Catherine Thieffry on Balancing Life’s Absurdities with Vibrant Art
Catherine Thieffry, also known as her project and alias Rubbish Cartoon, is a digital artist based in Lille, France. She draws a lot of creative inspiration from the mysteries of life, philosophy, and existential questions. To temper the depth of these subjects, she incorporates contemporary Pop Art elements in her work.
To embrace her Thai heritage, Thieffry says that her art is often influenced by Buddhist themes and philosophy. This is overtly shown in her fun and breezy piece The Way Is Not In The Sky, now available as framed wall art in the Consecrea launch collection.
[Note: The interview below contains minor edits for clarity and brevity.]
How did art come into your life? Why Pop Art, specifically?
Art was always part of my life. I’ve always been fascinated by colors and how they could tell different stories. Colors are everywhere in our surroundings — they can set the mood and the atmosphere. When we were infants and had no other ways to express ourselves, we picked out crayons and told the stories we wanted to tell to the world. That’s how I learned to express myself first — not through speech, but through crayons and paper.
I grew up reading my father’s old comic books and would always try and mimic their styles. As I grew [older], I became more and more fascinated by the art world; the world of paintings and drawings. I admire the styles of Caravaggio as I feel that it has a grit to it, particularly his mastery of shadow and light work. [I also admire] Artemisia Gentileschi, who’s one of my personal heroes. The real game changer for me was discovering the works of the French painter Henri Matisse. It was like seeing an explosion of colors. He truly was a master in color exploration, and I feel inspired every day by his vision.
I like to mix different influences that don’t seem to match with each other, [such as] Renaissance themes, a vibrant color palette, and imagery borrowed from Pop Art. It’s a way for me to have fun, and most of all, it’s a way for me to express the world as I see it.
I like Pop Art because it’s fresh and efficient in its storytelling. It has a childlike vibe that I always carry with me, even to express deeper, darker themes. It can carry the weight of all the absurd thoughts present in my mind.
Rubbish Cartoon is such a fun, fresh, and colorful project! You said you like “exploring the subconscious and the absurdities of life.” What kind of concepts or ideas do you enjoy expressing the most?
I do enjoy exploring themes surrounding the dream world as, for me, it carries such fascinating mysteries. I’m quite inspired by the writings of existentialist philosophers, and I try to express some of their concepts into my art.
What does the creation process look like for you? How do you feel while you’re creating a piece and after a piece is complete?
Drawing is a way for me to express feelings I didn’t know I felt, and it truly helps me process my emotions. It feels like therapy. Usually, I get an idea from a book, a movie, or something I saw in a magazine. I begin drawing a version of what’s in my head, but I never really know what the outcome is going to look like.
I know a piece is complete when I feel I understand the message behind it. It might seem strange, but I like to analyze my own drawings and come up with an explanation as to why I drew them. Sort of like psychoanalyzing myself.
A lot of your pieces explore the absurdity of existence, of being and becoming. What is it that you find fascinating about these topics? How does pop art help you represent these themes and ideas visually?
It’s truly the exploration of what it is to be human, what existence is, [and] why we’re alive. It’s fascinating because it’s about overcoming the dread of existence and the fear of the unknown. It’s about coping as well because there will always be a part of it that can’t be explained. It’s the essence of life [after all]. Science can offer solutions, but it’s not everything. That’s where spirituality and philosophy come in.
Because those are such heavy themes, I think it’s important to balance them out with the use of Pop Art since it’s fun, breezy, and not to be taken too seriously. And it’s just perfect to convey what I feel.
How would you describe your relationship with spirituality?
I used to rely solely on rational and scientific thinking and would dismiss any kind of spirituality. But certain events in my life led me to take on another path [and be] in touch with the mysteries of the universe. I understand that there’s rationality as well as irrationality in the workings of our world. And to cope with not knowing, I turned to art, spirituality, and philosophy. When everything else has failed, they have helped me overcome personal issues.
I [also] try to learn more about different concepts every day as it’s such a fascinating subject.
In one of our conversations, you told us your art is inspired by a lot of Eastern philosophies like Buddhism and Taoism. What is it about these teachings that you find so inspiring? Do you find yourself exploring these philosophies outside of art?
They offer a very different point of view from Western philosophies — some concepts are actually quite the opposite. Buddhism and Taoism offer an alternative way to think and live your life. While some Western philosophies urge you to pursue greatness and productivity, Taoism tells you to slow down and go with the flow. Buddhism tells it like it is: The pursuit of happiness is futile and will only lead to more suffering.
I think we have the idea of “happiness” [as] a goal to be set by fulfilling superficial milestones like getting rich and having a vibrant social life. Not that those things are bad — they just become global obsessions at the detriment of our mental and spiritual health. Exploring [Eastern] philosophies was a way to purge myself from this toxic behavior and pursue a more noble goal.
How did you conceptualize the piece ‘The Way is not in the Sky, The Way is in the Heart’? What made you decide to put elements of Buddhist imagery and iconography in it?
I grew up with a French father and a Thai mother so I was always in the middle of two very different cultures—both very beautiful, but sometimes very opposite.
I wanted to pay homage to the part of me I inherited from my mom. She is a Buddhist and Thai culture is deeply anchored in Buddhist mythology. I used memories from my childhood of us going to the temple and paying respect to the Buddha. It was always full of colors, bright, sweet and full of life. I tried to put part of the innocent child I was, discovering what Buddhism was, what it meant for my mother, and how it awakened my spiritual curiosity.