Cat Powell once left me a message on my phone that started like this…
“Meow Meow, this is Cat.”
I didn’t call her back because I can’t speak meow meow…because I’m not fucking cool enough to pull off thigh high lace ups or manga painted eyes. I’m not cool enough to sustain a lowbrow vs. surrealism conversation at a downtown gallery or corner diner, where she met me one Sunday afternoon for a conversation about art while she sipped Bloody Mary’s through a straw…never once messing with her kissable lip paint.
Cat Powell is a photographer, make-up artist, writer….but if you ask her what she really is, she’ll say, “a painter. I’m a painter Diana.” And she is. Her self defined surreal pop art has graced gallery walls for years and often reflects her own personal stories as a Korean adopted immigrant, a young mother, a woman living through multiple transitional ages and stages. Her paintings usually feature eyes wide open while she meow meows her way through dark metaphorical emotions.
You told me once you used to draw on your dog when you were very young. Then furniture. Then everywhere. Are those your first memories. Drawing and painting? Are you one of those ‘born an artist’ people?
My mother once told me that as soon as I could hold a pencil, I was creating something. I didn’t
always use a pencil – I once used a protractor to carve out my favorite song lyrics [Pat
Benatar/Heartbreaker] on my brand new desk.
I enjoyed other things too – like the thrill of licking batteries after my older brothers told me,
There was the stolen-matches-incident, when I almost burned our home down, because fire is pretty. The whooping I got for that was a good one, but the spanking that hurt the worst was when I jumped out in front of a moving car. I was five and desperately wanted to experience
near death. So I guess, you could say, I was born to either be an artist, incarcerated, or heavily medicated.
I’m so glad the first one stuck.
I know your paintings have had shows all over Portland and farther out galleries. What is it about an art show that is appealing to you as an artist? Is your goal to sell the paintings? Is that, deep down, the goal of all artists? What’s the ultimate drive?
That’s a good question. I guess for me, having an art show is like taking your makeup off for the world to judge – your beauty or ugliness. Painting is all about being naked. Not everyone is going to like how I look under the veneer. I have a chewed up heart and surly veins, which isn’t always appealing to everyone. It’s a different kind of brave to put myself out there.
The goal isn’t always about selling. I’ve exhibited art that wasn’t for sale. I get attached to my pieces, because my soul is in there [also cat fur]. For instance, a few years ago, a friend asked me to help her curate a Portland show for Johnny Buss. Johnny Buss and his siblings are part owners of the LA Lakers. At the time, Johnny Buss was promoting an online networking site for artists, called Musester. I enlisted a handful of my friends to showcase their work, as well as one of my own. The piece I displayed was titled, “Mother.” Buss’s partner was interested in buying it. When she asked how much I was selling it for, I gave her some ridiculous price to discourage the sale. I think I did that because the painting was about my son and love and loss – and I wasn’t willing to part with it just yet. I still haven’t. So, to answer your question, art is about nudity, perspective, and sometimes money.
What makes you satisfied when you finish a painting? Is it the sense of feeling finished or the
story you’re telling? What is it about that moment that is so…satisfying or are you never finished?
I’m never satisfied with a painting. I could work on a piece until the flesh fell off my fingers and I’m using the frayed ends of my bone nubs as a paint brush. An old art teacher once told me, “Don’t add too much. You’ll ruin it.” My logic has always told me to listen to that advice – but I usually ignore it and ruin a painting anyways. There have also been times when I declared a painting finished because of a deadline and I’m hallucinating from sleep deprivation and paint fumes. The latter is usually the case. So yeah, there’s a balance to the whole thing. I’m just not very good at it.
Your Facebook posts crack me up. What you do with your fridge and bathroom contents is worthy of some You Tube DIY videos. Especially when you play with makeup. Where do you get these outrageous ideas for photo shoots because I envision you alone in your apartment bored but somehow you end up with a cabbage on your head. Not really where I’d go when I’m bored so clearly you’ve got some creativity genes I’m missing. How does this happen Cat?
I think it’s because I was probably dropped on my head at birth. That fact is still unconfirmed at this time. But I’d have to say, when I’m alone – that’s when my brain starts purring. I’m never really bored, although, I have often wondered what that would feel like.
It’s the generic things that stimulate me. Like when I look at a cabbage, I see a battle helmet or
when I see a roll of toilet paper, I see white hair. When I was about six or seven, my mom observed me playing with my ‘toys’ one night. I was reenacting The Three Stooges with a tennis ball [Shemp] and a pencil [Moe]. I’m not sure where Larry was, but I’m almost positive he was the ruler that I lost. This amused my mother, because my favorite toys were not toys at all.
Growing up, my mother used to always say, “You have a very vivid imagination – you could imagine horror in a bowl of cereal.”
Make-up is a form of art, and I assume you see it that way too? Has being a retail make-up artist kept you feeling creative or does it just suck? I mean working in retail sucks but does it help you’re not selling socks? Does it still feel like a form of art?
Yes, makeup is another facet of art to me. The face is the most challenging canvas ever. It has pores and wrinkles and scars. The surface is not flat, either – but that’s what makes it more exciting – unless I screw up and I’ve just transformed a twenty year old into a weathered drug user. That’s usually when the client politely excuses herself for the bathroom and then never comes back.
My first year as a makeup slinger, I was horrible. I did some really incredible makeovers, but I was a terrible salesperson. The ability to sell in the service industry is THE most important art. There were other obstacles too, like the soccer moms. The majority of these women did not want my help, instead vying for the makeup gurus they admired, like the sinewy, blonde girl with no pores or the tall, coffee haired Grecian goddess. And then there was me, this short, eclectic Asian girl with makeup that matched her interior. Sometimes people would proclaim, “Oh wow! You are SO convincing as a woman.” or “Don’t make me look like you. I don’t want to look like a clown.”The soccer moms didn’t want my help, but sometimes they were stuck with me. In these scenarios, what saved my tookus was not only my makeup skills, but also my honesty. [I’m a bad liar, anyways.] I showed a genuine interest in their lives and that pays off. I’m very happy to say that some of these clients are now my really good friends.
Have you ever worked on any sets as a make-up artist? Have you thought of doing that more
I have worked on sets. I’ve been a key makeup artist for a music video and FX assistant for an indie film. Most of my work prior to a makeup counter was with talent agencies [modeling/photographers]. The work is hard, chaotic, fast paced with significant travel involved. And you have to have a kit.
A “kit” is basically a tackle box full of rainbows. I was proud of my tackle box. I started off with Wet & Wild cosmetics and ended with Dior, Nars, Chanel, Bobbi Brown, and MAC. A kit can be expensive. In my day, they were usually a rolling aluminum suitcase with compartments for eyeliners, shadows, foundations, and lashes. My last kit was small, low end and costing me around $300. I don’t have it anymore, I gave everything away. I donated all my supplies, including my kit, to other young, aspiring makeup artists – for free.
I was a single mother trying to chase after a dream, but this lifestyle was taxing on my very young son. So I stopped and found the next best thing: makeup sales. No “kit” required, it’s already provided by the vendor – and a normal work day was around 8 to 9 hours! Perks, yo!
You used to write as an art critic for The Examiner.com from 2008 to 2009. I imagine that would be really fun to meet musicians and artists. Tell me it was. Tell me it was so much fun.Was it hard? Did you ever really dislike something or somebody but wrote kindly about them anyway?
I loved it. The Examiner required one to two articles a week. I started off interviewing local artists which led to monthly tickets to the Keller Auditorium. I was considered ‘the press’ so my seats were prime. In addition, music promoters began emailing me free admissions to rock venues. It made me feel important to privately meet with touring musicians. A lot of the times, we would all drink together and sometimes things got awkward – but I digress.Every single article I wrote was not a critique – it was all about the praise [and brown nosing]. I am not really programmed to voice unkind things towards another. Actually, I lied, I have – just
not on paper.
What was the last art show you went to? Did anybody stand out you really appreciated?
The last art show I attended was my own in Hood River. It was a group exhibition at The Remains Gallery. That place is surreal and raw. The first time I walked through the space, I felt like I was in a David Lynch film. The guys [Nic Vik/Nate Chavez] that own and manage the space are incredible artists. Both artists use color so well, and the subject matter is intensely emotional and otherworldly. There was another artist that impressed me, as well. Her name is Caitlynn Abdow. Her technical skill is immaculate, but her creativity is what really humbles me.
I can’t stand sculpture art. Not because it’s ugly or unappealing but because I’m such a realist
I want it to serve a purpose. Like hold my car keys or I can drink tea out of it. I’ve never been
trained to appreciate it. Is there any type of art you dislike?
Ha ha! This leads to my former statement about talking smack about another artist. I can usually find the beauty in any art form, but I did have a beef with one particular artist. I think I was around twelve or thirteen when I first heard about this man. Apparently, he had urinated in
a jar and exhibited it. I had also heard he earned a substantial amount of money for that piece. In my little pea-brain, I thought that he had physically displayed a jar of pee in a gallery and called it art. It would be years later, after a heated argument with another artist/friend, that I
|would come to find out that it was actually a photograph of a crucifix in a jar. And yes, it was his bodily fluid inside the glass. I will admit, after studying the print, I learned to appreciate it – the way the light was captured and the moodiness of it all. His statement was brave, serene, and extremely controversial. I just wish I would have thought of it first. I’d be rich, I tell you! Rich! Don’t get me wrong, I like installation art, but it doesn’t ALWAYS move me [or my bowels]. Some of it just kind of feels like a science project to me. And then there are others that would
have made a brilliant photo series. Like I said, I don’t hate on other artists, it’s just that sometimes I don’t always comprehend it. It’s probably because I licked all those damn batteries when I was a kitten. I blame my older brothers.
The beauty of art is that it starts a conversation. That’s what makes it most important in the
You can follow Cat Powell on her Facebook site….https://www.facebook.com/yourtokenasianfriend?ref=br_rs
Diana Kirk is the author of Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy. She’s been published in Hipfish, Nailed, Thought Catalog and who cares magazine. She enjoys Kozy Shack chocolate pudding and movies with Matthias Schoenaerts. Please follow her on Twitter as her publicist is disappointed in her Twitter platform.