Feeling Catty

So sometime in December I went to a friend’s art show at Maryland Art Place (which is a pretty cool art gallery, go check it out). I was casually walking around the gallery and got blown away by Cat Mayes’ installation. The first piece that caught my eye was named “#(Insert Name Here)” which was this huge hashtag made out of wood and 9mm full and empty bullets. I was immediately overwhelmed with emotions because I knew the hashtag was representing those we have lost to police brutality. After Cat got me all in my feelings, she then educated me with her body of work entitled “#000”. This body work shed light on how Kodak’s color film was solely created for white people. Cat states, “…if you took a photo of white kids on the beach, the image would turn out properly exposed with accurate color quality.” Interesting right?! Basically the quality of the Kodak film did not represent darker skin as well as it did lighter/white skin. The black community made several complaints, but it wasn’t until WOOD and CHOCOLATE companies complained about the quality of the film when Kodak finally decided to change their chemical elements. I wish you all could’ve seen my face after I learned this bit of information. I was just casually minding my business, then Cat’s installation had me all over the place…but that’s what art is for, right? You can check out (and buy) more of her amazing pieces at www.thirdthingphotography.com.  

courtesy of Third Thing Photography

I knew in that moment that I had to interview her. I emailed her and she was so friendly, but it wasn’t until I sat down with her that I found out she was such a beautiful soul…seriously I felt warm inside. Here’s how it went…

What is your background?

I went to private school my whole life. Kindergarten all the way through high school and because it was a small school, we didn’t have many electives. I ended up joining the school paper just out of interest and then continued to do that into college. My mom has always pushed me in an artistic direction. Originally she put me in a dance class, but that got really expensive so I stopped doing that. Then we started doing tae kwon do together then she broke her foot so we stopped doing that. I’ve always played sports so I’ve always been putting my passion in a particular direction. When I got to Towson I wasn’t playing sports anymore and I had to figure out where to redirect that energy. I starting taking gen eds and I ended up in this lighting class which completely blew my mind. So this is where most of that energy is going now.

Why art?

I needed to put my passion into something new and different. Sports was my whole life and part of what motivated me to stay there were the people around me. My teammates, my parents, my coaches; it was very group centered. I came to college in a relationship and it wasn’t the best relationship. The first year, year and a half it was great, then it started going south really quickly. After talking to my friends, parents, and praying on it; I had to get out. That was the first time I can remember having to be by myself. No teammates supporting me, no coaches telling me to get my head in the game. It was just me and I had to figure out how to express myself from just my thoughts and my desires. Then I got into art and this is all about me. This is something that I’m working on for myself and by myself. With a purpose of reaching a larger demographic of course, but this was just for me.

What role does your work present to society?

Well when I first started as a photo major, the work I was making was pretty interesting to look at. It was about fashion, but once I started getting a hold of the lighting technique, that’s when I was like ok now I need to start saying something. I started taking a concepts class and every week we had concepts we had to execute. Once a week we had a concept on identity or race or sexuality and things like that. When I started tapping into race and identity, that’s when stuff started clicking with me. I started making bodies of work that encompassed multiple aspects of identity. As I kept going I got more focused and started talking about particular aspects of identity. It’s not like anything that I’m saying has been unsaid or is new, but history has a way of repeating itself. People need to hear certain things over and over. At this point, I’m just trying to say the same thing but in a different way.

What inspires you?

There are a few things that inspire me the most, there’s music. I will name pieces after songs that I listen to on repeat for like ages. So music for sure. Relationships. I make work that is a reflection of my relationships. Whether it’s work or family or lovers, whatever. It reflects the relationships that I see other people in. Having different perspectives of people’s lives come out through my art. And now, history I guess. I was never interested in history class. It was always the same people, the same places, the same colors. Then I got to Towson and started learning about my history from professors that actually cared about its significance. So now that’s what I’m talking about in my work. So those three things are really core to what makes me want to make things.

What is your favorite piece of work?

The easy answer is from my first photo shoot that I ever had. The reason that it’s my favorite is because if I hadn’t done that piece, I probably wouldn’t be a photo major. The guy I was dating at the time had a lot of African art in his house. For Christmas his mom wanted me to make some tribal themed photography. So I got my roommate and she had modeled before. It was middle of winter, so around this time freshman year. I slapped on makeup based off some tribes and images that I saw on Google. We climbed down a hill underneath the parking garage on a creek and spent the next 30 minutes outside in the cold.

courtesy of Third Thing Photography

What is your dream project?

I’m not the type of person where you have to be restricted to one area for the rest of your life. I definitely envision myself being a director. The person who controls the lighting decisions, the set design decisions in a film. They’re the person who makes a horror movie look like a horror movie and make a romance or comedy look like a romance or comedy. I want to be able to manipulate people’s emotions through lighting and through visuals. I also enjoy writing. I want to be able to manipulate people’s emotions through words.

What was the best advice that you were given?

Focus more, shoot less.

Cort's CultCortney Watson