Visiting Catherine Morrisey's emotional bend in the river

By Leslie Kostal
November 08, 2012

MorriseyAdela Talbot, Western News


“Hundreds of persons began to assemble on the banks of the river. … What with the gay afternoon costume of the ladies, the flags, the boats’ crews, the sparkling river, the green banks and the bustle of animation which pervaded the assemblage, the scene was one of considerable interest.”

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This tiny slice from an 1860’s London Free Press article, transcribed by Glen Curnoe, illustrates an occasion organized by the Tecumseh Boat Club – an event on a portion of the Thames River where trees and banks remain constant. The historical nature and beauty of this spot stirs up emotions within Catherine Morrisey, Resource Support Services manager with Western Libraries.

In fact, it’s now the artist’s piece of river.

Morrisey enjoys capturing visually inspiring landscapes allowing her objects drama. Trees reveal the effects of years of intemperate weather.

“It’s a balance between the original impulse and where the design and structure start to go. If I get too involved in the designing end of things, it loses its truth,” she said.

Exhibiting almost every year at The Art Exchange, her October showcase was entitled This Bend in the River.

To assist in acquiring such inspiration, Morrisey paddles her kayak upriver from Labatt Breweries toward Wellington. Weighing only 22 pounds, it’s a convenient mode of transportation. “Honestly,” she said, “I’ve had purses that weigh that much.”

In 2004, she purchased an old autobody shop close to the river. With a front and back door allowing the west breeze to blow right through, it serves as an appropriate studio for her oils and turps.

“I paint really with a lot of turpentine,” Morrisey admits happily, reliving that sense of smell. “I love turpentine.

“I think constructing a painting is really about finding a way. It’s like having a conversation. You don’t know where it’s going to go.”

Often her works flow off the top of the canvass. Someone suggested painting from the top down.

“I was horrified,” she said. “I paint a tree the way it grows.”

Her work has movement. She attributes her big canvass preference to dance classes in public school. “It’s about the swing of your arm and the movement of your body.” 

Her teachers – one from Java who had an oriental influence, the other, she says, was “a beatnik” teaching modern dance – provided an extraordinary educational experience.

Some of her pieces have a silk- or satin-like quality. Branches bend and turn. You can feel the wind through the willows and fancy, perhaps, slipping into the soft waters holding reflections of trees on the bank.

Her favourite colours are browns, ochres and siennas.

“What really sings with that is a pure, or an orangey red; a cool tiny bit of yellow.

“When I was 3 years old, I remember being handed a paintbrush,” she said.  Her mother, sister, grandmother and great-grandfather were all artists. Enrolled in the first graduating class of fine arts at York, she was also mentored by prominent Canadian painters at a small art school in Toronto.

Morrisey says understanding how a piece reveals itself is truly getting to the heart of painting. For example, looking closely at a large piece (see her work in the Mezzanine, Weldon), a portion of the image may seem blurred or disconnected. But stepping back and drinking in the entire picture allows your mind to connect the dots. It amazingly comes into focus.

“When I paint, I have to paint with my body up close,” Morrisey explained. “I’m not actually painting what I think I want to see. I’m making marks using my whole body. Then I put the painting up and I go back as far as I can go.”

Morrisey has an easel back in the garden and prefers painting outside. She can step back 30 or 40 feet, or sit in her rocking chair and look at what’s happening.

“I can see what it needs,” she said.

Morrisey enjoys packing a little plastic bag of water colours and paintbrushes, getting in the kayak and going out on the river.  You tie up to a tree branch so as not to drift off and then just dip over the side for a little glass of water.

“In an afternoon you can do several little water colours and then paddle home to have tea,” she said smiling.

Morrisey’s pieces may be rented at Museum London and viewed at The Art Exchange.


Leslie Kostal, web administrative assistant, Department of Economics, writes periodic pieces profiling Western staff members. If you, or someone you know, has an interesting story to tell, please e-mail her at


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