In the Present Moment
Slowing down with Highlands artist, Cath Connolly
By KIM HENRY
Photos by CATH CONNOLLY
All good things come to those who wait. Isn’t that what they say? This certainly rings true for Highlands artist, Cath Connolly, who has painted her whole life but has rediscovered herself as an artist following retirement from the corporate hustle. After a prolific career, being a mother of four and having a pretty tumultuous few years with Covid and personal health challenges, Connolly is living a long-anticipated version of her best life, working as an artist with a home studio and an ever-growing appreciation of the world around her and its beauty.
Born in Coventry in the UK, Connolly came to America with her family when she was just 12 years old. Art was an integral part of family life for Cath, whose parents and siblings are all drawn to artistic expression. “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth so much as a crayon,” smiles this thoughtful artist, whose very presence exudes peace and patience. It may well have been these innate qualities that led Connolly into 20 years of teaching, after receiving a double major from Michigan University in Literature and Art, and a Masters in Psychology and Child Development.
Although drawing was her main means of artistic expression during her college years, Connolly gradually evolved into a highly accomplished oil paint artist, now specializing in portraits and landscapes. After a long career teaching within the education system and then within a software company, Connolly finally has time to completely immerse herself in her art, and she couldn’t be happier. “I always knew I’d paint,” she shares. “I’m always painting in my mind!” Connolly and her husband moved to Highlands in 2019, allowing for a deeper appreciation of the beautiful mountains, the ever-changing light, the passing seasons and the rich colors that go alongside them.
In the full circle of life, Connolly will return to teaching a few oil painting for beginners workshops in 2023 at the acclaimed Bascom, a center for visual arts in Highlands. “I believe everyone has talent, some people just need a little guidance,” says Connolly, talking about her love of sharing and connecting with others. This is also reflected by the other joy of Connolly’s life, her yoga practice and teaching, which she believes not only helped her navigate the corporate world with more grace and ease, but also became part of the tapestry of who she is.
A lover of the outdoors, Connolly now enjoys taking long walks in nature, fueling her inspiration to return to her studio and explore her oil paints. Unlike many artists who choose more immediate mediums, Connolly relishes the time it takes for the oils to dry, allowing her to return to her paintings again and again, add new layers to the slowly drying paint and savor the unfolding creation of her art. “I want to find the essence of the subject and explore exactly how I want to portray it,” explains Connolly in reference to her current artistic process and motivation. An obvious celebration of light, shadow, texture and color, her work is both joyful and soulful, whether she’s depicting individuals with knowing eyes, the simple beauty of a flower or a range of seasonal landscapes.
Connolly’s inspiration to paint always comes from a desire to capture a feeling, not a literal object. “This approach evolved in me as I let go of thinking of painting as replicating reality,” she explains, “Whether a portrait or a landscape, I paint to evoke some level of emotion in the viewer. For example, in Morning at Apple Lake, standing in the early morning light, gazing as the mist lifted from the mountain lake, I felt a profound sense of solitude, which I chose to capture by focusing on the vibrancy of the light at dawn as it reflects on the water, not the “perfect’ rendering of the realistic form of water and trees.”
Connolly regularly uses her gift to benefit others, whether that’s raising money for different charities by donating her work for raffles, volunteering art classes at The Women’s Shelter in Raleigh or working locally with Mountaintop Rotary in Highlands. True to the pay-kindness-forward principles of yoga, Connolly has sought to always use her talent to give back. One of her many poignant pieces is a portrayal of a healthcare worker painted during Covid. This painting was used to raise money and highlight the extraordinary work of healthcare providers throughout the pandemic.
Connolly's work can be found online and at Acorns, The Shop at Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, and she’s grateful for the steady stream of commissions coming her way. Surviving cancer since her move to the mountains, Connolly emanates both gratitude and presence through her very being and, by extension, in the textured layers of her work. Something about the quality of Connolly’s self-expression and the gentle energy of her personality reminds us that the present is all we truly have - perhaps that’s why we call it a gift.
To see more of Connolly’s work or to contact her directly, go to cathconnolly.com. or email at email@example.com.