Artist Cat Mailloux wants to take you to church

Andy Downing
Tapestries and drawings by Cat Mailloux

In recent years, Cat Mailloux has become increasingly fascinated with color, building entire studies around singular shades. The artist’s most recent exploration centers on chartreuse, a yellowish-green to which she was drawn in part due to its ambiguity (one person might describe it as green, the next a kind of yellow) and in part due to a bit of flawed history.

“My friend thought that the color was from cathedrals, and that it was initially based on a particular color of stained glass,” Mailloux said in a late January interview at the Columbus Printed Arts Center, where she’ll host her new exhibit, "Clerestory," beginning with an opening reception on Saturday, Feb. 1. “But after I researched it a bit, I learned it’s actually the color of a French liqueur, which isn’t as magical."

Rather than retreating, Mailloux leaned into this initial incorrect information, envisioning yellow-green light streaming through wide cathedral windows rather than a dim barroom setting (clerestories, from which the exhibit takes its name, are lines of windows set high in a cathedral and designed to admit light). “So then chartreuse became connected with this divine light in my mind, of something being transformed and allowing a heavenly or divine presence to be felt,” she said. “Trying to find this color in my memory, I started to fictionalize it and make it larger than life.”

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The artist started this exploration by freewriting in a journal, envisioning the color and the various feelings and images it conjured. From there, she moved to colored pencil tests (which will be on view in the exhibit), filling square sheets with variations on the shade, trying to capture the spirit of those initial words. Mailloux then progressed to the loom, creating long tapestries — a process that fused the artist’s current color fascination with a long-held embrace of the tactile. “[My work] has always been driven by material, and by responses to material,” she said. “And the weight and memory of objects.”

After completing the tapestries, Mailloux died them chartreuse and then pressed one of the still-damp cloths onto a thick sheet of paper, creating a two-dimensional replica which she then augmented with watercolors. After the image dried, the artist, working in colored pencil, recreated the warp and weave of the tapestry, sometimes using a ruler to mirror the straight vertical lines (the warp), other times working freehand to recreate the intertwined texture (the weave).

Collectively, the pieces are meant to capture the experience of light, which will influence how each is set into the space.

Mailloux intends to hang the tapestries near exhibits entrance, accompanied by a wall covered in her writings about clerestories and chartreuse. Turning the corner, visitors will confront the various color explorations, as well as the large-format tapestry drawing, which should combine to offer the sensation of being bathed in warm cathedral light — a sense heightened by a book Mailloux is creating to set at the exhibit’s culminating point, almost like a bible at a church altar. (In a way, it also offers viewers a reverse glimpse into the artist’s creative process, which starts with writing in a book.)

“That’s sort of what I’m interested in, that idea of walking into a big space with an intent to arrive somewhere, and be focused toward a book-object, which is how I imagined churches in Medieval times to be,” Mailloux said. “The focus was on light and stained glass that told stories, but it was also focused on the manuscript, and that scripture itself was a really powerful, tactile object, because the word of God was present there. So, yeah, I’d like people to have that sort of going to church moment, whether or not they’re interested in going to church. I’d like this to be a space of light.”

Columbus Printed Arts Center

Opening reception: 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1

2000 S. High St., South Side