In the studio: Catherine O’Donnell

“I take these buildings and reimagine them to reveal their complexity.”

At the core of contemporary New South Wales, artist Catherine O’Donnell’s practice is elevation of the ordinary. Her upcoming body of works, especially those in her survey show with Orange Regional Gallery, takes the basic forms of fibro houses within Western Sydney and regional New South Wales, and transforms them into complex geometric compositions. These works mark a journey in O’Donnell’s life and art practice, one that she generously shares with her audience, and during her interview with Art Almanac.

Catherine O’Donnell, Urban Perspective, Large window, 2018, charcoal on paper, 100.7 × 135.5cm unframed. Courtesy the artist, Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney and Orange Regional Gallery, New South Wales

What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
Currently, because I am working towards two exhibitions, I get up and get into the studio about 9am and probably finish around 4 or 5pm, with a very quick lunch in between. That is the case pretty much five days a week with a little extra on the weekend, so I spend as much time as I can in the studio at the moment. My studio is in my home. It’s in my garage off the side of my house, so I do have the luxury of being in my home if I want to, rather than travel somewhere to do my work.

Artistically, what draws you to architectural vernacular?
In particular, I love geometry, and the way the configuration fibrobeading and fibro sheets in fibro (low income) housing, in my eyes, makes abstract forms. The overall embedded primary and geometric shapes in these dwellings are really what captures my imagination.

I grew up in these buildings. A lot of the materials that I work with are from housing estates in the mid-twentieth century, and it’s really the landscape of my childhood, so I’m very familiar with that. As such, the houses that feature in my latest survey exhibition are very much grounded in reality. I am producing a large-scale installation for this show, and it is based on four façades from four different houses that stand in Western Sydney and regional New South Wales. This upcoming exhibition looks at how my practice has evolved over ten years, and how I am moving from my existing drawing practice to 3D large-scale installations of houses, which is exciting.

Catherine O’Donnell, Beyond the curtain beats a loving heart, 2020, charcoal on paper, diptych, each 100 × 34cm unframed, 107 × 50cm framed, pine wooden coloured frame. Courtesy the artist, Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney and Orange Regional Gallery, New South Wales

What does the concept of elevating the mundane and banal mean to you?
If you think about the houses and the units and architectures that I draw, they aren’t the Sydney Opera House or Government House; they are just ordinary, everyday fibro houses, which people would walk past and wouldn’t look at twice. So, as I said, (these buildings) are the landscapes of my childhood, and I see more in them. I take these buildings and reimagine them to reveal their complexity.

Catherine O’Donnell, Gold leafed house 4, 2022. Courtesy the artist, Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney and Orange Regional Gallery, New South Wales

What do you most want audiences to know about your work in your upcoming exhibitions; Beyond the Shadow with Orange Regional Gallery, and your new piece of work at Sydney Contemporary with Dominik Mersch Gallery?
What is really important to me at the moment is my survey show and collecting works way back from when I did my Master of Fine Arts to the new works I am just about to complete. The survey show is a turning point in my art, as I moved from my drawing practice to 3D installations, and it’s a really big and exciting shift in my work.


Orange Regional Gallery, New South Wales, will present Catherine O’Donnell: Beyond the Shadow from 9 July to 4 September, and Dominik Mersch will showcase new work by the artist at Sydney Contemporary, 8 to 11 September.

Catherine O’Donnell is represented by Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney.


Jaimi Wright is a Perth-based arts writer who has also published with Seesaw Magazine, and an art historian with a passion for community engagement.

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