After her double print release with us, we sat down with artist Caitlin Hackett to discuss her artwork, love for animals and growing up in the wilderness of Northern California. You can read the interview in full below:
Where are you from and where are you now?
I’m from a small town nestled in the redwood forests of Humboldt County in Northern California, and I currently reside in Oakland, California.
Growing up near the forests and coast of Northern California greatly shaped your artwork, what are some of your best memories of being outside as a child?
My childhood is one great tumble of beautiful wilderness. Trees like the pillars of a cathedral with every shade of green and grey and blue between the ancient redwoods and the ocean. Growing up with the redwood forest in my backyard many of my fondest memories are of running wild through the trees with my twin sister, building forts from the fallen boughs that were tall enough to be trees themselves. We would drape them with fabric and fill the space with trinkets like a pair of magpies. We created new languages, built fires and followed the deer paths through the ferns, creating a network of trails that only we knew. I spent so much of my time camping and hiking, swimming in the rivers and the cold Pacific Ocean. It was easy to imagine myself as a wild creature. I never really wanted to grow up, I wanted to spend all my days beneath the trees or in the crashing waves and ultimately it was my desire to be closer to the nature of the Pacific Northwest that drew me back to the west coast from New York City.
When did you begin to focus on artwork as a career?
When I was in high school I intended to go to college to study wildlife biology. It wasn’t until I did a pre-college program at CalArts that I began to think about Art as a viable path. I wound up studying Fine Art at Pratt Institute, but honestly it wasn’t until nearly four years after graduating that I was able to create art full time. Even in college I didn’t truly know what a career in the arts entailed, it wasn’t until I was actually thrown out into the world that I began to figure it out. Even now I’m still trying to define that path more clearly!
You tie mythology into contemporary environmentalism in your artwork. Where did your love of mythology originate and how did you decide to incorporate it into highlighting environmentalism?
I’ve always been fond of fairy tales and mythology. The place I grew up had a great sense of magic about it. My parents nurtured that love for wilderness and magic. My father would read to us books that were inspired by local Native American lore and mythology, as well as old Irish and German Fairy Tales and many works of fantasy inspired by mythological tropes. I can still remember tracing the illustrations from the old fairy books, pookas, banshees, changelings, selkies and more. I loved especially the stories of fae folk or humans who could transform into animals or tales of deities who would transform humans who displeased them into flora and fauna. I have long adored in fairy tales and myths that the boundaries between what was human and what was animal, what was tame and what was feral, magic and mundane, were thin and often crossed. I find those same tropes appealing in my work because they work well as symbols to represent how very thin the borders are between humans and the other creatures we share our world with and how fragile and yet how powerful our connection to the natural world is.
Could you explain your two prints that you released with us and what they mean to you?
I have been fascinated for some time with the way think about animals, how they are represented in our culture and how that translates directly to how they are treated. Some animals are personified or even deified while others are objectified, used and discarded without a thought. Our personal opinions on the value of an animal mutate that creature, transforming its physical experience in the world and those opinions are fragile and transient drifting between cultures and over time. I created the “Sacred Bull” first, inspired in part Hinduism, in which cows are considered sacred and also in part by the tragic fate of the fighting bulls used in Bullfights in Spain where the violence of their deaths is celebrated. I wanted to capture both animals in this painting - the sacred bull and the sacrificial bull - the same animal as deity and brute: worthy of worship and of slaughter. In our own country cows are objectified. Most people don’t think twice about eating beef nor of the way in which those animals are treated before they are slaughtered. I knew as soon as I finished the Bull that I wanted to create a Horse as its counterpart. While in some countries the horse is eaten with as little thought as we eat cows here, most Americans are disgusted by the idea of eating horse because in our country they are personified. Having grown up as a little girl obsessed with horses and unicorns, as many little girls do, it’s easy for me to understand why we personify the horse: we long for grace and strength and power, they represent a creature we have tamed, a form of beauty we have molded to our own needs. I wanted to capture a bit of that feeling in "The Gift Horse." A captive beauty mutated by our own need for it to be magic. The paintings belong together. They face each other as two sides of a coin, animals who wear their definitions like beautiful chains, but beneath the ornamentation they still remain.
What's a typical day for you like in the studio?
Most days I try and keep a schedule, since I’m my own boss I find it’s important to try and hold myself accountable to a certain amount of hours per day. I usually “clock in” so to speak around 9am, typically sitting down with my first cup of coffee and starting work on whatever I had left on my table the night before. I work until I’m done. Sometimes that’s 9pm, sometimes it’s 2am depending on how many projects I have. I try to alternate my work days, spending every other day doing either commission work or gallery work but often those days bleed together because of the amount of commission paintings I take on each month. I listen to podcasts as I work - I find I can’t watch tv even if it’s a show I’ve seen before as I spend too much time looking at the screen so I burn through podcasts instead. I’m a big fan of true crime as well as dark narrative fiction although depending on the news that week sometimes I’m just mainlining political podcasts as I paint instead. If I’m lucky I can keep myself pretty focused in studio although sometimes being indoors starts to drive me crazy and I’ll take my sketchbook down to the lake or to a coffee shop just for a change of pace.
When you're not in the studio, what are you up to?
Lately I’ve been traveling a great deal, but for the most part if I’m not in studio I’m curled up on the couch reading a book or roaming around Oakland, walking to the lake or getting a cocktail!
You often foster kittens, could you tell us about your foster program?
For the past three years I’ve been volunteering with a local rescue group called Feral Change, they specializing in doing Trap, Neuter, Release, fixing feral cats around the East Bay in order to help keep down the population. When they find friendly cats or young kittens they bring them in and have volunteers like me foster them until they’re ready to be adopted! I specialize in neonatal kittens (bottle babies) since I work from home and stay up late, I can feed them around the clock. I also take on semi feral adult cats for socialization since I can keep them in studio with me and give them a lot of attention. Feral Change is always looking for volunteers to help trap cats and transport them to the vet to get fixed, or folks who can temporarily foster kittens or cats! You can find out more at www.feralchange.org. I also recently started fostering at risk kittens for Maine Coon Adoptions, another wonderful local rescue group!
I love having the kittens in studio with me, although I will say they do often distract me from my work, but it’s nice to be able to do some good for animals in the community.
What's the best part of living in Oakland?
I love so many things about Oakland: the people, the food, the art, the weather... but my favorite thing is living in the same city as my twin sister and having adventures together.
Of all the incredible animals you've portrayed in your artwork, do you have a favorite animal to draw?
This question is always hard for me! I think if I had to choose I would probably say foxes, but it’s a close call between rabbits, cats and herons as well.
What's coming up next for you?
I’ve got a few group shows coming up, one with the PRISMA Collective I’m a member of at Arch Enemy Arts gallery in Philly and a cat themed show at Gristle Gallery in New York City and several others coming up in the fall, but mostly I’m just working on commissions, trying to plan more travel and slowly working on putting an art book together that I hope will be ready to release in 2018!