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Meet Catalina (Cataphant) Bellizzi-Itiola

Today we’d like to introduce you to Catalina (Cataphant) Bellizzi-Itiola.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I moved to San Diego about a year and a half ago after leaving a career in education in Chicago. I was an art teacher for six years while heavily involved in the music industry writing and producing music. I graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011 with a BFA & emphasis in art education. I’m half Colombian, half Argentinian and have had a very abstract relationship with the different cultures I belong to that has caused me to seek hard for a real sense of place. Chicago was the first place I ever called “home,” and dedicated myself completely into all aspects of the city, especially the students I worked with.

But, sometime around two years ago, I hit a major wall of exhaustion and a myriad of health problems caused by stress and anxiety, which is a pretty normal wall to hit for Chicago teachers. It’s a profession that has virtually no space for self-care while navigating the violence of the city and forever diminishing resources for students meanwhile being told that the weight of their futures lies solely on your shoulders. I was deeply passionate about teaching and still grieve my departure, but so many things about it were choking the life out of me.

So, I moved to San Diego and threw myself into a therapeutic art practice with oil painting and collaging, pulling from music writing/arrangement experiences to help both myself and viewers of my art find a sense of peace and tranquility- a sense that everything (even the bad things) are in their right place. It’s been a season of reconstruction and hyper intentionality. Being a visual artist here has been a really special experience. This is the place I’m carving a “new normal,” and I’m grateful for the nurturing spirit of SoCal, it’s very different from the midwest.

Please tell us about your art.
I make oil paintings and mixed media pieces that have a strong “collage” element and intuitive process. With paintings, I want to create portraits that feel reflected from the viewer- so I usually paint people with their eyes closed rather than open, so that it’s less of a dialogue and more of a stepping into the figure’s experience. I draw from neurotheology and the structure of the brain to create arrangements around the figure that communicate disembodiment, chemical processes, and rearrangement of the figure on a neuro-spiritual plane.

All of this is pretty much inspired by my experiences with anxiety- which is a very physical thing. Your stomach hurts, your limbs feel numb, breathing is altered. Both spiritual and physical practices- like prayer and yoga and sometimes just basic stretching all work together to calm brain’s anxiety response when it goes haywire. I want to make paintings that speak to how anxiety makes you feel separated from your body, but certain activities reconnect you. I’ve been looking at a lot of brain imaging of people during meditation, studying neuroplasticity, and thinking about my own spiritual practice through the lens of brain structure.

In all honesty, I just really hope that my paintings make people feel good… feel better. So many people struggle with anxiety or just a lifestyle that isn’t sustainable- this world isn’t exactly conducive to sound mental health. My goal is to provide strangers and friends alike an intentionally arranged visual space to rest their eyes and feel known in their brain.

Given everything that is going on in the world today, do you think the role of artists has changed? How do local, national or international events and issues affect your art?
I don’t think the role has changed because if you study art history and creatives’ roles in social change, there is a rich tradition there. My parents immigrated to the United States in the ’80s after living through some unstable and dangerous times in their respective countries. Artists and musicians alike in those spaces were highly politically involved, often times having to go into exile for political persecution. Those are the artists I draw inspiration from because they spoke to current events and the soul of their experiences- the existential crises of living in exile and sense of not belonging/longing for the place they call home to thrive in stability and justice. For some, our country’s situation isn’t to the point of exile, but for many immigrants and their children who call this place home, that’s pretty much a reality. Many people feel like they are living in an alternate reality where up is down and down is up because of this nightmare presidency. There are few spaces to actually feel a sense of safety, so we as artists have to create them.

Not all artists are as politically grounded, but I try to look at artistry as a grounding activity- it’s a declaration of one’s existence and mark on this world. If it’s decorative, it’s a decorative resistance. If it’s conceptual, it’s a conceptual resistance. If it’s high valued art that is being used to launder money, well… it might not be resistance in that case. But aside from some art market shadiness, I try to be as inclusive and accessible as possible as to what I think the role of an artist is or should be.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
I have a couple of paintings up at You Belong Here on El Cajon, which will be taken down soon. Right now, I’m in the middle of finishing up a series of large paintings and am still in the process of deciding the best space/format to show them, but I pretty much put everything on my Instagram: www.instagram.com/cataphant. There you can see the pieces develop and change. There’s a big possibility some of these pieces will show at Art Basel in a show that’s in its early planning stages, which would be exciting and kind of funny because Art Basel is such a saturated event where someone who struggles with anxiety might quickly deteriorate from the sheer amount of people and activity- so I’m looking forward to seeing how that would play out, haha.

The best way to support me right now is to purchase the smaller pieces I sell off my Instagram. I also have a patreon for monthly subscribers to support in small amounts in exchange for exclusives.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
All portraits by Evan McGinnis. All images of work by me, no need to credit.

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