Cathy Ward’s ‘hair’ work is deeply familiar and yet very foreign at the same time, it is the very essence of the uncanny, of what Freud termed ‘unheimliche’. It produces uneasiness and a sense of revulsion and attraction and repulses in the same way that a stranger’s hair in the shower is disgusting and your own is just your own hair. Other people’s hair is the once living dirt of the other arranged in long strings of keratin. Cathy’s work is attractive because we are all in some degree or other attracted to the irrational, we humans are a metaphorical species who imbue everything with meaning, try to find alphabets in the most arcane of materials. If aliens, spirits or Gaia were trying to communicate with us they might choose Cathy as a medium and her arrangements of hair as their language.


Carl Williams is a former runner and rare book dot-commer who studied Sociology and, later on, Diplomatic History at the LSE. He also worked as a curator on secondment to the Ludlow Santo Domingo Library in Geneva for about three years. He trades in counterculture and its origins and occasionally curates art shows of punk, agitpop and related stuff in Maggs Gallery.

Hair as Text - by Doug Harvey

Cathy Wards impossibly detailed scratch board drawings of mounds, waves, and curlicues of human hair conflate a historically informed twenty first century art practice with a nineteenth century eccentricity, fusing it into a seamlessly unified field of locks and tresses. Hair is one of the most fetishized parts - certainly the most publicly fetishized part- of the human body. It is moulded, edited, removed, extended, and orchestrated into a three dimensional sculptural signal encompassing all manner of personal, social, political, sexual, and spiritual information about its flesh pedestal. From Samson to Rapunzal, mythology and folklore are rife with examples of the coiffure as portent, and anyone who lived through the 60’s and early 70’s knows the depth and intensity of import that can be gleaned from just a few inches of the stuff.

Hair’s capacity to act as signifier derives largely from its metaphorical relationship to text - as an accumulation of linear expressions from the inner body to the outside world, dead records marking time in direct proportion to lived experience, chronicling entire periods of our lives in a few subtle and ephemeral twists. This ephemerality indicated the hairs linguistic model is that of the oral tradition: hair signals must be continually maintained, and they are constantly subject to elaboration or modification. Documentary media may record one moment of a constantly evolving language, but fixing the language itself is a trickier proposition.

Ward’s work is partially rooted in the obsessive eulogization seen in Victorian hair wreaths - where the grief of the bereaved is methodically, laboriously recorded into a narrative artefact, a mandala woven from the linear detritus of the loved ones life, making contained, cyclical sense out of a suddenly truncated story line. In Ward’s methodically delineated vistas, no such tidy resolution is sought, at least not in a final form. Instead, elaborate ornamental knots emerge from a chaos of uncensored follicle transmissions - allowing the rational, apollonian impulse its place, but refusing to identify it as The Source.

Ward’s work also transcends the metaphorical in two directions - towards the literal, in the drawings that impose or extract no imagery beyond the all over horror vacuii of hair as hair; and towards the transpersonal, where improbable, symbol-laden dream vistas emerge from the tangles skeins. These landscape and architectural fantasies reunite hair as a textual medium with the proverbial psychic roots of a story. Like an eidetic memory of a twilight vision glimpsed through the cascades of a mother’s or lover’s tresses, the vista opens upon mystery, miraculously transcending the awkwardness that should come with such a transition, yet inextricably entrenched in mammalian physiology.

Since graduating with an MFA in painting from UCLA in 1994, Doug Harvey has written extensively about the Los Angeles and International art scenes and other aspects of popular culture, primarily as the art critic for LA WEEKLY.

His writing has also appeared in Art issues, Art in America, The New York Times, and numerous other publications. He has written museum and gallery catalogue essays for Jim Shaw, Marnie Webber, Jeffrey Vallance, Tim Hawkinson, Georganne Deen, Margaret Keane, Big Daddy Roth, Lari Pittman, Thomas Kinkade, Reverend Ethan Acres and many others. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

Drawing Papers 47 The Drawing Center, New York
Talespinning: Selections Fall 2004