Cathy Hegman, a Mississippi artist who lives on a farm, has established a reputation for creating thought-provoking and emotionally evocative paintings inspired by the natural world. Since women, animals and the landscape are her preferred subject matter; her imagery is both familiar and comforting. However, because the women and animals are inwardly rather than outwardly focused and the landscapes are fragmented with very little detail, the paintings take on a mysterious, otherworldly quality. This is enhanced by the use of muted colors, surfaces that are alternately worn down and built up, and by shrouding everything in an atmospheric haze, suggesting the passage of time even though we are actually just experiencing a single moment in the story.
One of the most intriguing things about Cathy Hegman’s paintings is how they seem to go in various directions at the same time. On the one hand, the figures and animals are intimately connected; on the other, they appear almost oblivious to the outer world, then alternately they seem to exude some authority over it. This leaves us wondering what is real and what is imagined, and what is in the past and what is actually supposed to be in the present. Cathy partially explains this when she says that she relives past feelings as she paints and the canvases serve as a mirror for her to see herself. The paintings also serve as mirrors for us to see ourselves and, because we cannot help but respond emotionally, they allow us to interact with situations and experience feelings that might otherwise be too uncomfortable to approach directly.
Looking at these paintings we are quickly aware that Cathy has great empathy for people and animals, and that she portrays them as deeply connected and on a shared journey. This has symbolical importance and she says: “My most prevalent and personal symbols are animals and because I feel I have learned so much from them they represent protection, love, companionship, trust, loyalty, and serenity.” There are also other symbols in her work, notably the circle which she uses to represent wholeness, perfection, eternity, timelessness, the Self, and God and by placing a figure or animal on it, this symbolizes both wholeness and balance.
One of the great things about paint is the way it allows an artist to create layered imagery and atmosphere and to use marks and surfaces to represent thoughts, feelings, and the passage of time. It is to this end that some of what we see in a Cathy Hegman painting has been actively reworked. In fact, she sometimes paints a figure as many as twenty times in order to arrive at a sense of authority. More importantly, this is what gives her art its sincerity.
Cathy Hegman was recently selected by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters for the 2021 Visual Arts Award for her show “Pandemic Perceptions.” “Cathy Hegman is from this land, the Mississippi Delta, and her works are stories in paint,” said one reviewer. Her figures often include dogs or other animals, revealing an early interest in becoming a veterinarian and living on a farm. Background landscapes to foreground figures are inspired by her life spent in Mississippi. “Mississippi affects me more than I even know,” she says.
To learn more about Cathy Hegman, consider reading her blog “Cathy Hegman Art and Life.”
An Interview with Cathy Hegman
Who are you and what do you do?
I grew up in rural Mississippi in a family of farmers. I learned all about loving the land and respecting the gifts that nature gives us. I believe I was given the best gift of all which is solitary time to think and respond to my surroundings with less distractions than others in more urban areas.
Why do you do what you do?
I studied and graduated in Interior Design and worked for a couple of years. I married, you guessed it a farmer and moved back into solitary farm life. I once again had time to just reflect and it led me to try painting. It was the beginning of a lifelong affair with paint. I have never looked back. I am not sure I could breathe if I could not paint.
How do you work?
I work in my studio every day usually from around 9 am to 5 pm. I paint in varying series of works so that each painting builds on the one that was painted before it. It is a form of searching and studying my subject matter until I have exhausted what I feel is relevant in it. I have painted this way for the last 15 years or so, and I have yet to ever enter my studio and think I have no idea what to paint. I use a lot of symbolic references that mean things to me, and might or might not to others but I weigh them and use them as both design and intent elements in my work.
What is your background?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design. I studied art and architecture but did not major in either when I was in college. I began getting truly interested in art by taking art workshops in the early ’80s. I loved being around other artists in workshops and have painted nonstop since that time.
What is integral to the work of an artist?
Perseverance and confidence. I feel you should never give up on what you are working on and have the confidence that you will pull it off in the end. There is simply nothing that is irreparable in art, even mistakes are opportunities to push yourself.
What role does the artist have in society?
I actually am not sure, but I hope it is to give others respite from their life and, perhaps, the ability to find something in common with the artist through their work, so that they will have the joy of sharing a feeling with someone.
Has your practice changed over time?
I think I have become more and more serious in my work as time has passed. Most of my work is in some way a conglomeration of my life’s experiences, so maybe it is true that with age comes wisdom.
What work do you most enjoy doing?
I actually just love to paint. I know that sounds rather dull but my intrigue is about 50 % intent or subject of work and 50% the actual manipulation of the paint and finding new ways to use it.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you.
We have had several floods here and as tragic and helpless as they have left me, it has forced me to face the fact that we find the good in devastation, and in the rebuilding, we are made stronger. I made a series of paintings called RiverDeep dealing with the many ways in which the river I love and live on, has both nourished and devastated me.
What is your favorite or most inspirational place?
My studio. It is my sacred world and I feel my most alive and free there.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Paint what you know, work hard, be clear, and never give up.
Professionally, what is your goal?
To die with a brush in my hand.