Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Cathy Wilkes is a Glasgow-based artist who engages with feminist themes. She is known for sculpture and assemblage installations of mannikin-filled tableaux. Paintings are sometimes part of her installations.
Her focus is on family life, alienation, and transcendence. Wilkes renders infants, mothers, and grandmothers in papier-mâché and drapes them in found textiles. Arranged in domestic scenes, stocked with old toys, towels, and clotheslines, her characters transmute the banalities and humdrum tasks of daily life into mysterious rituals.
She constantly invokes a particular world, defined by washed-out colors, soiled clothes, and depressing and shoddy objects. Her figures have a forlorn air and sense of fragility. While some of her scenes appear narrative-driven, such as one portraying a man crouched over a wine bottle with two children standing and watching him, others are more abstract with ambiguous meanings.
Her 2005 piece “Non Verbal” consists of household wares and two female mannequins with small abstract canvases attached to their faces, one of which functions as a mask. She has a sculptural installation showing a woman washing a standing baby, but the baby is tethered. Another installation features limbless figures with slender cylindrical bodies and plastic female heads. Sometimes children will be portrayed with soft fabric bodies and paper-mache heads. Mannequins will be partially clothes or naked, surrounded by a collection of disjointed objects, all trifling or pathetic, exuding an air of dreariness or sorrow.
Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions in London, Glasgow, Dublin, Berlin, and Zurich and in group shows in Edinburgh, London, Antwerp, and South Korea. She had her first solo exhibition, a mid career retrospective, at New York’s MoMA PS1, 2017-18. She will represent Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2019.