Artist’s Spotlight – Elizabeth Catanese

Today’s Artist’s Spotlight features my very talented ekphrastic artist friend, Elizabeth Catanese. I have admired Elizabeth’s work for a few years now. She deftly combines two of my favorite types of media: words and paint. Enjoy the interview, which is quirky and profound—just like her!

artistphoto copy - Elizabeth Catanese


Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Elizabeth Catanese: Humans are born symbol-makers and art has been my form of symbol-making for as long as I can remember. Currently I am making acrylic and mixed media paintings, but I have created conceptual art installations, sculptural work and photography. I also write poetry and fiction.

RO: What first inspired you to art?
EC: My aunt Tricia Catanese Adler, a visual artist, would often have my cousins, Mary Anne, Tricia and me over to her apartment to make art. We did a variety of projects like sewing imaginative creature pillows, painting bird houses and making crazy hats. I liked being around her free spirit and having social time with my cousins, but I was also learning how art can be an important way to express individuality and engage with emotions. Many of my relatives are visual artists who taught me how to draw and paint as well as how to observe the world with compassionate, fresh eyes. I am surrounded by creative friends and students who always inspire me.

BrickFlameRO: What types of media are your current favorites and why? Is there a different type of medium that you would like to try in the future?
EC: My most recent favorite medium is mortar on canvas. I like it because it’s what masons use to close the gaps between bricks and this feels metaphorical to me. My art is about trying to both close and expose gaps in my life. For example, my painting “Red Brick House” is about recalling formative moments at my grandparents house (closing the gaps of memory) and also about the fact that these moments can never exist in their original form again (exposing the memories themselves as gaps). Mortar also allows me to stick a lot of stuff onto my canvases and it’s a really fun material to blend with acrylic color.

I have a lot left to explore with my current media, but I would someday like to learn encaustic painting.

RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
erasureEC: My creative process for painting is a little bit different each time, but generally I go to the color-organized book shelves in my living room and pick a book to look at for a bit on my blue beanbag chair. It might be an photography book like The Lines of my Hand by Robert Frank or a painting retrospective like Cy Twombly by Richard Leeman. I might read poetry by Lynda Hull or Dean Young or even an excerpt from an old college bulk pack about Freud and the uncanny, medieval music or how to differentiate classroom instruction. I don’t look at the book for long. I’m really just trying to absorb some of the creative energy in the words and pictures created by others. Then I draw a spacial arrangement in my sketchbook. This is how I think shapes might appear on the canvas. After that, I go to my art studio and freewrite with permanent marker on the canvas. I might be inspired by the book I just looked but I am always ultimately freewriting to get at the “shadow” side of myself: whatever is going on in my life that I’m trying to deny. After that, it’s a non-cognitive visual process of putting shapes and colors on canvas and, at times, adding relevant textures. It’s also an emotional process because as I go, I learn what the painting is really about. When I’m finished with one session of painting, I wash my brushes and clean up to clear my head. Then I sit on the red couch in my studio and look at my work. I can usually tell why I’ve put that wire there or that patch of red in the corner or why the whole thing looks like a dress or a skeleton or a flame. I think about what I might do to the canvas the next time I return to my studio.

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
EC: The longest time I’ve spent on a piece of art is eight years. That’s how long it took me to write my first (and only!) middle grade novel. I still have more to do! My conceptual art installation at Bryn Mawr college, “Once Upon a Time is Now,” was completed over three months with about five hours a day spent working on the art and another four to five hours reading for inspiration. These days, I usually don’t paint for more than two hours at a time, but I will often have many two hour sessions with the same painting or edit a painting even when it’s supposedly “done” and hanging on the wall in my living room. It’s only truly finished when it’s been purchased and is hanging on the wall in someone else’s living room!

healingRO: You are currently teaching. Do you incorporate visual art into your courses? If so, how? How do the students react?
EC: I incorporate visual art into all of my courses. In my Humanities 101 class, I just taught my students how to do formal analysis papers where they describe an ancient Chinese landscape painting of their choosing. In my composition and reading classes, I often take students to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts or the Philadelphia Museum of Art to work on specificity in writing by engaging with paintings. In my poetry writing course, there is a unit about ekphrasis, or writing about art, in my syllabus. We look at visual art and write poems based on the art.

Overall, students have responded well to studying art! In a world that is fast paced and all about multitasking, one of the best skills that can be taught to students is how to slow down and look.

I’m very grateful to work at Community College of Philadelphia. My colleagues have taught me a lot about incorporating art into the classroom, and the administration has been very supportive of my desire to create and deepen partnerships between CCP and local art museums. I love how open my students are to different ways of learning and thinking.

RO: How does your background as a writer inform your painting? Conversely, how does your background as a visual artist inform your writing?proust
: Studying and making art always gives me something to write about and writing always gives me something to paint about. Having multiple projects going allows me to not feel stuck for long. I love creative hybridity. In addition to writing on canvas, I love graphic novels. I am currently experimenting with this form.

RO: You mix both writing and painting onto your canvases, which gives a nice layered effect and allows you to broach sensitive subjects at times. Is there a subject you have yet to approach/wish to approach in the future?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEC: When my work was in the Layers and Folds exhibit at the Therese A. Maloney Gallery at the College of Saint Elizabeth, a viewer came up to me and asked me where my words came from. I said “from my head” and suddenly realized that it was important to me to incorporate voices other than my own into my work. I began a painting called Mistakes, Hopes, Desires where I emailed people about mistakes they had made, hopes they had and desires they had. I recorded my voice reading their responses and played it in a loop while I painted. The mass of voices made for a cluttered canvas (even though the canvas is five feet tall!) I haven’t resolved that painting visually, but I’m interested in keeping at it. I want to integrate other people’s sensitive subjects onto the canvas in addition to my own.

There are so many subjects that I haven’t approached because I’m scared to approach them or I feel that doing so might betray others. Overall, I think it’s important to let myself approach those subjects whether or not I share the painting or the writing afterwards. I’m not always ready to be open right away.

firedress copyRight now I am painting a lot about the death of my grandfather, with whom I had a really wonderful relationship. It’s been a profound loss for me, and I’m thinking about how I wish I had told him certain things or spent more time with him. I have much more to paint about this.

RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
EC: Yes! My favorite handmade object comes from the artist Arlene Gale Milgram. She is a very good friend and was my first art teacher. Years ago, she made me a wall hanging that was a small book made of handmade paper. On the inside it said “get crazy, find inspiration, fulfill your dreams.” I had an apartment disaster that caused me to lose all my stuff, and I wrote to her to tell her how sad I was to have lost this gift. Within a week she had made me a new wall hanging which I treasure just as deeply as the memory of the first.

RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
EC: I’d like to have the ability to fly powered by my own arms. To be clear, I would not like to have to flap my arms, I just want to spread them and soar.

I love being up high. As a kid, I loved swinging as high as possible on swing sets, and now I love balconies that overlook landscapes of any sort. I wish I could say that I want to have a superpower that will create universal harmony, or something that I think sounds more noble, but the truth is I’d like to fly because I think it would be the most fun thing ever.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?ElizabethCataneseRiver
: I have learned, through making art, that being vulnerable and authentic with oneself can make life easier and happier. Art has made me more integrated as a human being (okay with both the outward presentation and shadow side of myself) and better able to form genuine connections with others. It has helped me become less anxious and more able to be present with others. In a lot of ways as I make art, art also makes me.



Elizabeth, thanks so much for sharing your creative process with us! To check out more of Elizabeth’s work, visit her website.

Artist’s Spotlight: Lynne McEniry

This installment of Artist’s Spotlight features Lynne McEniry—our first poet! I met Lynne when I started my MFA program. We both started together in the program’s first class. Since then, we have kept in touch, and she is one of the warmest, most inspiring people I know. I recently interviewed her, and she answered with her signature authenticity and enthusiasm.


Roaring Out: What first inspired you to write?
Lynne McEniry: Curiosity and insecurity, I think.  Very early on, I felt like my world was so small.  I wanted to know more, see more, experience more.  Not having confidence in the fact that what was going on inside would matter to anyone if I said it aloud inspired me to write it down because even though I was painfully shy and insecure, I also felt like if I was thinking about it, wondering about it, it must matter somehow.  Through my life, I have been voiceless for various reasons, and writing was a way to have voice.  I could write anything I wanted then scribble over it or tear it into tiny pieces and scatter it into different trash cans.  I’m grateful today that the need to do either of those things is rare… and that now, for one:  I’m old enough for matches, and two: there is always the delete key.

Lynne Sea ScapeRO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
LM: I tend to be a very slower writer, things working inside me for a long time before they make it to paper.  I often have to walk with them and sleep with them and eat and laugh and cry and read and swim with them before they take shape on paper or the computer screen.  A poem is also often a quickly-jotted thought or idea or group of words in my pocket journal or some scrap piece of paper that I then carry around for a while, reading and re-reading, adding more word or phrases over the following weeks and months before I actually start to shape it into the “first draft” of a poem.  When I’m working intently at a poem draft, I most like to write between 11 p.m. – 5 a.m. when everyone I love is safely sleeping, when the world is dark and quiet and I don’t have to feel like I should be paying attention to other cares or responsibilities.  Doodling helps, and old school coloring books and crayons, too.  Smoking used to help a hell of a lot, and although I’m glad I’m healthier, I haven’t found anything that keeps me at my notebook or computer screen like smoking did.  Oh, and I love to write in sight of the ocean at any time of day or night.  Lots and lots of reading is always happening. I think that everything about living is part of the process.  And any kind of writing utensil and any flat surface encourages the process.

Do you have a favorite subject to write about? If so, why do you like writing about this subject? Is there a particular subject matter that you would like to write more about in the future?
LM: Sometimes I come up with an over-arching idea for a collection or a series of poems or a chapbook.  Although there are a few I haven’t abandoned, I haven’t followed one through completely yet.  And, I don’t intend it, but grief, hope and resilience are often “subjects” in my poems.  Human relationship is another “subject” that comes up often.  I don’t think I’ve ever said to myself that I’m going to sit down and write about “X” unless it is an assignment or a project I am working on with someone. I “like” writing about loss and hope and relationship because they are common human experiences and I am always open to ways we can explore and celebrate how we are different and what we have in common.  In the future, I want my writing to keep exploring what I still have to learn… I think about home and exile a lot, so I might like to write about them.  I like to make leaps and connections between and among what I’m experiencing in visual art, film, music, pop culture and what is has to do with our deepest questions and concerns.  I know it sounds corny, but I do hope in the future the poems I write create beauty and peace for people who encounter them.

What is the longest time you’ve spent on a poem?
LM: I have a couple of poems I started in 1998 that I just can’t give up on…they are on paper and in Word files in many revisions, so we’ll see what happens.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

RO: Do you find that visual art inspires your writing? If so, how and who are your favorite visual artists?
LM: That’s a BIG YES.  Sometimes I turn to a painting or sculpture or photograph with the intention of writing my response to it and hoping it will shape itself into a poem.  As it does for many, the visual inspires so many ideas and emotions. Spending time with a work of art also creates a space in which the mind and the eye can wander along together or be taken in two different directions at the same time. A few weeks ago I went to the Frick for the first time ever.  I went with every intention just to take in the art.  I tried to make a deal with myself not to take out my notebook, not to be a poet for at least an hour or so.  But the minute I saw the glistening on the lip of Vermeer’s “Girl with Pearl Earring” I was writing a poem about the glisten.  I thought I was done with that, that I could experience some more of the art with that out of the way…and then I met the tiny bunny in Bellini’s “Saint Francis.” Joan Miro is a favorite.  Raul Villarreal Vivian Maier (her photographs could possibly be a future “subject”), Henri Cartier Bresson… I could go on for pages.

Although you focus on poetry and writing, is there a different artistic medium you’d like to work with in the future? If so, why?
LM: I spend a lot of time with my cameras, so I would really like to do a collaborative project with my prints and poems some time.  I would love to take classes in both pottery and water colors.  And then oils, and then….

Lynne Name TagRO:
Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
LM: The painting, “Memories of a Voyage Never Taken” by Raul Villarreal…one of my poems inspired this painting that Laura then bought for me for my 50th birthday!…and that painting inspired a poem by Yesenia Montilla! (You can see a very small photo of the three of us and the painting here.) I have a variety of things made by my own kids and other kids I love over the years.   I have a necklace pendant that I’m wearing a lot right now made by a woman in Virginia…it is a beautiful piece of sea glass – not round but about the size of a 50 cent piece, wrapped in a web of fine silver wire.  I have photographs hanging in my office of Provincetown and LBI taken by two different friends who then framed them.  And more 🙂

RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
LM: A combo of flight and the ability to multiply loaves and fishes so I could fly all over the world bringing food to everyone who needs it.  If I absolutely had to narrow it down, I would take the multiplying food one because then I would have enough for everyone where ever I could get to to meet them. The flight one is a little self-interested, too, because I have a strong desire to travel the world and haven’t yet had the opportunity or funds to do so.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
LM: A commitment to truthfully, passionately, openly exploring the deepest questions will get us where we need to go.

Thanks so much for your word-spiration, Lynne!

Lynne McEniry has poems and reviews published or forthcoming in 5 AMAdanna, The Stillwater Review, Paterson Literary ReviewThe Lake Rises Anthology, and others. She won Honorable Mention for the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award with her poem, “Sunday Sauce” and her poem, “My Son, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Me” was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize.  Lynne curates readings and workshops, including those in conversation with visual arts.  She is a regular guest editor for Organs of Vision and Speech ( and Adanna Literary Journal for which she edited two special issues, “Hurricane Sandy: Students Speak Out” and  “How Women Grieve.” Lynne earned her an MFA in Poetry from Drew University and works at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, NJ. To keep up with Lynne, visit her blog at: