Fireflies, an exhibition of paintings by Catharine Somerville at Elmwood Spa

Posted: October 22, 2008 | Post Categories: Media Information

Catharine Somerville is a Canadian born artist who has spent her painting career travelling between Canada, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and Mexico. Somerville’s most recent series is inspired by her time at Las Pozas – a surrealist sculpture park situated deep within central Mexico’s forests. This series of work deals with pagan themes of nature, dreams and magic, whilst attempting to capture the ethereal. Her paintings strive to articulate her personal experiences in Mexico through paint, and fuse aspects of fantasy and the surreal.

Catharine’s extraordinary works will be on display at Elmwood Spa from October 22 to October 26, 2008.

Sherry Brydson, owner of Elmwood Spa said, “I’m very proud to welcome Cathy Somerville back to Elmwood Spa, and to Canada! Since her last show here, her work has gone in several stunning and provocative directions which we are excited to share with her many admirers, and with our guests. At Elmwood, we have always believed that art is an important part of the relaxation experience.

Elmwood houses a small permanent collection of Canadian, American and Thai artists, including several by Cathy Somerville. Our guests can enjoy its beauty or use it to spark an inner dialogue. I encourage our guests to relax in our urban retreat and let the artist’s bold use of colour challenge, stimulate and rejuvenate you.”

Marie Picton, Executive Manager, Spa Services agrees. She says having art in the spa is important because it inspires reflection on our inner spirit and has an impact on our well-being. “Looking at art can transport us beyond ourselves and everything that is tangible. It speaks to us, and allows us to see and feel things in a new or different way. The art becomes part of your spa journey, and ultimately a reflection of the serenity or enlightenment you are achieving while here.”

Over 140 paintings will be on display at the spa, including important works such as Mosquito Coast, a 5ft by 7ft work in oil and resin, Northern Lights, Water Babies and Carousel Stallion.

In his critique of Mosquito Coast, Dr. Ed Winters, who leads the Painting, Drawing and Sculpture programmes at the internationally renowned West Dean College in Southwest England, which is managed by The Edward James Foundation, says, “Catharine Somerville’s paintings are made in difficult colour-acid greens. However difficult, it is a wonderful piece of painting, providing the spectator with architecture along its bottom third. This serves to situate the viewer at a distance in front of the ‘arches /trees’. Above the safety of this recognizable space the foliage and sky overwhelms one, and produces a much more ambiguous space in which it is much more difficult to understand one’s position in respect of the representation contained therein. The colour works. And the dancing highlights and incessant scratches on the surface stitch the plane of the picture together in a way that pulls the various spatial devices into cohesion. It is a difficult picture and one which is a huge achievement upon the very good but not so ambitious work she was making before taking up her post graduate studentship. I think it is a very good painting – a painter’s painting…”

A year after a mystery fall left her in a coma, Somerville, who graduated in 2007 with a postgraduate diploma in visual arts from West Dean College, “capped a remarkable recovery” by winning the Chairman’s Prize at West Dean College. The Chairman’s Prize is awarded for outstanding work by a student.

About her fall, Somerville says, “It was a surreal experience. I fell fifteen feet and ended up in a coma, and nobody could tell me how it happened. And as I was coming out of a coma, I felt like I was sitting on a chair on the wall, and people were looking at me as if I were a painting.

Gradually I came off that wall and I ended up in Sir Edward James’ surreal jungle garden in Las Pozas, in the eastern part of Mexico in the mountains near the town of Xilitla. This has had a life changing effect on me as an artist. I’ve become very much more focused and centered on self critical analysis.

Thomas Mann once said that the only way an artist can emit poetry is by the very personal experiences. It’s my intention to create a visual event where the viewer can come to it, enjoy it and bring their own history and experience to it. When you look at my work, I don’t want you to see an illusion or tomp l’oeil, I want you to be able to enjoy it and enjoy the experience of exploring the paint and I hope that some meaning will emerge from that.”

Somerville, who has been working with Dr. Edward Winters and Robert Pulley, Principal of West Dean College, says, “My accident taught me to be very optimistic. I won the Chairman’s Prize at West Dean College; the only painter to have received that prize, and I want to thank the many people who helped me there. Without them I would not have had the opportunity to visit Mexico. The Edward James Museum, The Xilitla Foundation (both in Mexico) and West Dean College are working together on an exchange scheme for artists, craftspeople and conservators from Europe and Mexico.”

“I am also very grateful to Sherry Brydson, who has believed in my work for a number of years. It is wonderful to have this support, and to be able to exhibit my work in an environment where people are able to contemplate it for a long time in a more empathetic environment. They’ve just had a massage! What a great thing – to come out of that experience in a very peaceful way and then to connect quite deeply to the art. With galleries, so often people really only view your artwork for two minutes.

Philosopher Richard Fulham said that it’s very important to spend time in front of a painting. For me it’s like reading a book. Paintings like Mosquito Coast, Northern Lights, Water Babies and Carousel Stallion took me over a year to make. It’s very gratifying to be able to engage people in this way.”

Showing art at Elmwood Spa is about community. It’s about aesthetics people can enjoy and energy given out by the artist. But the true poetry happens with the viewer’s experience. We all see it and feel it in our own ways.”

What will Somerville do after her exhibit at Elmwood Spa?

“I am considering going to France and taking up residency at Pont-Aven, which is mainly known because of Emile Bernard and Paul Gaugin and the École de Pont-Aven, to continue exploring the paint. I am also very interested in our first nations; the Inuit, and the Mexican, and looking at pagan imagery and putting that up against our western and Christian images.

My accident was a turning point for me. Since the accident I’ve realized how important it is to be an optimist and to always see the cup as half full. At a time when there are so many economic problems in the world, it’s very important to be optimistic and creative with what we have.”

“So stunning words fail me!”

“A nemesis of metaphysical metaphor” – Don Rouge-Humber

With more space than any other day spa in the region, Elmwood Spa is a complete wellness destination that caters to women and men who want stress relief and relaxation in a serene atmosphere. It is an ideal place to gather with friends, to celebrate milestones, to reconnect with a loved one, or to use as one’s own destination for stress relief and self-renewal.

Elmwood Spa offers a world of healing including traditional European massage therapies, alternative therapies such as Reiki and Reflexology, exclusive Siam treatments based on Thai tradition and LI’TYA healing rituals from aboriginal Australia, which are exclusive to Elmwood Spa in Canada, and marine-based treatments incorporating infrared sauna and organic seaweeds from the Pacific Northwest Coast.

Additional references: Article entitled Artist’s recovery from fall leads to top prize at

Catharine Somerville
Herringbroom Studio
Duncton, Petworth, West Sussex, UK
T +44 (0) 1798 344 287

For a personal viewing with the artist, by appointment, please contact Emily Simek 416.323.4275 or by email:

For more information about Elmwood Spa and its commitment to the arts and corporate social responsibility, please contact:

Marie Picton
Executive Manager, Spa Services
T. 416-646-0105