10 July - 30 August, 2024

Katarína Janečková Walshe
Being a mother at the of the world

Katarína Janečková Walshe is returning to the White&Weiss Gallery in Bratislava after three years with an exhibition Being a Mother at the End of the World. Before viewing the paintings that have come all the way from her studio in Texas, one may wonder what it means to be a mother for her. In particular, what it means to be a mother at the end of the world. The first association that comes to one’s mind when thinking of the end of the world is geography. The city of Corpus Christi, home to Katarina for ten years, thousands of miles away from her motherland that has made a genetic imprint of its culture in her, is not the hottest of destinations for an European traveller.

The somewhat foggy name of the city – Christ’s body, referring to the Spanish colonization of South America, sounds so archaic that it evokes the place where time stands still. Was it this “end of the world” Katarina talks about?⁠ Yes and no. As I⁠ have learned, Corpus Christi is a port in the coast of the Gulf of Mexico with over 300,000 inhabitants, ancient history and a contemporary downtown. Still, that’s not where Katarina lives. Her new home is the rugged hot Texas countryside, living there alone with her husband and two daughters. Put in her own words, in “a cabin in the sticks, five minutes’ walk from the river, with its well and solar panels.” The image parallels the idea of life at the end of the world. Yet, seen through the opposite lens and with a touch of exaggeration, it could be paradise lost. The largest painting on display, over 13 feet tall, depicts a couple – a woman huddled in the arms of a big man (cowboy) in the safety of a house. Its coloured protective layers were painted by Katarina’s older daughter. The artist acknowledges the authorship in the title: Alenka’s Safety Construction During the World’s Deconstruction. Thus, the end of the world takes on a new, somewhat apocalyptic meaning, with the landscape in the background and the sky with children’s handprints giving hope.

Katarina represents a line of wild and unrestrained women. This archetype can be traced through her life and work from the very beginning. Wild are her expressive figurative paintings of earthy colours with a distinctive brush strokes, often of monumental proportions. They will draw you into stories written in the first person. Though she anchors her works in lived reality, she does not build on descriptiveness. Instead, she bends reality similarly to the surrealists, yet her own way. Her paintings emerge from the necessity, overpressure. There is passion, at times irony. The images are sensual and lascivious, populated by characters from her private mythology. They are all united by a figure of a naked woman, the alter ego of the artist whose role changes as her life does. When Katarina first presented her works from Texas in Prague in 2017, the main message of the exhibition was – as the title suggested – how to survive. It was a testimony that, just like a relocated plant, Katarina had to go through a rooting process with all it takes. Today, not only her roots are deep and well networked, but there are also new shoots emerging. Katarina has become a mother. It is curious to watch her wildness and exuberance transformed. It has not vanished: it became transformed into the intensity of life with children. When she paints, she holds them in her arms, they ramble around her, enter into the picture not only as themes, but in reality, leaving their footprints. This is beautifully illustrated by a small ink on paper My Body is a Playground. Yet, the intensity of the relationship is scorching and, just like other mothers to whom she dedicated the painting The Importance of Collective Motherhood, she faces states of physical and mental exhaustion.

Paradoxically, these feelings are not manifested in her works explicitly though their titles may serve as potential referral points: Five Years of Breastfeeding, Time to Feed You, as are the recurring themes of full breasts with the milk waterfalls. The positive energy that the paintings exude arises from the fact that, as Katarina paints out her negative emotions, they are naturally washed out. What remains is a snapshot of a strong bond between mother and child.

The key painting of Being a Mother at the End of the World that gave the show a name, is a large-scale piece dominated by the figure of the mythical Big Mother – the protector. The theme of a cowboy hat, a significant detail, forms the solid base of it, yet also of the family, referring to a figure of a man (cowboy). It is repeatedly embedded into her art, in different versions, as a side character with a key meaning.

And the nudity. The naked female body naturally refers to eroticism and sex. Yet also to love and tenderness. Though its poses may often seem provocative, I believe it has one essential dimension. With Katarina, nudity is sincere. By throwing off her clothes she gains liberty. Yet, by breaking social convention, she is exposed to danger; she is vulnerable. She is like Eve in Paradise before she took a bite of the apple.

White & Weiss Gallery programme in 2024 was supported from the public funds by the Slovak Art Council.