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OCAD U mourns the passing of Cathy Daley

A photo of Cathy Daley standing in front of one of her drawings.

Image: Photo from Canadian Art Magazine by Christopher Dew.

OCAD U mourns the passing of Cathy Daley

Notable Canadian artist, beloved mentor and OCAD University Professor Emerita Cathy Daley passed away on March 2.   

In a message sent to the community on March 7, Stephen Foster, Dean of the Faculty of Art, extended his sincere condolences to Daley’s family and friends, and to all those in the community who had the pleasure of learning from her.  

“During her time at OCAD U, Cathy Daley was a tireless contributor to the Drawing and Painting program. In 1989, she created one of the earliest versions of our course, Issues of Representation. She was a sought-after instructor for her expertise in figuration, expression and experimentation,” wrote Dean Foster.  

A virtual gathering will be held on Wednesday, March 16 at 3 p.m. The community is invited to send thoughts, stories and photos to Melissa LaVallee, executive assistant to the Dean of the Faculty of Art, which will be shared at the memorial. Look for an invitation to the event with a Team's link in your OCAD U email. 

Over her 40-year career, Daley developed a unique body of work that was whimsical, dark, vivacious and empowering. She possessed an enduring preoccupation with the female form, which she mixed with considerations of popular culture and high fashion. She was best known for her monochrome drawings of semi-abstract female figures in motion, clothed in billowing black dresses, tutus and high heels.  

Daley received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Ontario College of Art (OCA) in 1975 and began teaching at the University in 1988. She never missed a day in her studio and continued to make art even after falling ill. 

“Her artworks were simple, clean, smudged but unique, and a favourite among interior designers who placed her pieces in high-end homes across Toronto, and beyond,” wrote Nadja Sayej in an article about Daley published in Forbes on March 6.

Working predominantly with black pastel and charcoal on translucent vellum, Daley explored how women are represented through images and language in Western culture. She was also interested in the female body’s relationship to private and public space. 

“I was a student in one of Cathy's very first drawing classes in the late 1980s. Her class was impactful. She introduced me to many artists working in drawing that I did not hear about in my other classes. She opened my eyes to new ways of working,” remembers Adrienne Reynolds, a graduate of OCA, a practicing visual artist and an English for Art and Design Specialist in the Writing and Learning Centre at OCAD U. 

In the early 1990s, Daley gained attention with two related bodies of work for which she became known, a series of life-sized reclining nudes, executed in rich, solid black silhouettes and a group of small, melancholic paintings depicting women dressing and undressing in muted interiors. 

“[Her] drawings reflect a contemporary, post-feminist ambivalence toward fashion, critiquing the garment industry’s wrapped-and-bound feminine ideal and the notion of woman as spectacle. But irony in Daley’s cultural criticism is the source of much of the drawing’s wit. While recognizing the limitations imposed by old ideals, she also acknowledges their grace and appeal and expresses a certain nostalgia and yearning,” art critic Roni Feinstein wrote of her work in Art in America.

About Cathy Daley 

Cathy Daley was born in Toronto in 1955. In the 1970s she studied at the OCA as well as at Arts’ Sake Inc., an independent art school founded by eight OCA faculty members in 1977.  

Throughout her career she experimented with a range of media and techniques including abstraction, animation, sculpture, ceramics, collage, installation and digital painting. Apart from her work as a visual artist, in the 1990s she also designed sets and props for Toronto-based theatre productions. 

She taught at OCAD University until 2020, when she became Professor Emerita in the Faculty of Art. As an artist and educator she was an inspiration to generations of emerging artists. She was also involved in developing a number of new courses at OCAD U that incorporated feminist perspectives. 

"I took a course on collage with Cathy Daley that deeply impacted my artistic practice. She taught me about the importance of honouring the process as well as experimental approaches to drawing and painting. I am going to miss our talks and her words of encouragement. Cathy's legacy lives on through all of the lives she touched. There is goodness and magic in the world, her artwork taught me that,” reflects Carly McAskill, who graduated from OCAD U’s Drawing and Painting program in 2011 and is currently pursuing a PhD at Concordia University. 

Since 1980, Cathy Daley's works have been exhibited in galleries across the country including Oakville Galleries, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Kelowna Art Gallery and Southern Alberta Gallery as well as internationally at the Museum Dhondt Dhaenens in Belgium and Galerie Den Haag in the Netherlands. 

Most notably, her works are in the collections of The National Gallery of Canada and The Art Gallery of Ontario as well as many other public institutions and private collections. 

In honour of her recent passing, Newzones Gallery of Contemporary Art in Calgary, Ontario has mounted an exhibition of her works. Newzones has been exhibiting Daley’s work for over thirty years.