Drawing "Order, Chaos, Decisions"
Catherine Christiano, Order, Chaos, Decisions, 1993, Graphite on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 inches. Photo credit: Catherine Christiano.


 I often get questions about my series of oil still lifes painted on newspaper. The idea of using this combination of materials, I must admit, evolved out of my own laziness. For a period of years, I created a series of graphite drawings with compositions that juxtaposed the front pages of newspapers with still life objects. I was visually drawn to the patterns and graphic qualities of the two dimensional printed page and also to how the news stories and headlines lent meaning to the piece as a whole. Not only were these drawings, with their legible text painstaking to create, I eventually found that I wanted to introduce color into the compositions using oils.

Having neither the patience nor the interest to create the illusion of newspaper using paints and a brush, I began experimenting with actual newspaper. The first two paintings, "Jack-in-the-Box #1” and “Jack-in-the-Box #2", are small images of jack-in-the-pulpits on the stock market listings. The stock pages provide a uniformly patterned background and, as an everyday artifact from our capitalistic culture they contrast with one provided by nature. The paintings are beautifully mounted in hand-crafted maple frames that form a box around the image (hence the title of the piece).

Painting "Russian Turmoil"
Catherine Christiano, Russian Turmoil, 2006, Oil on paper on panel, 11 x 8 inches.

After the success of these initial paintings I continued the series on a somewhat larger scale. Some works explore the “nature versus culture" idea, where a painted natural object or animal is paired with newspaper that is either uniformly printed or includes text that relates in some way to the painted object. In other works the paper is considered simply as an everyday object, maybe combined with a cup of coffee. I might also select still life objects that relate to the events on the page, i.e. a bottle of bourbon for an article with the headline from a market collapse. Over the years that I have been creating these pieces, the daily printed newspaper has ceased to be ubiquitous in our lives. By the time the paper hits the newsstand, most of us have already learned of recent events electronically, around the clock and as they unfold. And while some still enjoy sitting down with the printed copy, we find that the headlines no longer carry the same sensational impact they once did.

As a final note, I will describe my painting process. The technique used to prepare the panels is similar to the methods recommended for collage and the old technique of decoupage. The paper is mounted to a smooth gessoed panel and is allowed to dry under pressure. Then multiple layers of an acrylic sealer are applied prior to painting the still life. Once completely dry, the finished painting is sealed with an acrylic varnish. Over time the paper remains stable and usually develops a pleasant golden patina, especially if it is exposed to ultraviolet light.

 --- Catherine Christiano