Cat Byrnes is a photographer and painter born in Kingston, PA whose work weaves between colorful expressionist paintings and vibrant film photographs on city streets. Often shooting solo roaming the corners of her hometown and New York City, her poetic images are often the hushed moments that society tends to miss; the awkward stretch on a street corner or a moment of respite on a crosswalk in Chinatown. After getting her BFA in Photography and Painting at Pace University in New York, Cat has remained in the city where she goes between painting in her plant covered residential studio to capturing the visual nuances of New York neighborhoods which are quiet reminders of the quirkiness and romanticism that lie within the city's sidewalks.
Which medium did you begin with first? Photography or painting?
I was formally introduced to photography when I attended my first darkroom class in college with photographer Robert Kozma. I fell in love with the solitary nature of looking through a viewfinder and working in the darkroom. It was an epiphany. The same feeling crossed over to the painting studio. Photography trained my eye to recognize composition, rhythm and color within paintings. It opened the door to my own artistic expression.
Do either of the mediums influence the other? Or are they two separate forms of art/entities to you?
In my work, yes they influence each other. Painting is about creating something so it can exist, while photography is about making permanence from impermanence. Both mediums embody the practice of decisiveness and constant observation, each accomplishing their unique translation of my vision.
You have spent a long time in NYC (over a decade); initially traveling to the city with your parents for their job and then later moving back to attend college. You also currently reside in Brooklyn. Do you feel your relationship with the city has changed since you were a child; specifically in regards to your artwork?
I have grown more attached to New York City because it fuels my drive to keep reinventing my work. Those early memories were my building blocks of the fundamental ways of how I see and create today. Only years later have I come to acknowledge the privilege of having that access and education.
Is there a particular photograph that stands out to you because of a special story behind it?
This photo (above) was taken in the midst of lockdown in early Spring 2020, quarantine was in full effect. There were little to no people in groups or walking around since the daily death toll was rising. Before taking this photograph, I had just walked by utilitarian storage containers that were used as makeshift morgues. As I walked by the park, I was struck as I saw sunbathing New Yorkers. Unmoving, scattered, and silent, looked to me like dead bodies. I documented the scene and found my own plot to bask in the sun.
Is there a certain mood or mindset you feel you have to be in to paint verse photograph?
No, the situation just appears to me or what is available to me at the time. I work daily to cultivate a strong discipline and work ethic.
Who are some of your inspirations?
Joan Mitchell, Jill Freedman, Jon Schueler, Vivian Maier, Helen Frankenthaler, Andy Goldsworthy, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Martha Cooper, Joseph Cornell, Ansel Adams
Cat Byrnes in her Broome St. studio in New York City © Andres Rios
To view more of Cat’s work click here