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An Intimate Side of Cat McCarthy (Part 1)

On March 9, one of my mother’s sisters that she was close to passed away. I received a call later that day from my mom letting me know she was going to attend the funeral in Tennessee. My mother never asks anything from me, but I could tell by the tone in her voice that she needed me by her side, as she embarked on this journey. As a daughter who is truly thankful for everything my parents have done for me, and because I love my mother, probably more than any individual, I dropped everything to be with her.

As I was away from Buffalo, in the midst of my aunt’s death, thinking how much I would miss her voice, sense of humor and ability to make a joke, even at the darkest hour, I was also trying to come up with my next writing piece, when an image of Cat McCarthy came to me. Cat is one of those individuals around Buffalo that everyone seems to know, because she is just so f*cking fantastic. It all made sense to me. Who else do I write about than someone who I think embodies the beautiful essence of a woman that had just passed, but a living being that is a sparkling jewel of a human, someone who Buffalo is truly lucky to have. I reached out to Cat, while I was out of town to get the low down on this amazing creature. Thank you Cat for being accessible.

Here’s what Cat had to say about a few things:

You are originally from the Buffalo area, and went to UB. Have you have always lived here? Why did you stay in the area? Did you not have a desire to live somewhere else? Do you think you will always stay here?

Yes, I am from Buffalo and have always lived here. When I was young, I was mystified by New York City and wanted to go there for art school, unfortunately due to money I decided to stay. But, I do not regret that decision. By staying home and taking advantage of a full scholarship to UB I am able to live my life debt free. The connections, people, and experiences I had at UB were incredible, but beyond that the community of artists I have met and had the pleasure to collaborate and be affected by are really the reason I love this city. It is a magical place of endless possibilities because we all get “it”.

Cat-McCarthy-Buffalo-NY-5Art is spontaneous and free it doesn’t cost anything to express an idea. Buffalo is a great place to live cheap and have the time to explore your creativity. I work 2 jobs, but they are magical, I am blessed in ways that defy money. I have always yearned to live somewhere else just to see something different, and do love to travel. My family roots are very deep here and I have always lived comfortably and felt successful and celebrated. I know that someday I will visit a place and know I need to live there, I have felt that vibe in both New Orleans and Montreal. I plan to see the deepest corners of this country and then the entire world. I don’t like planning and have no idea where life is going to take me, I just know that I will be happy, and that’s all that matters. You can live anywhere, but you have to really LIVE in a place to say that, and you can do that by becoming part of your community and making it a better place to be with art and activism, reaching out to your neighbor, and becoming part of something greater than just a place to live, its home.

Can you tell me about your childhood and teenage years? Were you always a creative? Was there a defining moment?

I was always creative, always obsessed with art, putting on small plays with my cousins, designing whole fashion lines, writing poetry, painting with Bob Ross, and making water colors of drag queens. I was a tomboy and into sports due to the fact that I was so tall. I wanted to be a cartoonist, I wanted to be a model, I once wrote a 200-page novel called “Plastic Beauty” when I was like 10 years old, but then lost it in a computer crash. I remember the gist of it, but kind of wish I could re-visit it and make fun of myself little, it was really dramatic, but so is life.

My grandmother was inspirational and we used to make art out of recycled materials. Because I was always encouraged to think outside of the box, I then expected more out of my art classes. I remember being in Catholic school, and the art teacher was limited to an art cart that went from room to room. Her idea of art class was to copy the example she made perfectly. I always did my own thing regardless, and that didn’t bode well for me in academia. I argued that mine was better. I knew even at a young age that I was an artist. Nobody was going to tell me how to create. I was also a little feminist.

I knew even at a young age that I was an artist. Nobody was going to tell me how to create. I was also a little feminist.

When my gym teacher told me that I couldn’t play football and to “go to the playground with the other girls” I flipped out and organized a stand in. I went over to the swings and gathered the rest of the girls, “Do you really want to play on the swings ladies?” Three girls joined me and nobody played football that day. Even though I was called down to the principal’s office I never got in trouble because I was justified in my actions. My parents were always very supportive of me. My mom started taking me to adult classes at The Albright Knox Art Gallery and whatever else she could take me to. I never had a shortage of culture.

Then we found the Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes. That place changed my damn life. I felt like I finally had a place to learn about art where I wasn’t stifled. I learned all of my best painting techniques there. I grew up on the east side of Buffalo and went to St Agnes grammar school, and was accepted into the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts – I was so excited.

As fate had it I moved and ended up at Frontier High School. I knew that I needed to create the culture that I wanted, I needed to seek it out and make this place better. Throughout high school I continued diving deeper into art. I showed in all of the shows I possibly could, I held office in art club, wrote for Celerity the school’s literary magazine, the newspaper, Spanish and International clubs, Foreign Language Arts and Crafts Club, stage crew of all the plays and musicals, painted murals, and helped found the Gay Straight Alliance. It was always important for me to speak my mind and stand up for others, I was encouraged to never be afraid. Being part of all the clubs in high school made it easier for me to remain active and be part of all the “clubs” in life.

Can you talk about your artistic practice; you have a painting background, you’re a burlesque dancer and a writer. What is your current focus with your work? Does your work carry a message, and if so, what are trying to convey?

Cat-McCarthy-Buffalo-NY-1My life is art, my art is life. I need it to breathe; my brain explodes with ideas that must be realized constantly. In a perfect world I would have the space to do work like I did in college – mostly 6×10 feet unstretched canvas oil/acrylic/mixed media paintings. I also enjoy working with nontraditional materials such as mannequins. Lately, I have been revisiting a style that I did a lot when I was a kid – I would sit and paint with watercolors for hours, often doing portraits of drag queens and unicorns because I was obsessed with both.

I now do colorful acrylic ink portraits/ political cartoon style work and try to have the same prolific energy as I did when I was younger. I want all of the art I make to have a voice and purpose. Yes I believe in art for art sake, and beauty is enough, but sometimes you have to get dark or funny and say what is necessary over what is popular. Question authority and push boundaries. I have always felt like there were not enough ways for me to express myself. I love my burlesque and writing, because there is no censorship there. I write and say what I believe in, that’s it, no misquoting because I said it myself.

I have been Lemmy, David Bowie, The Buffalo Cop that pretended to snort coke on Vine, The Pope, Donald Trump, Meatloaf, Gwen Stefani, Buckethead, and Colonel Sanders.

The stage is a place for me to transform myself. Even in just the past month I have been Lemmy, David Bowie, The Buffalo Cop that pretended to snort coke on Vine, The Pope, Donald Trump, Meatloaf, Gwen Stefani, Buckethead, and Colonel Sanders.

Cat-McCarthy-Buffalo-NY-6In high school I had stage fright, now I am fearless. The stage is the safest place on earth. I remember when The Stripteasers first wanted me to perform I freaked out and said NO, how could the audience want to see a fat girl like me do burlesque? Later I realized that people loved me because of my “imperfections”. Cat-McCarthy-Buffalo-NY-7I am celebrated because I have the guts to be like, this is Me and I am beautiful no matter what anyone says. People thank me and tell me that seeing me on stage inspires them to feel confident too. Thank God I changed my mind, I dumped a wonderful guy who wanted to marry me but didn’t want me to perform, and the rest is history. Now I feel like I am at least Buffalo Infamous for my work. I am often covered in some sort of food and facial hair; I love doing drag and being completely obscene. I want to show that feminism, body image, politics, and sexuality are important conversations to have. Luckily all of my art works together, I can write about my performances, I can perform about the things I have read, so on. It is all connected, I create it all simultaneously, together my work paints a portrait of who I really am, an ever changing and evolving creator, an energy, borderline obscene, always interesting, and someone who truly does not give a fuck.

Who are your role models? (Local, national, international)

I am inspired by any human who is willing to stand up for what they believe in – my role models are fearless artists, activists, and real people. My favorite visual artists are, Frida Kahlo, R Crumb, and Jean Michele Basquiat.

Frida showed us her soul, she suffered, and she painted a true vision of her pain for us to relate to. She didn’t care about what society thought of her, she was more than her unibrow, she was a bisexual communist, she was Mexican, she was a scarred woman, and her work made it possible for me to create from the soul of my experiences and not be afraid of the abject. I was deeply inspired by her the moment I first saw her paintings.

I love Robert Crumb because he is an asshole. His comics are unforgiving and lewd, he celebrates and sexualizes big beautiful women, my body type is his fetish and that always appealed to me. Fritz the Cat and all the work he has done for musicians are all incredible examples of his work.

Basquiat inspires me because he came from nothing and had faith in his raw unbridled talent. He was homeless in New York City and went up to Andy Warhol and was like “You are going to buy this artwork” and he did, the rest is history. His art was so unique and thought provoking, taking it to the streets and causing a revolution. The colors and forms are like nothing I have ever seen before he was a true beautiful talent.

11091486_1025252364171639_6041640492646125497_nThere are so many local artists that I can say are my role models, people who I consider soul mates and inspirations. All of the Stripteasers – Mistress J Kiss, Madina Madis, Fanny DeBeau, Delilah Dynamite, Fifi Laflea, and Max Darling- have affected me so much. Performing with the same group of people every single week is amazing, they challenge and amaze me constantly with their creativity and artistic freedom. I am also incredibly inspired by all the incredible humans I live with (and even some I have lived with in the past). I currently live with the incredible Max Darling, Juicy Lucy, Zoe Scruggs, and her bestie Bree (who just joined our team but I know is one of us). We joked that in order to live with us you needed to audition for the troupe. We are all artists, burlesque dancers, musicians, creators, and free spirits. It is absolutely mind blowing to be a fan girl over your roomies. I am lucky to be able to coexist with them, walk around naked in the house, smoke, have deep conversations, listen to them sing in the shower, collaborate, watch Netflix, and cook together. My first roommate ever was an incredible artist as well, Lindsay Zasada. I had an art crush on her before we even lived together. We inhabited The Henhouse – it was a crappy old house on Potomac with a lot of character, revolving cast of lesbians and wild women; the amount of art and music that came out of there was everything. I was so lucky to be part of it.

Other people who inspire me are all of the people I volunteer for at Infringement Festival with, Amy Duengfelder is my rock, she is so organized and incredible, her comics and drawings are beyond wonderful. We have been friends since high school and plan on conquering the Buffalo Art Scene together. Melissa Campbell, the one who started Nobodys, has always been one of those humans that motivated me to do more, she ran an underground art space and created dreamlike paintings. Karine Amato is a tap dancer, drag king, and my bro for life. Pam Swartz is a goddess. I love everything she does. The entire cast at Dreamland also blows my mind.

We inhabited The Henhouse – it was a crappy old house on Potomac with a lot of character, revolving cast of lesbians and wild women…

Three other Buffalo inspirations whom are no longer with us – Bonita Z, Mark Freeland and Phil Durgan. Bonita Z is a person that I am spiritually connected to, even though I have never met her. She was a performance and visual artist, taken away too soon. I never met Mark Freeland either, but his work speaks for itself, colorful, artistic, youthful and poignant, and his performances were off the wall. Phil was an incredible man, I did not know him well, but his art totally blows my mind, very reminiscent of Basquiat actually.

Cat-McCarthy-Buffalo-NY-8Obviously my family inspires me. My dad was a boxer, life long hard worker, always there for his family, made sure to go fishing with me and take me to football games, my best buddy for life. My mom is beautiful, totally nuts, knows the importance of art, feminist, she works with handicapped children and goes to the beat of her own drum, without them, I would not exist. I am an only child, but Tiffany is my sister, we have been best friends since we were 5, fighting over the pink crayon in kindergarten. Now we do crazy zombie burlesque together. She was never afraid to be herself, even if that meant sometimes she looked like Marilyn Manson. She gave me my first piercing and dyed my hair pink. We were the best influence on each other. She was my original ride or die bitch, and I am so happy to have her in my life. Now she is a mom and still maintains her badassness.

The other important role models in my life are from my Food Not Bombs family. It is important to be selfless and give back fighting for social justice and the accessibility of healthy food is everything. Life is too short to not reach out and help people we all need a hand sometimes. I can go on forever and list the artists and activists that support and form me, and just because I didn’t call you out doesn’t mean you aren’t important to me.

To be continued…

Written by Tina Dillman

Tina Dillman

Growing up in Central, New York was a lot like living in a closet, but with a great view. At 18, she went off to college to find herself and to see what the world had in store for her. She has lived in various parts of the country, California being her favorite, and has traveled outside the US borders. She hopes to live her last years in Mexico, along the Pacific coast, in a pueblo hut that has a thatched roof that sits right on the beach, so she can always hear the sound of the ocean, and feel the sand beneath her feet. Here, she would continue with her childhood fascination of collecting seashells and read as many books as her eyes would permit.

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