Cathy Daley: Dans la Nuit
March 5 – May 29, 2022
1955 – 2022
I had been putting off writing this essay, hoping to get in a quick chat with Cathy first. I became concerned when she did not respond to my messages, but assumed she was focusing on her health, recovering from treatments, and that she would reach out eventually, when she was ready. That day never came.
I have been intrigued by and drawn to Cathy Daley’s work for years. Her work captures the complexity inherent in fashion and the ever-present tension that exists between feminism and femininity. Cathy is widely recognized for her highly stylized but at the same time almost abstracted, black and white charcoal and pastel drawings of torsos and legs adorned in flowing dresses. Her dresses are beautiful, alive with movement and emotion, alluding to a spirit of strength, confidence and vibrancy but at the same time also portray a certain vulnerability.
I think that is what attracts us, or attracted me to Cathy’s work. Her work has always captured that yin and yang, that internal struggle that so many of us deal with between being strong, confident and embodying all the beliefs and ideals of feminism, but at the same time acknowledging a certain vulnerability within ourselves. Fashion, especially the dress, have become the often contested symbol of this struggle, and therefore, it is not surprising that so many women have complex, conflicting and often troubled relationships with the idea of the dress. A dress is cover, but also a masquerade, and for many women it is loaded with significance, meaning, memory, and identity. Cathy used the iconography of the feminine as a means to explore childhood memories and popular culture, examining what it means to be female, and through her work we were able to take our own journeys with her.
Although we lived in the same general neighbourhood in Toronto, our relationship was mostly through email and social media. She consistently liked photos of my dog and my posted trips to art galleries, and I liked her artwork. Her last post was February 12th.
Over the past year her work became softer, moving away from the black and white drawings, as she began experimenting with digital paintings and most recently working in watercolour. These newer works are reminiscent of and have an affinity with her older work. Shadowy, dreamlike, and seemingly more contemplative. Like her 1994 series Dans la Nuit, on view from the Gallery Stratford permanent collection, her work from the past year seemed rooted in memories.
I planned this exhibition of work from our collection as sort of a bridge, a connection to the other work we have on exhibit that deals with the body, identity, and the reclamation of female strength and embodiment. On some level, I also imagined it would serve as a place-holder until we could actualize, together, an exhibition of her newer work. A project that we began talking about last summer.
Cathy was known as much for her bright smile, her supportive and giving nature, and the time and encouragement she gave to her students and the many artists who knew and worked with her, as she was for her art. Over the past few years, we have privileged female artists in our programming and juxtapose and bring together established and emerging artists who share interests, sensibilities and themes in their work. Cathy Daley with Dans la Nuit perfectly captures this intent, sharing references to dreams with the work of Stuart Reid, the turning of the female gaze on the female body with Karice Mitchell, and investigating identity and domesticity with Sepideh Dashti. You will forever be in our hearts. Thank-you Cathy.
– Angela Brayham
Also on View at Gallery Stratford
Karice Mitchell: 1b, black legs, 52”
Sepideh Dashti: From “She-Self” to “She-Other”
Stuart Reid: Folds of Dreams
And outdoors as part of our Art in the Trees Series
Kriss Munysa: The Eraser
54 Romeo Street S.
Stratford, ON N5A 4S9
Gallery Hours: noon to 6 PM Wednesday through Sunday
Admission is Free
519-271-5271 x 222
Gallery Stratford gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the City of Stratford. Our Free Admission program is supported in part by Orr Insurance & Investment