For her senior thesis show, Kathy Cantwell exhibited her paintings of horizontal stripes in a field of one color. It would be decades before she returned to abstraction. Although the extension of a straight line had a powerful pull, her personal and artistic life took a more circuitous route. Yet throughout the years, the one constant has been her passion for making art.
Born in Trenton, NJ, Cantwell was an outsider tomboy, who lived in a dicey neighborhood with her traditional Catholic family in a house surrounded by barbed-wire and tall wood fencing. From the age of thirteen, she spent hours in her makeshift bedroom-studio. Weekends while attending an all-girl high school, she escaped to nearby Philadelphia to take classes at the Moore School of Art, learning studio skills advanced for someone her age. After earning a BFA at C.W. Post College on Long Island, Cantwell moved to New York City like many artist hopefuls and found work in the music industry.
During the day it was an Alice-in-Wonderland world of rock stars and rappers in which she might be paying the bills for wrecked hotel rooms and keeping gun-bearing artists and producers within budget, but at night Cantwell came home to paint dark, uninhabited cityscapes and quirky portraits. After 25 years of this balancing act, she left NYC with her wife, Ann Sweeney, to raise their two adopted children there in rural New Jersey. In 2010, the Cantwell-Sweeney’s moved to Maplewood, NJ, just 30 minutes from Manhattan. Both locations in central and northern New Jersey allowed her to become attuned to a new sense of openness light, and now the proximity to other artists and creative communities spurred her to explore new means of self-expression.
In meeting artist Lisa Pressman, she found a mentor who encouraged her return to abstraction. A sort of recovering eccentric, Cantwell is currently in a process of looking for her “inner stripe.” Her latest work in encaustic has become well-known through a number of recent solo and group exhibitions, primarily in the New York-New Jersey area as well as Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 2016, she was invited to become a member of The Painting Center in Chelsea and to be represented by Adam Peck Gallery on Cape Cod.