Katharine Mulherin (1964–2019)

Katharine Mulherin, Toronto, 1999. Photo: Matthew Carver.

KM WAS ALL OF THE THINGS. She was perceptive and talented. Committed and enthusiastic. Essential and legendary. And funny. She had a very unique way of bringing people toward art that they wouldn’t think of as refined or sellable. Through mere presentation, she posed the question: “Don’t you want to have fun?” For Canadians, that’s a hard question to answer, because of course they do, but is it allowed? By having multiple spaces so close together, she could open two entirely different shows—on one side a magnificent starkness, and on the other a full-tilt party of garbage art. And it worked. Katharine possessed a protean magic that allowed her to create decades of unlikely combinations that generated accessible beauty and cryptic comedy.

Katharine was a champion of the hoser, the scamp, the outsider. She was working-class nobility, and it showed in some of her curations: Casey McGlynn’s self-effacing wood cutouts, Dean Baldwin’s minibar blowouts, and Mike Bayne’s paintings of destitute Canadiana. For my first solo show with her, “Peanut Brittle” (2004), I created a boardinghouse, tenanted by a geriatric dandy with said name. She unflinchingly welcomed a thirty-two-year-old dyke dressed as an octogenarian man wandering around in her gallery/home for weeks. The character was a testament to the disappearance of the pensioner on the Queen West strip, and Katharine would always invite old folks from off the street to talk to Peanut. We smoked a lot of cigarettes and came up with reams of jokes that became years of correspondence fodder for me, her, and her son Jasper, the ultimate extension of herself in boy form.

During one of our smoke ’n’ joke jams, Katharine showed me one of my favorite pieces she ever made: a video of herself standing at a microphone in front of a comedy cellar’s brick wall. There were murmurs from the audience, and when she approached the microphone to say something, she would hesitate, think, and then retreat, saying nothing at all, pitching the crowd into peals of laughter. To me, this moving image on repeat embodies all that she represented: a fearless wit who could launch people out of their seats without saying a single word. Just the anticipation of what was going to come next was what kept us coming back. She will be terribly and unequivocally missed.

Lex Vaughn is a multi-multidisciplinary artist living in Los Angeles. Her work is primarily character-based and revolves around queer absurdity and butch visibility.