpool (two couples turn away from each other in each piece). These are the dark illusions of undefined despair, illusive in their origins and meaning and message.

There are five portraits which hang slightly away from the other pieces and are without text. They, in effect greet and send off the gallery visitor. Four are deep and dark. The fifth, however, shows a friendly smile amidst the hazy greys which surround it. I hope it is meant to be a self-portrait (in disposition at least)–it is the most honest, charming face in a satisfying but not altogether happy show.

In detail and style, some of the portraits are rather stagnant and merely imply a mood, while others convey a sense of realism and convincing movement. This is what is called for. We recall faces such as these in dreams or as we walk down the street. They flicker into view, utter their warnings, their fears, and then just as easily fade, for the moment, out of mind. Their residue is left. That is how one leaves this show with the faces resurfacing, their messages humorous, seductive or repulsive, well-formed, sometimes vague, disturbing but very familiar.