City Landscape

The new series of paintings, (still in progress) is inspired by the painting City Landscape by Joan Mitchell. I have always been drawn to this painting at the Art Institute of Chicago and I make sure to visit it when I’m in town.

The circular composition appeals to me and after looking at so much Cezanne, the eye of a woman artist is refreshing.

My goal is to paint only from memory and sketches (no photographs!) and incorporate fragments of many remembered landscapes into one painting. Using familiar motifs from other paintings, I will create an imagined space that refers to multiple places. In this way the composition will indicate movement through time and memory as well as through physical space.

I hope to move away from the specificity of a particular place, and instead convey a general sense of space and movement through an imagined landscape.

Joan Mitchell  City Landscape, 1955

Joan Mitchell

City Landscape, 1955


April 2018 - asking the big question...

Why Paint the Landscape?

Since the days of the cave paintings, humans have had the urge to document their environment, to find their place and mark their spot.     The desire to locate oneself, to indicate one’s position and the relative scale of one’s surroundings is universal. 

My paintings tell the story of my own journey through the landscape, my engagement with the earth’s highs points and valleys. Familiar landmarks are markers, units of measurement, reference points in the accumulation of urban and industrial forms. 

I tell it in the hope that it will resonate with your story, your participation in the ups and downs of the land, your awareness of shifting layers of fog, light and darkness within the space we all share.




Short Bio

Here is the concise version of my artist's biography.  The longer one can be found on the "about" page.

Catherine Sky was born and raised in Washington, DC.  She attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (BFA, 2001) where she studied figurative painting and art education.  After relocating to San Francisco in 2011,  Catherine was astonished by the scale and scope of the Bay Area landscape.  Inspired by views from her neighborhood near Mt Davidson she began to examine the relationship between urban forms and the natural environment, hoping to offer the viewer a chance to consider whether balance can be found within this exchange. 

Catherine begins by working from direct observation.  Drawings and paintings done on location reflect the influence of Turner, Whistler and Monet in a desire to capture the effects of atmosphere and light.  Later in her studio, she adjusts color and composition to reflect a more particular handling of space derived from studying the work ofCezanne, Diebenkorn and Hockney.  Layers of paint are wiped, scraped and scumbled, giving the painting a thick, textured surface.

Catherine is currently working on a series inspired by the Port of Oakland which explores the interaction of industry, commerce and natural forces on the San Francisco Bay.  She is also an art educator with many years of experience teaching art to children.   

Fertile Exchange

As a relatively recent transplant to the Bay Area, I am constantly struck by the beauty and complexity of the region.  From buildings stacked for miles in a vertical march to roads that snake circuitously around hills, I am fascinated by agricultural, industrial and urban forms and their relationship with the land that supports them. In the meeting of the built environment with the landscape, I find not only fertile ground for painterly expression but also hope that balance can somehow be achieved. 


I have always been interested how wetlands and water ways are subjected to human needs. The San Francisco Bay, with its constant flow of oil tankers and container ships is a very compelling motif.  This series, which is in progress, explores the interaction of industry, commerce and natural forces on the bay.  Stay tuned for more...

Cliff House           

Cliff House           

Port of Oakland, early morning (detail) in progress.

I am closing in on completion of this painting!!!


“It is not the clear-sighted who rule the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm fog.”     Joseph Conrad


Harrison  (View from Studio)

Harrison  (View from Studio)

The view from my studio is often dominated by the comings and goings of the famous San Francisco fog.  As all San Franciscans know, the fog is as much a part of the landscape as any solid form, amazing us with its ability to obliterate the massive and weighty structures of the city.  

I take great comfort in the quote above.  Most metaphors describe fog negatively so I am drawn to this idea that it facilitates true accomplishment.  I constantly feel like I am navigating a shifting, amorphous mix in search of some kind of clarity.   Familiar facets reveal themselves only to be hidden again while others appear. Can we find safety in disorientation?  Is clear headedness over rated?  Is the "blessed, warm fog" exactly where we need to be?  




Red School Series

The subject of this series is Miraloma Cooperative Nursery School, where my son has attended preschool since 2014.

The school sits a few blocks down the hill from my home on Foerster St. and has been a focal point in my experience of the neighborhood personally, as it has been a place of great transformation for me and my family and visually, as it is observable from many levels and viewpoints throughout my day.   

After relocating in 2011 from the flat horizontal expanse of the MIdwest, the verticality of the San Francisco landscape has expanded my understanding and experience of pictorial space. As a painting student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the late 90s, I was introduced to a conceptual approach to illusionary space ie, the appearance of depth and distance as objects recede in the picture plane.  

Rather than depicting objects getting smaller, lower and fainter as they go back in space, as traditional 1-point perspective dictates (think renaissance paintings where everything converges toward one misty point in the distance), I am interested in the idea that while there are elements of the landscape we perceive with our senses (shape, light, color, shadow) the things we know are are equally important. For instance,  San Bruno Mountain looms above the the school in the distance to the South.   Instead of down playing the size of the mountain relative to the school, as the eye or camera will do, I chose to exaggerate the mass and size of the mountain, which is clearly taller than any building. 

This approach was adopted in the late 19th century by the Post-Impressionists and Cubists (notably, Cezanne, Braque and Picasso) from Japanese and Chinese prints and paintings. The idea that foreground of the painting could appear significantly smaller than the background appeals to me as I continue to explore the landscape of San Francisco.  It requires a leap of faith from the directly observable to the experiential, resulting in a large amount of experimentation and what sometimes feels like compositional finagling.  

The most recent in the series, Red School 3, was observed from slightly above the school on Mangles Avenue. This spot allowed me to incorporate multiple levels and viewpoints into the composition. First, looking down on the buildings on Foerster and Joost, across to the school, itself and up to the buildings above. The horizon line was raised to emphasize the Pacific Ocean to the West and of course,  include one of the many container ships traveling to and from the Bay. 

Red School 3   oil on canvas    16x20  

Red School 3   oil on canvas    16x20  

For those  still reading, I have much more to say on this topic so stay tuned. 

RedSchool in progress

I am currently documenting the progress of this painting, which I hope to have completed in the next week. The challenge is keeping it open and malleable while staying true to the original compositional choices. 

Open Studios at Art Explosion

Thanks to all who came out to join me at open studios this weekend. The opening on Friday was a blast with lots of friends and family and special help from my public relations team, Theo and Wes who tirelessly distributed my cards to anything with a pulse.

The kids filled the empty studio next door with awesome creations and got many positive reviews from the critics!

Saturday and Sunday were more mellow, with a chance to relax and hang out with visitors. It is a pleasure having a space to do this and I welcome visitors anytime - just shoot me a line and come on by. 

Lots of exciting shows coming up in the next months so stay tuned!


The kids filled the empty studio next door with their awesome creations!


I am so thrilled to be starting my eighth month in my studio at Art Explosion in the Mission District.  Having a place of ones own is truly a blessing. 

The amazing windows here have allowed me to continue exploring the cityscape from a cozy perch on the 3rd floor. 

Stay tuned for more studies of the light, fog and Sutro Tower!

Sutro, View from Studio

Sutro, View from Studio

And .... join me for Open Studios here, September 25 -28. Opening Reception, Friday September 25th 7-11pm. Open Studios Sat/Sunday 12-5p.

Turner and Plein Air

Once again the De Young Museum has served up a much needed dose of artistic nourishment.The current exhibit, JMW Turner, Painting Set Free, which chronicles the last period of Turner's career from 1835-1850 is a must see. 

While Turner had almost photojournalistic intentions , what stands out for me is the degree to which details get lost in the swirl of air and sea. The paintings completely transcend the specific and become about the experience of light and atmosphere.

Turner famously claimed to have strapped himself to the mast of a ship during a violent storm in order to fully experience the elements.  Perhaps inspired by this act, Monet supposedly tied his easel down to withstand a snow storm. 

JMW Turner, (detail)  Painting Set Free Exhibit  De Young Museum, San Francisco

JMW Turner, (detail)  Painting Set Free Exhibit  De Young Museum, San Francisco


While I am cautiously working my way up to such heroics, I have greatly benefited from a return to plein air this year. With my trusty french easel, I have been encountering my share of fog, wind, and harsh sun. With apologies to Turner, I will say that before I strap myself to a container ship in the Bay I will be taking advantage of some great spots in San Francisco (on land) to observe the effects of atmosphere.

overlooking Glen Canyon at Marietta Drive.

overlooking Glen Canyon at Marietta Drive.

Solo Show at a Woman's Eye Gallery

A Huge thanks to everyone who has made it out to see the show! I am touched and honored by all the positive response.  

The show continues until August  31 at 678 Portola. 

I will be hosting a "closing" reception on Sunday the 31st of August from 12-5. Please join me for wine and snacks. 


Painting, Teaching, and Relocating .

A little bit more about me…...

I received my BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001 with a dual focus in figurative painting and art education. After graduation I worked as a full-time art teacher in the Chicago Public Schools.  Maintaining my personal studio practice has always been integral to my role as a teacher. However, life in the inner city classroom, as difficult, inspiring, heartbreaking and hugely rewarding as it was,  became all-consuming and left little time for showing my own work.

In 2012,  what began as a maternity leave became an extended hiatus from the world of teaching when my husband was offered a job in San Francisco and we decided to relocate our family from Chicago. I have always loved the Bay Area and it has long been a dream to live here. So when the opportunity arose, we had little hesitation. 

I have spent the last two years responding to my new environment through a dedicated studio practice and now very excited to be showing the work!