Cathy Lomax at Stella Vine
It's as hot as hell, the hottest day of the year, or something close, and all I can think is that I'm standing in front of this fan and I'm not going to move. Olly Beck is beside me, getting some of the fan too, but not, I think, quite as much as I am. It's so lovely to be in the path of some cool air that I say 'I think this is what Heaven is like.' Olly muses on this: could Heaven really be something so simple? Is it conceivable that Heaven is a place that's just very, very hot - rather like we imagine Hell - but with the simple addition of a fan? And could Hell be a very, very hot place but with, say, a three bar electric fire? Maybe. Think about that for a moment. Remember we are talking about eternity with both these states. It could be possible. We both take another plastic beaker of wine from the tray that is being proffered around and think some more. I look round the room. Who's here? I ask. Olly says, 'it's the usual crowd.' And yes, I see what he means. But of course this crowd isn't quite the usual crowd, because this is the opening night of Stella Vine's new gallery. And although the gallery's called Rosy Wilde, try as I might, I can't really think of it as anything other than Stella Vine, such is the scale and weight of Stella's name these days. It's a small space above an Ann Summers shop, right in the middle of Soho. A perfect location. There's a lovely girl called Colette who is doing the rounds with a tray of white wine (zooming, I have to say, straight to the number one slot in Best Barperson at a Private View, and knocking both Pearse from Rokeby and Matt at White Cube into a cocked hat...) and there's even some food - quiches and custard tarts and all sorts from Patisserie Valerie. Stella knows how to treat her guests, I'll say that. And tonight the guests in this tiny little gallery are busy looking at a solo show of Cathy Lomax's paintings.
Cathy is late arriving and early to leave, clutching a bunch of roses and looking great. She has a selection of paintings here tonight, the majority of them new. There's some familiar themes that I recognise from her previous works. The royal family? Check. Mary Bell? Check. Cathy's heroines? Check. But there's also something new, formally. The women in the some of the paintings tonight have slipped out of the centre of the canvas, have only just been caught before they disappear completely beyond the parameters of the frame. In all the works there's a sense that she is reclaiming these women as her own in some way, whether through empathy, sympathy or just some sense of emotional parity. It's difficult to paint pictures of members of the royal family without somehow putting your foot into a political puddle and getting the bottoms of your trousers wet, but I don't think Cathy's paintings of various members of The Firm are about their monarchical place, they seem to me to be more about the women trapped and held within these roles. Sometimes pitying their predicament, sometimes lamenting, sometime reaching out to them. It always strikes me with Cathy's paintings that she is trying to reach a moment of real human understanding in the most unlikely of places. The royal family, a childkiller, models, singers, other nameless women throughout history who have stumbled inadvertently and momentarily into history's big picture. Cathy is pressing them like flowers into a big book of history. Trying either to give them a place they haven't had, or redefining, in very real human terms, their existing place. So I guess there's something about finding your place in history which must be a question for Cathy. But then, I guess, isn't that the question we are all asking? And don't we all have, as I say to Antonio Gianasi later in the evening, when trying to convey something about what my piece on last week's Kitson Kaleidoscope was, 'problems with identity'? He roars with laughter and rightly so. In trying to explain myself I had simply told him what we all already knew. What nearly all of us standing in this hot little gallery are feeling. Have you ever met an artist who didn't have 'problems with identity'??
He has some good news too: from the work he had in Baroque My World at Transition he has secured a small commission for GQ Style. Good pay? I ask. He laughs again...
Cathy has a painting here tonight called It's me. I'm Cathy which I've seen reproduced before and, as far as I can tell, is made up of small paintings of her heroines. Sarah Doyle and I are looking at it. There's Kate Bush, I think, there's Kate Moss. Christina Ricci, Lily Cole. I think that's who it is, I know Cathy did a big, beautiful painting of Lily some time ago. 'Look,' says Doyle, 'that's Cathy when she was younger.' I look at the portrait. Yes, could be her. Her younger self as one of her heroines. I think that's pretty good.
I said it was the opening of Stella's gallery tonight but it also the closing of various other bits of Stella's world - she's pulled the plug on her blog and her webcam. She's dropping out of sight for a while. I have a quick chat. I've met her before and tonight, again, I can't help but find her captivating. She seems both wise and naive at the same time. It's very endearing and, I suspect, a useful quality to have when there's something she wants. I have no idea whether there will be another show here. Stella seems quite confident about future shows. But I also think she gets bored easily. We are talking and she says at one point that she is hated by the artworld. She says that a lot of fashion people like her work, and magazines, but the artworld isn't bothered. I think it's probably not that easy being Stella. But she can never stop being Stella. Whoever that is, at whatever time. Fully exposed by the internet and her blog, or totally invisible for a bit.
Maybe, if you looked closely enough tonight, there is also some sort of portrait of Stella here, too.