Patricia Cain | The Interchange Between Representation and Abstraction

Posted by Kim Soep on

Patricia Cain is a multi-award-winning artist living and working in rural Scotland. Widely recognised for her large-scale pastel drawings that vacillate between figurative and abstract art, Patricia tells readers about why she sees herself as more of a 'drawer' than a 'painter' and how her immediate environment is central to her practice. 

  1. You are a practicing artist living and working in the beautiful countryside of Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, but previous to that you lived in Glasgow. Why did you decide to relocate and has the change of environment influenced your work?

I lived in Glasgow for about 13 years when my children were growing up and we needed everything on our doorstep. Once they’d fledged, I really wanted to return to living rurally, as my husband and I both have rural backgrounds. I do miss Glasgow but return every couple of weeks, so I don’t get to miss it for too long.

Before we moved, I’d started to look at more organic structures - this kind-of pre-empted our move actually.

I’d describe my practice as being concerned with embodied or enactive cognition, so I feel closely connected with my environment. I have felt able to focus more inwardly since moving to Dumfries and Galloway, as the city no longer draws my energy, as I felt it used to. Although on the surface, my subject matter might appear to have changed a bit, the underlying structures I think have a familial feel to previous urban work.

  1. 'Seeing Beyond the Immediate' was the name of your recent touring exhibition, which contemplates the artists' movement and process from figuration to abstraction. This is a theme that takes precedence in a lot of your work today. Can you tell us more about this philosophy?


Seeing Beyond the Immediate was the consequence of a 3-month long Royal Scottish Academy residency at the St Andrews home of the St Ives abstract artist, Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham. I felt a connection with her because of what I perceived to be her (perhaps female) variability, or changeability. I had struggled with my own variability for quite a while, as I tend to produce very different styles of work, often simultaneously. I find galleries find this difficult to cope with, as they’re often more interested in selling a ‘style’ as opposed to supporting the artist’s development (except of course for you Kim!).

I knew that this vacillation was authentic for me, but was interested in the relationship between the apparently different types of work I was making – sometimes figurative and highly detailed: sometimes abstract, reductive and densely coloured. I tend to work quite slowly, but I noticed that it was the decisions in the less detailed, more abstract work that took a lot longer to make. I found myself being able to consciously draw elements together in work that became more convergent - even holistic - for me.

By observing these processes, I was able to become more aware about the diverse ways in which I ‘think through making’, and I visually self-curated this as an experiential installation, and this was the final exhibition.

  1. Following on from the subject of ‘process’, do you have a set approach to making work or does is it differ?

There’s a process of preparation for each work, although that’s also dictated by the materials I’ll use.

I’m definitely only interested in doing things I don’t know about, rather than repeating things over and over, so processes generally involve doing things in ways that are new to me – whether that means using materials I’m unfamiliar with, or using familiar materials in new ways - even the smallest of changes can create much greater trajectories.

For me, the point I’ll discontinue a work is quite important. I prefer to locate a point where a work is in part, unfinished, than tie up all lose ends.

  1. You draw a lot in pastel, a medium that is often considered challenging to use. I personally marvel at your ability to produce such crisp, clean lines with such a messy material. Why is pastel your medium of choice?

I was introduced to pastels during my foundation year, and somehow, they just clicked. Although dry, they’re considered to be ‘paint’ because they are pigment based – just bound by chalk and gum tragacanth/gum arabic, as opposed to oil in paints.

I’m probably more of a ‘drawer’ than a ‘painter’ and find it interesting (/necessary) to know about the material properties/characteristics of paper as a support, because conservation/presentation is such an important part of using these materials.


  1. Tell us about your plans for the rest of 2019. What have you been working on recently?

I’m trying to get my act together to start a new project called Making Autistic Thinking Visible. This is going to draw on methods that evolved during my PhD to make thinking visible, but extends these to become participatory.

The first thing I’m planning is an installation with a keynote presentation at the 2nd International Conference of Art and Cognition in Melbourne in June this year. I’m going to build on the idea of a ‘thinking room’ which was prototyped in the Seeing Beyond the Immediate exhibition – that should keep me busy for the next couple of months. I hope to extend the research to work with other people/organisations, tour the installation and write a book.


Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.