Kathy Skerritt, Remembered: Touch All The World

Kathy Skerritt, detail from Dear Women of the World, initially installed at ArtiCle Gallery, re-installed (as seen here) at Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, where Skerritt’s work is archived. Image courtesy of Kelly Pontoni.

Kathy Skerritt, the Cleveland painter, installation, and mixed media artist, passed away August 28, at age 64, after resisting cancer for eight years. She was my closest art friend over the last five years. The following brief impressions are necessarily personal.

Kathy’s luminous personality loomed over the warp and weft of her creative soul and work. She understood: being comes into every moment. In the solitude of art making, the image issues from this too, yet also crucial is the far deeper play of devotion, relationship, community, and as she would put it, being a citizen of the earth. Art was one of the forms her larger work took. Closer to its center are her family, spiritual community, her friends, and colleagues.

Kathy allowed me to touch a monochromatic, basically black painting of hers installed at Article, where her last studio was located. My index finger hovered over an intersection and then traced a route just above a craggy cut in the thick blackened paint as the cut etched its pathway downward toward where a complex of other intersections of ditches and seams came together before sorting themselves out and splaying in other directions. It vibrated. Her canvasses of this period were intensely textured and animated.

The world was also her canvas. She’d pick up a camera, compose delicate altars in the serene maw of a found nest, figure out how to make inks, fashion brushes from branches, do blind single line drawings, caretake stones and cotton and linen and bark and nests and detritus. She wasn’t obstructed and understood creation is a form of cooperation with the world. More than this, acting to create is awareness come to reality’s creative moment. She gave those moments everything.

Kathy Skerritt, from Dear Women of the World, installed first at ArtiCle Gallery, then subsequently (as seen here) at Artists Archives of the Western Resrve. Image courtesey of Kelly Pontoni.

The installation was titled Dear Women of the World. It stretched the length of Article’s long, west wall. Picture a series of loamy colored draped cloth remnants, each hanging on a rough wooden crosspiece. The crosspieces made of driftwood seem fetched from the innards of a forest floor. Pinned to each remnant is an anchoring note on gampi paper from the artist to the women.  The mud-darkened remnants were articles of clothing, tops and dresses, and several remnants were too tattered to easily decipher. Although one level of their effect was abstraction, it was their solemn narrative secrets that demanded attention. They worked together in a way gently defiant, as if each had outlasted something or someone. Their human travail clung to their raw hangers too.

Standing at the top of the soft swale coursing downward past the backyard and into the flood plain of the Nine Mile Watershed behind her and Mike’s house, Kathy described her vision of the future landscape. There were non-native plants to be uprooted and banished, wood logs to be moved, paths to be reaffirmed, and native plants to be reintroduced. For Kathy, this section of the watershed was a juicy and profound creative prospect. Her approach seemed like that of a choreographer surveying the space and empty space. She felt around for the way she might help the land’s energy sort out a more sustainable, ecologically sound configuration. Her approach wasn’t as much about reshaping as it was about listening for the land’s faint yet sturdy echoes.

One time, while we were on an art road trip, she spoke of her Guru Adi Da Samiraj. She told me of her time helping Adi Da present his art at the 2007 Venice Biennial. She briefly described her devotion. Then Kathy carefully raised the subject of the “Image-art,” and of the aesthetic of ego-less coincidence. Her deeper, core intent is captured by the words of Adi Da:

All perception is abstraction. Right and true visual art , or image-art, must render the “point-of-view” made and intrinsically ego-bound that comprise ordinary perception back to the ego-less Reality-source in which perception is otherwise ego-bound. (Adi Da Samiraj, Perfect Abstraction)

Anybody who spent time with her would know how she could dance between attentiveness, loving and goofiness! Kathy would have us inspire one another, ache together, love one another with as much knowable deep intention as we can allow to erupt. She would have us touch all the world.


From her artist statement: Kathy M. Skerritt is a Cleveland painter, mixed media, and installation artist. Her artistic inquiry is a practice of learning to feel and see what animates form from beneath, within, or behind surface appearances; to touch and be touched by the whole within which and as all forms arise. Artistic influences include Gaudi (embellishment of natural forms), Adi Da (simultaneity of the image and the viewer), and Goldsworthy (patterning and transitory states in nature). She received the BFA in Art from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1980 and the Masters in Positive Organization Change & Development from Case Western Reserve University in 2011.

The Breast Chronicles of Kathy Skerritt-a special memorial exhibition featuring 80 digital drawings excerpted from the late artist’s personal journal–opens Friday, October 1 at ArtiCle Gallery (15316 Waterloo).  Printed for the first time, these intimate reflections take the viewer on a journey through the first stages of her life with cancer, starting in 2013. Developing this exhibition as vehicle to share her inspiring story was one of Kathy’s last projects. In her own words “this is going to be one of my best shows”. Produced by K2 Art Collection (Karen Beckwith and Kelly Pontoni), all work in The Breast Chronicles of Kathy Skerritt will be available for sale; a portion of the proceeds will assist archiving BIPOC and LGBTQ+ women in the permanent collection of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, where Skerritt’s own work is preserved. Opening Reception: 6 – 9 pm Friday, October 1. Additional viewing hours: noon to 2 pm Sunday, Oct. 10 and 6 – 8 pm Thursday, Oct. 21. For additional viewing times, contact curator Kelly Pontoni 216.513.6593.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.