‘word is’… by Catherine Sargeant – the abstract visual art of language @ Doubtfire Gallery, Edinburgh

After achieving a 1st class degree in Drawing and Painting at the Edinburgh College of Art, Catherine Sargeant became the first recipient of WASPS new graduate award. Her art practice covers printmaking, drawing, photography, painting and bookmaking, she is a professional member of the Society of Scottish Artists and teaches at Leith School of Art.

Catherine Sargeant, ,SSA – a passion for painting and a love of language.

“I use text in my art, not as a writer or poet but as a collaborator. So many words, so many ways to create. I collect words from various sources: individual favourite words, quotes from the great and good, dictionary definitions, the poetry of Robert Burns, the list goes on’.

Catherine Sargeant

In this collection of paintings and screenprints, using a diverse range of media, “word is” is inspired by the beauty of specific words and the shape of each letter of the alphabet. In family matters, just visible beneath the surface, the original text has been erased to leave a few letters highlighted to create a message about love and kinship in an artistic pattern.

family matters, Catherine Sargeant

This is reminiscent of the experimental literary style, Concrete Poetry, first coined in the 1950’s – Poesia concreta originated in Brazil quickly spreading to Europe: the dissection of words into separate letters constructed in a layout of grids, columns, spirals or the shape of the poem’s subject.  Edwin Morgan was a unique contributor to the avant garde movement, delighting in visual wordplay with intellectual wit.  ‘Message Clear’ repeats the biblical verse from John 11:25 (‘I am the resurrection and the life’) removing different letters to make new phrases.

A fragment from Message Clear, Edwin Morgan (1966)

As a literary visual artist, Ian Hamilton Finlay also specialised in the fragmented format of words within circles and geometric shapes across the page as in ‘Cork Net’ and ‘Broken Heart.’

Catherine makes clear that she is not a poet per se, but celebrates the interpretation of language in minimalist manner to communicate a subtle subtext – ‘often in collaboration with contemporary creative friends – writers, poets, musicians, – adding yet more layers to my work, both literally and metaphorically.’

A chilling message with echoes of Hitchcock’s Psycho and other murder movies is captured in hollywood moment: “A sensual, per f ect scream”.

hollywood moment, Catherine Sargeant

Catherine enjoys experimenting with various fonts although much of the text resembles the typeface of a vintage typewriter, such as in red web and reddest.  Like the clue for a crossword puzzle, each word can be prefixed by the colour red.

red hot, Catherine Sargeant
red web, Catherine Sargeant

Observing how text communication today dominates modern social life, she also focusses on the abbreviated use of language; the selection of edited, altered, blackout phrases lets the viewer interpret their own meaning.  orrizonte (Italian for Horizon) illustrates the definition – ‘the limit of one’s experience’ – as well as the artistic symbol of a compass and fluidity of sea waves. This is a screenprint on paper over a wooden board with resin.

orrizonte, Catherine Sargeant

An intriguing series, Sea Circles captures the changing mood and movement of the waves – from calm to stormy days:  Dream, Silence, Squall, Magical, Sound. These 17 cm round abstract paintings (gloss, graphite and oil on plywood) are so delicately crafted, a soft swirl of blue and white and one single solitary word for calming, meditative thought.

What is so appealing is the simplicity, brevity and clarity of the artwork.  Here are graphic patterns of letters, words and symbols – with an emphasis on the ampersand –  in which the typographical image is more important in conveying an essence of emotion and mood than overall literary significance.

A magical composition is velvety night, which draws the viewer deep into the seascape where a scattering of words – stars, sound – are almost drowned by the flowing waves under a shimmering moonlit sky.  Such a dramatic atmosphere of night-time darkness – a time and place of peace and solitude.

With such imagination, inventiveness and originality, Catherine Sargeant combines both linguistic and visual expression in painterly poems with such precision and creativity.

The Art of the Word.

velvety night, Catherine Sargeant

word is ……. Catherine Sargeant

Doubtfire Gallery, 28 NW Circus Place, Edinburgh EH3 6TP

13 July – 13 August, 2022

Opening hours, Wednesday to Sunday, 12 noon – 4pm.


About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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