WHETHER you are comfortable with Catherine MacDiarmid's art or not, there's something incredibly compelling that draws you in.

As an artist that depicts human expression in one of the oldest of art forms, portraiture, Catherine is constantly pushing in fresh directions.

Her latest exhibition is running at the Brewery Arts Centre's sought after space, the Sugar Store Gallery, until September 28.

And there are three strands to the highly anticipated show: Personal Space, Behind the Paint and Portraits, all explored through the mediums of oil, watercolour and charcoal.

Personal Space is an investigation into the notion that you are never truly yourself in a crowd and Catherine admits that she's captivated when she sees someone who doesn’t quite belong, or stands alone or out among others for a variety of reasons.

At first glance, all appears to be happy and jolly. However, look deeper.

"There are sinister undertones to Personal Space," explains Catherine. "It's about not really fitting in, not knowing how to."

Her large Elude painting of guests at a wedding party is one such canvas. Catherine says that some of the people don't really want to be there and it shows: "I seek to communicate this, sometimes putting my own take on a situation that might be different to the reality of the moment.

"These people can also have masks or guises that set them apart, like an outfit or face painting, or just a different expression. Are we ever truly ourselves when in the company of others? Are we only true to ourself when alone?"

Meanwhile, Behind the Paint is a theme that Catherine started in 2014 and focuses on the masks and disguises people have, as either pseudo or assumed barriers: "The theme developed from my sideline business of face painting, which evolved from a love of face painting my own children. Having two boys with autism spectrum condition I discovered that they found disguises a helpful tool which displaced themselves from the world around. They always enjoy dressing up and these other personas fascinate me. I was keen to see how much of the original character remains when masked by a face painting, and whether I could still paint that person behind the paint."

Her skill shines through especially in pieces as Behind the Fantastic Mr Fox and Behind the Tiger.

Catherine's star is on the ascent and she's just a brush width away from national recognition having come close in the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year 2014, 2018 and 2019, painting Ashley Jenson, Ross Kemp, Georgina Campbell, all of whom chose her portrait of them to keep. Channel 4 have been showing Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 on Saturdays at 5.35pm. Catherine won heat five and goes on to the semi finals that will be shown on August 17; its show her painting jazz legend Courtney Pine.

As for the Portraits part of the exhibition, this puts Catherine more commercially focused work in the frame. A creative area she's keen to develop further with more commissions.

“Faces are the most interesting things we see and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t paint people. I am fascinated by portraiture and how much it can disguise or reveal the inner person. The sitter can choose to reveal as much or as little as they want and I seek to capture something of the external self as well as the inner self. It is all really about a conversation between artist and subject. Capturing the character can sometimes be just a consequence of interaction and conversation that exudes once the painting is complete.”

Kendalian Catherine has twice been selected for the prestigious BP Portrait Award, 2001 and 2002, and her work is included the two 500 Portraits publications, a book by the National Portrait Gallery. She has won various awards, including the Pegasus Art Prize in Artist and Illustrators Artist of the Year 2017, second prize in the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists 2016, and first prize in the marvellous Brewery Open 2002, among others. She was elected a member of the prestigious Lakes Artists Society in 2014 and exhibits regularly in their summer exhibition in Grasmere.

The former Kirkbie Kendal School student also teaches a variety of art courses at the Brewery and also works leading art holidays for HF Holidays and Higham Hall. She has also delivered one off workshops and demonstrations for secondary schools 6th formers, various art societies and the Abbot Hall Museum and Art Gallery.

Catherine is 47 and the world is still her oyster. However, she is concerned about reaching her creative peak but takes heart in the words of renowned abstract artist Albert Irvin, who was a guest speaker during her student days at De Montford University. She says one of his pearls of wisdom was, "don't let them grind you down. I didn't make it until I was 50."