After three-decade hiatus because of illness, S.C artist returns to art

“Through my artwork, I feel like I am in a unique position to encourage people in their own recovery and healing journeys,” South Carolina Upstate abstract artist Catherine Conrad says.

After graduating in 1988 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design, she adventured up to Alaska for several years with her husband. With the diagnoses of autoimmune diseases, including Sjogren’s Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and Reynaud’s disease, Catherine found herself unable to pursue her art aspirations. Although affected by chronic illness, she started the next stage of her life as a homemaker and a mother in South Carolina while battling liver, kidney, and digestive diseases.

When Catherine entered her fifties, her health progressively worsened. Even though her doctors diligently treated symptom after symptom, they were unable to pinpoint the cause. As months turned into years, Catherine isolated herself from her family and community. Her only solace was the woods behind her house.

“Witnessing the changing of the seasons was inspiring to me. A dead, fallen tree might find itself home to a luscious carpet of moss. A small trickle of water during the summer might turn into a moving stream come fall,” Catherine remembers. “Nature had a way of rejuvenating itself, which brought me hope that my body and spirit might find itself revitalized during a new season.”

Everywhere Catherine looked in nature, she saw an organic shape that she had first started exploring visually while in art school. Described by others as visually similar to a nest, fruit, seed, cell, oyster, egg, or womb, she realized that she identified this nascent and amorphous shape with hope and possibility. She picked up the paintbrush once again to explore these thoughts and emotions. After a nearly 30-year hiatus from creating art, during the throes of COVID-19, Catherine resumed her art career.

At first, she faced more troubles than she expected.

“Because I had been afflicted with a series of strokes due to cardiac issues, my early works in 2018 and 2019 are full of frustration: the paintbrush in my hand would not go where I wanted it to go; blind spots in my vision meant that I would paint over my work accidentally.” Despite this, Catherine persevered and continued to explore nature’s promises of restoration in her art.

In 2020, Catherine spent over 40 days in the hospital after open heart surgery. Following that, the long process of recovery began. Catherine started painting almost every day, finding her art an integral part of her physical and spiritual recovery. Beginning in 2021, her paintings took on a new and vivid perspective of nature, filled with bright colors and enthusiasm.

Over the last two years, Catherine’s works have been featured in shows at the Piccolo Spoleto Juried Art Show, the Trask Gallery of the National Arts Club, South Carolina Juried Art Show, Southworks National Juried Art Exhibition, the Rocky Mount National Juried Art Show, the Macon Arts Gallery, the Spartanburg Public Library, the South Carolina State Fair, and the Artists’ Guild of Spartanburg, among others. She is a member of the National Association for Women Artists (NAWA), NAWA’s South Carolina chapter, and the Spartanburg Artists’ Guild.

When asked about her expectations for her future art career, Catherine simply hopes that her artwork can encourage others. “Due to the miracle of modern medicine, people are asking themselves: What happens when I can no longer physically be who I used to be? I have frequently asked this question myself.”

Instead of allowing emotions to fester into fears, Catherine takes this insecurity about her health and turns it into something productive. She explores the emotions of recovery, faith, change, and growth. Her works are a testament to the healing power of art, as well as the tenacity of the human spirit.

Catherine Conrad’s conceptual, abstract paintings will be showcased at the Black Creek Arts Council of Darlington County in a month-long solo exhibition entitled Nature Enlightenment. The exhibit will be on display from May 4-June 2, 2023. An opening reception to meet the artist is scheduled for Thursday, May 4, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.