Cat Sommer in studio

Artist’s Statement

Painting is a way of reworking, refiguring. It is not a mirror held up to the world but a field where I can place elements together and let them push against, bend, reimagine themselves. My paintings are a visual social diary— thinking done outside the burden of language, and beyond its limits.

I was born to a Colombian mother and American father. Raised in California in the 80’s, I wonder: How Latina am I? How American? Ask an American and I am Colombian American. Ask a person on the street in Bogotá and I am American. As a child I was encouraged to assimilate.

I am now a mother in San Francisco. Motherhood is a central theme in my work. It is written on to me with my gender. The adornment of my infant body (earrings, rings, lace dresses...)— its treatment as a trophy— was both a reflection of the prize of motherhood and the start of my gender-marking.

Through my painting, I want to challenge my own conceptions of identity, gender, race, culture, and to discover in them the force of change, the fluidity of reality. My portraits are overrun with flora and fauna. I pair solitary men with the sweet animals that adore them. Men are also victim to social norms, but not all fit perfectly into our molds. These are the men I find most interesting. I want to create a visual palette that neutralizes gender and celebrates relationships regardless of sex or race. Plant and animal imagery can be read as “feminine,” and I embrace this, as both a celebration of my identity and as a destabilizing force in my work— in its action against other objects it encounters (branches become skin, flowers become eyes) in addition to the power one wields in embracing a pejorative— the “girly.”

My work— a visual social diary— is a place for defying dangerous cultural norms, imagining alternatives, and embracing fluidity as a working model for understanding the world. Portraying a beautiful, strong woman without objectifying. Working through the expectations of a Latina woman in a feminist age. Facing biracial and cultural norms in the United States without devaluing heritage and history. Parsing out biracial dynamics in the home, especially as they relate to motherhood. Accessing my unconscious, visualizing emotion, making tangible the human spirit and histories. Reworking, refiguring, reimagining.