Artist
Catherine Opie
American artist

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Catherine Opie
American artist
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Birth Date

1961

Arty Fact

svdgrift's picture

Contributor

Like your sexual preference, being an artist isn’t a choice.

Catherine is one of those lucky ones who was born an artist. When she was nine years old Catherine got her first Kodak Instamatic and built her own darkroom. Her mom still complains it ruined her tiles, though. Catherine grew up in Sandusky, Ohio. When she was a teen her father got sick and got told: ‘You have six months to live so you better move to a warmer climate, where you’ll be happier.” Or at least that’s what he told his family. Mr. Opie was kind of a pathological liar, so no one knows if he ever really had cancer.

Cath loved every bit of SoCal for various reasons. She moved from cornfields and countrysides, to mountains, rocks and desert shrubs. It felt like being in a John Wayne movie 24/7, which was a good thing since Westerns were her favorite. It was also an escape. As if living with her abusive older brother wasn't enough, his friends gang raped Catherine in the woods in Ohio. It felt like getting a whole new identity by coming to California. She feels like this has been key to her survival.

In high school Cathy was a tomboy. She also preferred girl over guys, but her high school was definitely not the place for a coming out. Even saying “that” word was unthinkable!

Very briefly Cathy though she wanted become a kindergarten teacher, but thank you dad for having a girlfriend who was a painter! When Catherine visited the girlfriend in NYC, she changed her mind. The girlfriend was impressed by Cath's talent and told her “you know you’re an artist, right? You’re really good.” After these wise words Cathy moved to San Francisco to study art. She couldn't have picked a better place to live than SF in the 80s. Being in the middle of the city’s queer scene made coming out as a leather dyke a little easier. At that time the queer community was fighting for visibility. Cath’s preference for leather and S&M was still being marginalized, even by others in the gay community. This resulted in one of her most iconic picture ever: a bare-chested self portrait with the word “pervert” cut into her chest. Pretty disturbing, even Catherine herself finds it hard to look at.

As much as she loved SF, eventually she moved back to SoCal. For a while she worked as a lab technician at UC Irvine, while constructing working studios in her backyard together with her partner Julie Burleigh. From these studios, Cath started making portraits of her friends. AIDS had a huge impact on her social life, so making these portraits felt like a necessity. People loved the portraits and soon they were all people would identify her with. That’s why she made a series of freeways afterwards to throw them off. Ha!

Right now, Cathy and her partner Julie live their own American Dream, together with their son, several dogs, a cat, five chickens and a garden where they harvest their own veggies.

Sources

Sources

  1. “Interview Catherine I am yours”, accessed on January 18, 2017, http://laimyours.com/21858/documenting-communities-an-interview-with-cat...
  2. “Interview Catherine” accessed on January 18, 2017, https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/transcripts/opie12
  3. NY Times article on Cath, accessed on January 18, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/arts/design/21shee.html
  4. “Cath on her portraits” accessed on January 18, 2017, http://www.npr.org/2016/02/03/464882995/i-do-like-to-stare-catherine-opi...

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie (born 1961) is an American fine-art photographer. She lives and works in West Adams, Los Angeles, as a tenured professor of photography at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Opie studies the connections between mainstream and infrequent society. By specializing in portraiture, studio and landscape photography, she is able to create pieces relating to sexual identity. Through photography, Opie, documents the relationship between the individual and the space inhabited.

She is known for her portraits exploring the Los Angeles leather-dyke community.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Catherine Opie.