Updated: Oct 30, 2021
Felt artist, costume designer, sculptor, textile artist, but especially all-round artist, Catherine O’Leary is a multifaceted talent who defies definition. Her work is bold and brilliant. One of the tutors at this year’s Canadian Felting week, Catherine treated participants to a visual journey through her creative work instead of a traditional artist talk. The audience loved it. One can’t imagine a better way to appreciate the diversity of Catherine’s art.
Catherine began the journey with images of her sculptural felted objects. The best description for this is quirky and gorgeous. There was an entire office space Catherine felted in three short weeks. She said, “the experience was great” and that it made her realize that anything could be felted.
There were images of felted heads–upside town heads, stitched heads, hats made out of heads and even beaded heads. In addition there was a collection of felted phones and reading glasses. Particularly popular were the rose coloured specs. Catherine also shared images of her figures. The small creations are reminiscent of wooden artist models.
Next Catherine shared her felted clothing. These were very distinctive. Though made of wool there was a lightness about them. Catherine is well-known for her painterly approach and her use of printed fabric in her artful felted wearables. Looking at them, one catches glimpses of: vintage 1940’s house dresses, kimonos, mermaid tales, and Edwardian Gibson girls. The patterns on the dresses are like Kandinsky prints, Art Deco designs and chintz china patterns. Catherine’s clothes are beautifully composed with unique shapes, colours and textures.
Catherine has a series of dresses inspired by Korean Bojagi, a traditional wrapping cloth. These cloths are used for everything from gift wrapping to Buddhist rites. They can be made from a variety of materials including silk and ramie. There are patchwork Bojagi as well as some featuring embroidery. (Much of Catherine’s work is embellished with stitches.) Bojagi is recognized as an art form and displayed in museums and galleries.
Catherine’s Bojagi are evocative and imbued with creativity. Some are reminiscent of retro petticoats. Others are raw and sensual and look as if they belong in a Helmut Newton photograph. Like some of the felted dressed these pieces are created bottom up from a simple circle and expanded on. Often Catherine uses the same techniques with different mediums.
Catherine’s costumes and wearable art have been featured in The World of WearableArt (WOW) These Awards have bedazzled audiences in New Zealand and around the world with their beauty for 30 years. In 2013 and 2014 she was a WOW finalist.
Catherine’s resume is filled with awards. There really are too many to count. Her work has been enjoyed in galleries in: San Fransisco USA, Heyri Artists Village, Korea, Seoul, South Korea and throughout her native Australia.
She is the author of From Felt to Fabric published by Lark Books in 2011 and has contributed to many publications including: Textile art around the World by Ellen Bakker, 2014, ‘Textiles’ by Mary Schoeser, Thames/Hudson 2012 and 500 Felt Objects’, Lark Books 2011.
Her work has been written about in textile magazines such as: Ver Filzt Und Zuge Naht , 2014, Felt Fashion, (Russian) 2014, Textiles Down Under, issue 13, 2013, Felt (Australia) 2013, Get Creative 2011 and Art Price 11 vol.61 2008 (Korean)
Catherine is based in Melbourne, Australia. She teaches and mentors at various textile forums and workshops throughout the year, across Australia and Internationally.