We find peace and stillness in the clouds, this is where we dream and this is where we take flight... and it was within her cloud series I was originally introduced to the talented mixed media fine-art photographer Catherine Erb, who seeks beauty, inspiration, and identity in changing perspectives, shifting landscapes, flashes of moments in time that allow her and her work’s admirers to break away from it all. Every piece of Catherine’s art illustrates a moment of reflection, creating a sense of hope and self-discovery, while capturing the essence of being present in the moment - a gentle reminder in the midst of our busy lives.
“There is a little break in time that occurs after something comes into my viewfinder. But before I have had a chance to react or form a judgment, there is clarity in that interval of time—I try to shoot and capture that moment. When it works, the result is not just an image, but a feeling and reminder that the magic always happens in the present.”
While I was shooting for Sean Anderson, I was first introduced to Catherine’s work and immediately felt a deep, soulful connection to her “Cloud Studies” series. Connecting with her through social media—a beautiful benefit of our new digital economy—led Catherine to invite me to speak alongside her on a panel for David Lusk Gallery, where her work is featured. At the panel, her words and our conversation only enriched her talent, further captivating and connecting me to her touching, passionate spirit—an encounter, which I believe, was incredibly intentional. Not only have I been so proud to champion Sean Anderson, it makes my heart even more full to champion this strong, soulful woman with a clear artistic eye for mixed media.
Just as alluring as the swirling, mystifying colors of her mixed media “Cloud Studies” series and as exquisite as the coastal seashores of “Near Water,” Catherine’s spirit radiates The New Southern’s meaning to define a shift in Southern style—one where exploration anchors a space, allowing us to push beyond boundaries, examining our environments and connectedness through a lens we may have first been fearful to pick up.
With her “Cloud Studies” artwork featured in my photographs for Architectural Digest and Elle Decor, the Memphis native leaves me artfully moved to embrace new angles, allowing more traditionally Southern spaces breathe in fresh, modern air.
I’ll let Catherine dive into the details on what The New Southern means to her.
Alyssa Rosenheck: Tell me about yourself.
Catherine Erb: I am a self-taught fine-art photographer and mixed media artist from Memphis who became fascinated with photography in the late 80’s while attending boarding school. After high school, I moved to Europe and worked with photographers for several years before returning to Memphis to start a family, resulting in two beautiful girls (both now in college). Initially, the camera was a way to visually journal and document day-to-day experiences. Now, this practice and mixed media work have become more of a meditation and documented exploration. My work is inspired by relationships and I am fascinated by how we relate to one another and the world around us. In particular, our relationship to divinity, spirit, and the things we cannot see. The series are explorations and studies searching for a glimpse of the invisible. Everything and everyone has a divine essence and I seek to capture it.
AR: How are you modernizing / updating Southern style when you design?
CE: The South’s past, people, unique environment and lifestyle largely influence my work. I try to make my art feel like the things that influence the work. Art has a way of tapping into our collective consciousness and connecting us on levels we aren’t fully aware of. I think a lot of that is happening with Southern style right now. The clouds are large-scale contemporary pieces and I love how they can update more traditional settings and mix with old. I love that the The New Southern is recognizing and sharing this collective phenomena.
AR: What innovative trends are you seeing with Southern style across the country?
CE: We live in Santa Barbara, California in the summers and a few years ago, I began to notice the fabulous fusion of Southern elements merging into California homes and shops. Each year I return, I’m left inspired by the way style and design transcend geography and connects us all.
AR: What are your favorite hometown design boutiques?
CE: Memphis has too many fabulous creative spaces and designers to name. I am blessed to have worked closely with many talented local designers and am constantly blown away by how Memphis seems to breed talented, creative souls. Two virtual boutiques I frequent are One Kings Lane and 1stdibs.
AR: Favorite shade of white and black paint color?
CE: “Gesso” by Golden is my favorite white. I have actually used it on walls in my home as well as my artwork. When you use “Gesso” on a wall you get the freshest white with a finish that is absolutely unique. For black paint color, I love Benjamin Moore “Black.”
AR: What’s your life motto?
AR: The one shade that changes everything? Tell us what mood it evokes and when/how you’ve used it.
CE: Kindness: evokes joy—used as often as possible to spread my life’s motto.
AR: The place you go to get inspired?
CE: I am in a constant state of being inspired. I find inspiration in most things, but I particularly love looking up! Looking up helps remind me to keep my thoughts and intentions high. I’m also inspired by collections of things that contain spirit. Collecting is a favorite Southern past-time, and generations have perfected the art. I am so moved by the things that were collected by past generations; those collections influence us. I like objects that hold spirit and make us go ... (fast breath in) Southern style is becoming more fresh and approachable, but I guarantee there is a little alter of collected love in every Southern-influenced home.
AR: The key to making a house a home? What does a home need more of and less of?
CE: Family, love, and laughter are the real secrets to making a house a home but an art collection, fresh flowers, and lots of books sure do help.
AR: Life advice you’ve gotten that made all the difference both personally and professionally?
CE: These two quotes have had a profound influence on my life. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” said by Gandhi, and “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change,” said by Wayne Dyer. As photographers, we are constantly looking for ways to see things from a different perspective. We can literally make objects and environments change by looking at them through a different lens. This is an area where my art has taught me, because life is the same way; as soon as we choose to change the way we see something, it changes.
AR: Design advice you’ve received that made all the difference?
CE: Less is more. Know when to stop. Use restraint.
AR: What’s the best piece of business advice you could provide for creative entrepreneurs starting out?
CE: It’s another Gandhi quote, but he said it better that I ever could. A person following this advice would have a hard time being anything but successful.
"Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behaviors.
Keep your behaviors positive, because your behaviors become your habits.
Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny."
AR: Design book you’ll always have on your shelf?
CE: Parish-Hadley: Fifty Years of American Decorating by Sister Parish, Albert Hadley, and Christopher Petkanas. It's important to study the designers who blazed the trail for all the young talented creatives we enjoy today. This book is like an encyclopedia of design.
AR: Who are some of your favorite artists/makers? What do you love about their work?
CE: I have too many favorites to name but here are a few artists whose work I collect who also compliment The New Southern. Jack Spencer, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, Jared Small, Lance Letscher, Kate Breakey, and Richard Serra. What I love about each of these artists is the way their art makes me feel. Art awakens all of my senses and I particularly love the relationship we have with art that we collect. My relationships to the works I own are as special, intimate, and unique as my relationship to the work I create.
AR: What does “The New Southern” mean to you?
CE: To me, The New Southern is like comfort food for the eyes and senses. It’s cozy and warm, welcoming, and hospitable. It looks like kindness makes you feel and transcends trends.