I am delighted to share this lovely article that appeared in Architectural Digest this past week about my passion for working with artists and connecting them with clients. Using original art and educating clients is a cornerstone of my design aesthetic. I am so grateful I found a profession that allows me to combine all of my desired careers (artist, art history professor, curator, and designer) into one! Thank you to Katy Olson for sharing our story and to all the artists and galleries I have had the privilege to work with over the years!
Austin works with artist Charlie Havanich, pictured here, who is represented by Hidell Brooks Gallery. “I adore Charlie and I just acquired one of his works,” Austin tells AD PRO. “The image in the picture is a commission for one of my clients that bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Jackie.” / Photography: Charle Hanavich
Cathy Austin began her career not in design, but in art, working at Sotheby’s across departments including European Porcelain, American Paintings, and American Furniture. “I assisted the experts cataloguing the works for the auctions, handling archives, client contracts, condition reports, and arranging presale exhibitions. I began as an intern and archivist and also worked as an administrator,” recalls Austin. When she transitioned into interiors, Austin kept connected to the art scene, attending shows like Maison et Objet and TEFAF—but also in a more tangible way, sourcing local Southern talent for her interior-design projects.
Austin complemented her space at a recent Traditional Home show house with a portrait, left, by artist Kate Long Stevenson and a large abstract, right, by David Paul / Photography: Dustin Peck
The designer, who tells AD PRO that she has “always been an art history student at heart,” makes it a priority to educate clients. “Since art is very subjective, I encourage my clients to collect works that they respond to emotionally. Original art elevates every interior and reflects the personalities that inhabit the space. By attending art fairs at home and abroad, I seek out emerging artists to introduce to my clients. Getting to know the artists personally and learning about their process and what inspires them is very important to me to pass along that knowledge.”
An interior by Cathy Austin with artwork by Amanda Talley, above the fireplace/ Photography: Gordon Beall
As principal of Catherine M. Austin Interior Design, of Charlotte, North Carolina, one of those talents Austin has gotten to know on a deeper level is a New Orleans–based SCAD graduate named Amanda Talley, whose work she discovered in a local showroom. “I fell in love with her abstract, gestural works and designed my first living room around one of her paintings that I did not even own…knowing that one day I would add her work to my own personal collection.” The designer-artist duo’s first commission together was for a couple who were newbies to art collecting and just beginning their collection; their second commission was for Austin’s home. For each project, Austin sends Talley “inspiration images” as well as examples of her art that Austin’s clients like. Then, Talley “takes over and works her magic! I have loved watching her style evolve, yet still being able to recognize her brushstrokes knowing it is her work.”
What should designers know about sourcing art, particularly from emerging talents? In addition to the perhaps obvious exposure (“See as much as you can. Go to as many museums, galleries, auctions, and art fairs as you can to train your eye and be exposed to what is available in the marketplace”), Austin also advises having an open mind. “Do not be intimidated by price point. Even established artists can be within reach if you look at their complete body of work, including studies and works on paper. You can research artists through wonderful websites like Artsy which can also lead to discovering new artists and art galleries. It has been thrilling to watch the careers of artists I befriended years ago soar through their values increasing and being acquired by museum collections.”
Painting by Brad Thomas through SoCoGallery / Photography by Emily Followill
Another tip? Keep your eyes peeled; sometimes discoveries unfold on one’s downtime. Austin met a valuable collaborator during a volunteer commitment with the Mint Museum in Charlotte. “I was serving as the head of the Mint Museum Auxiliary and working closely with Brad Thomas, our curator of modern and contemporary art, selecting possible acquisitions for the museum’s permanent collection that our organization would underwrite. He was already an established artist, as well as art consultant and artist mentor—but his work was taking a new direction,” she explains, which “combined mixed media, collage, and his distinctive handwriting that became abstract lines when intertwined on the canvas. The words in his works examine the influence writers have had on shaping his worldview.”
The artist’s works are now found in Austin’s collections—and in her clients’. “We recently collaborated on a work for the Atlanta Southeastern Showhouse this spring. I asked him to create a work inspired by a Southern author. He used the Flannery O’Connor quote, ‘To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility.’ The abstract work was the perfect finishing touch to my bedroom, that made the space more personal and provided a contemporary juxtaposition to the more traditional elements in the room.”
And for up-and-coming artists? For their part, recommends Austin, “artists can share their portfolios with designers whose work they admire and offer to lend their work for various show houses and charity events,” says Austin. “Attending events at the major design centers and other industry events is a great way to connect with designers. Every city from Atlanta to Los Angeles now seems to have its own design week full of opportunities for networking.”
It is hard to believe this is the closing weekend of the Southeastern Showhouse & Gardens presented by Atlanta Home and Lifestyles Magazine. Many thanks to all who have come to see the showhouse filled with so much amazing talent. I will be at the house tomorrow from 1-4 for the final day for anyone who wants to pop in to say hello!
I have had many inquiries about items available in our space. Showhouses provide an amazing source to get incredible high end pieces, custom furniture, art and antiques…many of which are priced well below what they would sell for on the showroom floor. So, if you see something that catches your eye, make sure to look at the price list in each room to see what is still available. You might find the perfect Mother’s Day gift!
I think original art is one of the MOST important design elements in an interior. It reveals the personality of the inhabitant, elevates the other surrounding items, and adds a magical dimension to any room. Working on the art for the Southeastern Showhouse was a dream come true. Two of my favorite artists, Brad Thomas and Alexis Walter created works specifically for my spaces and my favorite Charlotte galleries, The New Gallery of Modern Art, Hidell Brooks Gallery, and SOCO Gallery allowed me to curate my own dream installation from the artists they represent, many of whom have become friends. The majority of works are by Southern contemporary artists with a nod to my NYC days represented by Stephanie Hirsch and Scott Duce seen below. By playing with scale, unifying colors, and juxtaposing different mediums, I tried to create harmonious compositions throughout the spaces.
We are delighted to be participating in the Southeastern Designer Showhouse & Gardens which opens this week! Not only am I glad to have a reason to spend more time in my hometown, but I am also beyond excited to spend time with so many other favorite design friends that are also designing spaces in this year’s showhouse. Atlanta is at her finest during April and May. When I first began contemplating the design scheme for our rooms, I wanted to incorporate the glorious spring shades that reveal themselves each week a new flower or tree begins to bloom. For the past several weeks, we have been feverishly working to pull together our bedroom, bathroom, and hallway that all began with this spring palette…
I wanted to create a fantasy bedroom where I would look forward to waking up each morning surrounded by everything I love. I am a colorist at heart…color energizes me, comforts me, and evokes joy for me. The palette was inspired by some of my fondest travel memories of the past year. I kept coming back to certain images I had taken where the indescribable colors stayed with me. I was continually drawn to the combination of spring green with shades of lilac and orchid.
Brad Thomas is a creative force of many talents…Artist, Curator, Teacher, Mentor, and Art Advisor just to name a few. His highly anticipated exhibition at SOCO Gallery this month welcomes the North Carolina native back to Charlotte revealing a new direction in his work.
I met Brad when he was the curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Mint Museum working together on acquisitions. Through the years, Brad has become a trusted friend and colleague that I look to for art advice for clients and collectors. His layered and complex abstract works are a combination of painting, drawing, words, collage, and sculpture that slowly reveal details the more the viewer engages with the works.
My first art history class at Washington and Lee was the History of Photography. I signed up for the class on a whim hoping to ease my workload of math and science classes which were not my cup of tea. We studied all of the legendary icons…Alfred Steiglitz, Elliott Erwitt, Diane Arbus, and even had Sally Mann living in our own small town of Lexington, Virginia. Little did I know that this first brush with art history studying the art of observation would figure so prominently in my future career as an interior designer.
Tonight is the opening of the highly anticipated show “Kindred: Photographers Focus on Family” at SoCo Gallery. The gallery welcomes home one of Charlotte’s most talented art personalities to curate the show. As a professional artist, curator, and mentor, nobody understands the imagination and creative mind more so than Brad Thomas. The exhibition is an opportunity for him to honor those artists who have directly influenced his creative journey.
Opening Reception: February 3, 6 – 8 PM
SOCO Gallery is pleased to present the forthcoming exhibition KINDRED: Photographers Focus on Family. This project, guest curated by Brad Thomas, will feature works by artists whose creative inquiry examines a variety of life-affirming roles that include parent, grandparent, child, sibling, spouse and/or lover. Through their work, these accomplished artists delve into the complexities of intimate, familial relationships and, in the process, learn something about themselves.
Four of the featured artists are based in Charlotte. Three of these artists have over a century of combined established practice and advocacy for the advancement of fine art photography in this region. With strong ties to The Light Factory, Linda Foard Roberts, Carolyn DeMeritt, and Raymond Grubb have worked tirelessly in administrative and volunteer roles there to educate our community on the importance of photography as a medium for self-expression and aesthetic exploration.
Linda is a native of Charlotte and in her teens, she studied with Light Factory co-founder Byron Baldwin in his legendary program at Myers Park High School. From there she pursued photography at Arizona State University and later returned to Charlotte to serve as Director of The Light Factory in the early 90s. Soon after stepping down as an arts administrator, Linda devoted herself full-time to her growing family and in-turn, returned to her art as a way of capturing the experiences and fleeting youth of her son and daughter.
Carolyn is known for her provocative, narrative portraits. In the mid-1990s her creative focus turned to her granddaughter who was born to her younger son during his prolonged struggle with substance abuse. Carolyn’s pictures capture her granddaughter’s youthful innocence, which stands in sharp contrast with her need to grow up fast. Now in her early 20s, Kira continues to be both a subject in Carolyn’s work and a source of inspiration.
Photographer, Francophile, and master baker Raymond Grubb is a native of Morganton, NC. He is a graduate of Davidson College and one of Charlotte’s most recognizable cultural icons. For over 25 years, he has photographed his partner––the multi-media artist Tom Thoune. Raymond’s century-old platinum process imbues his images with a warmth, tenderness, and candor that is difficult to attain with modern techniques.
This emerging artist is a native of Charlotte and recently earned her BFA from UNC Charlotte’s Department of Art + Art History. During her senior year, a series of circumstances required her to live with her two identical twin brothers. Quickly realizing these two free spirits were captivating subjects in their own right, she took advantage of her unlimited and candid access––think Nan Goldin meets Harmony Korine. The resulting series entitled Asymmetrical, captures the three siblings living together (again) while they navigate the formative stages of independence and adulthood.
His signature, multi-panel panoramic images capture the intimate and complex dynamic of his relationships with those closest to him. In particular, a series of poignant portraits of his father, a Navy veteran and retired factory worker, depict an aging man who struggles to come to terms with the divorce from his wife of many years and his son’s sexual orientation.
Sally lives and works on her family’s farm in Virginia. She is one of the most recognizable figures in American photography working today. Her new memoir, Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (Little, Brown & Company, 2015), documents in detail the criticism she endured in the early 1990s for explicit photographs of her children at play at their country home. As she has gone on to international acclaim, her works are among the most sought after in contemporary art.
Featured in SOCO Gallery’s bookshop will be a curated selection of artist’s books about family. In addition to the featured artists in KINDRED, titles by preeminent artists such as David Hilliard, Mitch Epstein, Sally Mann, Joanna Piotrowska, and Edward Weston will be available.
Brad Thomas is a native of Mount Airy, North Carolina. In the summer of 2015, he founded Thomas Contemporary at historic Vandalia Tower. Thomas Contemporary serves to promote Brad’s studio, curatorial, and collections advisory practice. In addition, on-site projects and limited-editions by emerging and established artists will be commissioned.
Brad has 25 years of experience as a professional artist, curator, and cultural leader. He has served in administrative capacities at The Light Factory, Davidson College, The Mint Museum, and McColl Center for Art + Innovation. In spring of 2015, Brad was honored with the inaugural Distinguished Alumni Award from UNC Charlotte’s College of Art + Architecture.
KINDRED: Photographers Focus on Family is an opportunity for Brad to honor those artists who have directly influenced his creative journey. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to continue to serve the cultural development of North Carolina, his home state. It’s the place where his feet will always stick to the ground––the way a Tarheel should.
I am obsessed with details. Finishing touches such as the trim on a drapery panel to how a work of art is framed can make or break the overall design. As a self professed art addict, I especially love working with clients, artists and my local framer to showcase the works of art to make them shine.
Later this month, I head to Las Vegas (my virgin voyage!) to attend the West Coast Art & Frame Expo as part of a Design Blogger Tour organized by Steve and Jill McKenzie. We will be seeing the latest and greatest introductions in framing as well as a variety of new forms of art reproduction.
See below for some works from my personal collection and client portfolio on how the variety of framing elevates the art.
A client’s colorful interior in Birmingham features large-scale works on paper by Windy O’Connor. The champagne toned metal frame pulls out the brushstrokes in the painting and still anchors the space. Dark oil rubbed bronze picture lights tie in with the stair rail and door hardware. A bold 19th century rug brings out the orange in the paintings and introduces the palette for the house.
In my library, a commission by Favorite artist Amanda Talley through Hidell Brooks Gallery provides a a focal point for the fireplace wall. A dark floater frame punctuates the darker strokes in the painting. The interior of the bookcases are painted to repeat this color.
This is the beginning of a gallery wall in my living room. A variety of watercolors and small paintings collected from our travels tells the story of our treasured memories. The wall has grown and been rearranged to include other paintings seen here…
A contemporary collageby Brad Thomas is placed in a gilded frame with a block motif to play off of the curves in the artwork. The work is floating on a linen mat in order the appreciate the intricate detailing and writing along the edges of the work.
Several of my favorite works have been found through Gillian Bryce who shows at 214 Modern Vintage in High Point as well as Scott’s Antique Market in Atlanta. This oil painting by Bernard Segal is in a vintage gilt frame and enhanced with a linen mat and fillet to make the work larger. The empty space of the linen mat gives the viewer a chance to appreciate the small compact bursts of color in the painting.
Another work by Bernard Segal, this is one of a pair of watercolors. I framed the works in a simple gold frame which pulls out the gold in the painting and floated them on a linen mat in order to appreciate the deckled edge of the paper.
A “pile” by Selena Beaudry (also through Hidell Brooks) is floating on a white backdrop and framed in a deep modern white frame giving the work a shadowbox effect. Our dirty pink entry hall walls enhance the pinks found in the watercolor.
One of my prized possession is an interior rendering by the Dean of American Design, Albert Hadley. A charcoal mat enhanced his pencil rendering and make it extra special.
I found this abstract encaustic at the Marche Biron in Paris. Maurice Morel came to Paris in 1927 to pursue his double vocation of artist and priest. He found a mentor in Artist-Poet Max Jacob, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, who was a close friend of Pablo Picasso and other artistic-literary notables of the period. In 1933, Morel helped stage a ground-breaking sacred art exhibition, Art Moderne d’inspiration religieuse, which included works by Picasso, Andre Derain, Tsuguhara Foujita, and Georges Rouault, who would become the priest’s lifelong friend and supporter. I fell in love not only with the work, but in the way it was framed….a frame within a frame. An ingenious way to add importance to a special work.
The starting point for the entire design scheme was this pastel confection by Kate Long Stevenson at the beloved “Pink House,” a center for breast cancer survivors herein Charlotte. She donated the work in honor of her friend. Again, we used a floater frame to set off the painting from the brick backdrop while pulling out some of the darker tones in the painting.
Be sure to follow along as we take in the sights of Vegas with my fellow design blogtour pals… Holly Phillips of The English Room, Tami Ramsay and Krista Nye Schwartz of Cloth & Kind and Vicki Bolick of The Ace of Space. We cannot wait!