October 5, 2022

Old Lyme Artist Catherine Christiano Presents First Solo Show at Lyman Allyn Museum

This work by Catherine Christiano titled, ‘Sunflowers | September 2016’ is on display at the Lyman Allyn Museum as part of the series ‘Album of Flowers | Interesting Times; 2020 – 2021.’ The work is oil, acrylic, and transfer prints on panel; 36 x 36 inches. Photo by Paul Mutino.

NEW LONDON UPDATED 9/17 with more photos: The Lyman Allyn Art Museum announces the opening of Album of Flowers | Interesting Times by Old Lyme resident and artist Catherine Christiano, which is on view through Nov. 6. 

The centerpiece of Christiano’s first solo museum exhibition is a series of large paintings that chronicle a year. Each of the month’s panels juxtapose carefully painted seasonal flora with a collage of content from The New York Times. The still lifes are placed directly within the context of 2016, the emotionally charged and pivotal election year during which the series was conceived. 

“Since April 2019, when Catherine Christiano first shared her concept for this body of work, I have been eagerly anticipating the fruition of this project” says Museum Director Sam Quigley.  “The splendid realization of her vision exceeds what could have been hoped for and serves up a rich interplay of parallel planes with equal portions of  cunning and beauty.” 

This image shows the artwork by Catherine Christiano for the month of April 2016, which forms part of the series ‘Album of Flowers | Interesting Times; 2020 – 2021.’ The work is oil, acrylic, and transfer prints on panel; 36 x 36 inches. Photo by Paul Mutino.

The concept of an “Album of Flowers,” pairing flowers with the months of a year, is common in the traditions of both Eastern and Western art. Because Christiano wanted to depict local plants and flowers alive, and as if growing in the landscape, she looked towards historical examples by early Japanese and Chinese artists, like Tao Rong (China, 1872-1927) and Katsushika Hokusai (Japan, 1760 – 1849).

“I found an aesthetic model in their lyrical flower paintings, which often incorporated calligraphy and poetry” says Christiano, noting, “As with paintings from the Edo period in Japan, the elegance, space, and rhythm of the layout was important to me in designing my paintings.” 

She explains, “The Japanese term ma, which means “gap”, “space”, or “pause”, is a concept where the “empty” negative space holds as much weight as the flowers in paintings. The negative space in my series,  however, is filled with newspaper imagery and text, forcing everything to the picture plane and filling the “void” with current events.” 

The backgrounds, designed to resemble a front page, represent the omnipresent  backdrop of societal activities in everyday life. Christiano sifted through piles of New York  Times material from January 2016 through January 2017 to carefully construct the  collages.

This image shows the artwork by Catherine Christiano for the month of August 2016, which forms part of the series ‘Album of Flowers | Interesting Times; 2020 – 2021.’ The work is oil, acrylic, and transfer prints on panel; 36 x 36 inches. Photo by Paul Mutino./0

She attempted to present a balance of information from this historically significant election year. References to ordinary events, like holidays and seasonal activities, are mixed in with reports that are more historically important. As in an actual newspaper, in each panel the mundane appears alongside the catastrophic and there is at least one reference to the death of a public figure. 

The series Album of Flowers | Interesting Times combines the traditions of the graphic with the painted to juxtapose the activities of society with nature. It represents an attempt to depict the artist’s daily experience of navigating physically, psychologically, and virtually between the two worlds.

Christiano comments, “With the news now a constant flow, I’ll check websites several times a day. While painting, I listen to podcasts and news broadcasts. With what I’ve heard or read still in mind, I may switch realms and head outdoors to where my garden of flowers seems persistent, uplifting, and offers respite from chaos.”

In addition to the Album of Flowers | Interesting Times series of paintings, this exhibition includes a selection of early works and a few preliminary floral paintings. The early works show the evolution of Christiano’s work with newspaper imagery. Included are several  intricate graphite drawings and a collection of oil still lifes painted on cropped newspaper pages (see photo above.)

The exhibition will be on view in the Glassenberg Gallery on the first floor as part of the Museum’s Near :: New contemporary series.  

Christiano is an Old Lyme-based artist known for her detailed representational works. Often working in series, the pieces she creates may include  multiple panels, mirrors, or painted still lifes juxtaposed with newspaper content  reflecting contemporary concerns.

Her work has been included in exhibitions at a  number of regional museums and university galleries, including the New Britain Museum  of American Art. She has also exhibited with George Billis Gallery in New York City and  Los Angeles. This is her first solo museum exhibition. 

Prior to earning a BFA and becoming a full-time studio artist, Christiano spent her 20’s earning engineering and finance degrees and working in those fields. Among the positions she held was one located in the World Trade Center, for which reading The  Wall Street Journal was intrinsic to her morning workday routine. Because newspapers have been ubiquitous in her life, when she turned to artmaking, she instinctively incorporated them into her work. 

The Lyman Allyn Art Museum welcomes visitors from New London, southeastern Connecticut  and all over the world. Established in 1926 by a gift from Harriet Allyn in memory of her  seafaring father, the Museum opened the doors of its beautiful neo-classical building  surrounded by 12 acres of green space in 1932.

Today it presents a number of changing exhibitions each year and houses a fascinating collection of over 17,000 objects from ancient  times to the present; artworks from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, with particularly  strong collections of American paintings, decorative arts and Victorian toys and doll houses.  

The Museum is located at 625 Williams Street, New London, Connecticut, exit 83 off I-95. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 1 to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays and major holidays.

For more information on the exhibition or Museum, call 860.443.2545, ext. 2129  or visit www.lymanallyn.org.