Tastemaker Catherine Grossrieder

CathLove tells Madeline Gressel about her passion for cartoon-style art

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 January, 2014, 3:44pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 January, 2014, 3:44pm

Artist, graphic designer and DJ Catherine Grossrieder's love of drawing started in her youth. "I always wanted cartoons to go on forever," she says. "When they stopped, I would draw, trying to follow them, trying to keep them alive and keep the imagination going. It was a hard truth that there is no cartoon that goes on forever. And so I'm going to try to do it myself. I guess that was the start."

Although Grossrieder (also known as CathLove) has only been working in Hong Kong for a year, she has already made a name for herself as a talented member of a promising young cohort of local artists who blur the boundary between street and gallery. This autumn, she competed in the internationally franchised graffiti battle Secret Walls, co-organised by Hong Kong's reigning street art gallery, Above Second. The only woman competitor, she came second.

I can draw more realistically, but I'm trying to veer away from doing things to appease or attract people. I just want to do what I really enjoy, and that's cartoon style.

Grossrieder's work, recognisable on walls around Hong Kong, blends youthful enthusiasm and a thickly lined cartoon style with raunchy and subversive themes. Her pieces often feature a stylised version of herself in bold and powerful incarnations - her Secret Walls final piece showed CathLove as Viking, spearing skulls and stomping on ghouls.

Born in Bangkok to a Thai mother and a Swiss father, Grossrieder was raised in Hong Kong and has since lived in Australia and Britain. "I can't really quite place geographically where my style originates," she says. "Some people call it Asian, some call it European. It's just me."

She cites popular cartoons as her earliest inspiration, from Disney to Hanna-Barbera to Bebe's Kids, a 1992 American animated comedy. In her teens, she became immersed in skateboarding culture, and spent hours studying skate decks (the flat body of a skateboard) in skating magazines. The art, she says, "had a profound influence on my style." Later, she turned towards influential comic book artists like Frank Frazetta, Moebius, Milo Manara and Robert Crumb.

Growing up, Grossrieder says, she was a "bit of a tomboy" and a rebel. On a summer trip to Switzerland, she discovered graffiti art in the tunnels of provincial train stations.

"In Switzerland, it's a popular pastime to take trains from town to town, and as you approach the station, there's a lot of graffiti on the tunnel walls. I was captivated by it. I didn't know any girls who were doing it back then. I started a few years later. My first tag was just my name, a tag - it was terrible. But I was persistent."

"Collecting all these influences over the years has moulded my style," she reflects, "I don't know if you can see it in my art, but it's there. It'll come out somewhere - whether in the storyline or the strokes."

Indeed, it shines. Disney is found in her thick black lines and big doe eyes, Hanna-Barbera in her scrappy pantheon, and Milo Manara in her erotic brand of feminism. But the distinctive combination of drippy surrealist humour, urban grit, and bug-eyed optimism is all her own.

"Naturally, I'm quite humorous, a bit of a goof. I like to see everything as satire; it's what I feel comfortable doing. I can draw more realistically, but I'm trying to veer away from doing things to appease or attract people. I just want to do what I really enjoy, and that's cartoon style."

Grossrieder has gone freelance and established her own company, Daily Dose by CathLove. She is busy painting walls, taking clients and making "new collaborative friends." She recently designed the brand identity for popular new restaurant Little Bao, and painted a set of fibreglass Lunar New Year horses for Lane Crawford, displayed in Pacific Place. Another project with the Kangol cap company is in the works.

"[Going freelance] was terrifying but it was the best decision of my life," she says. "The multitude of brands that have approached me - I could not be more thankful. Of course it's a hard road. Without struggle, there is no reward, mentally or financially."

Grossrieder, who turns 30 today, does things her own way, well served by her mix of competitiveness and laissez-faire: "Yeah, I'm playful! But I'll still beat your ass!" But her greatest asset is her support network: creative collaborators, her parents and her friends.

"I'm getting to an age where I just like getting along with everyone," she says. "There should be no rules to how you do art. When you're younger, you're a bit more pedantic. But there's no time for that. If you want to express yourself, just do it."