Cat Tesla Mixed Media
Cat Tesla was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1963. As a child she loved art and science, excelling in both. After receiving awards for her artwork in high school, she was given a scholarship for the first year of college if she majored in art, but was also awarded academic scholarships. “It was a difficult decision to decide what you wanted to do the rest of your life”, says Tesla, the daughter of a mechanical engineer and mathematician, “but at the time I chose science.” She obtained a B.S. in Biology, M.S. in Human Genetics, and later, an Associate’s Degree in Graphic Design. Tesla became a faculty member of Emory University’s Department of Human Genetics in 1990, working as a genetic counselor at Emory University for nearly 20 years before trading genetics clinic for art studio. Aside from genetics clinic, Cat also served as Marketing Director for the Emory Genetics Laboratory, was the Director of Genetic Counselors, and also conducted seminal research in the area of public education in genetics.
It was in 1997 that Cat went part-time in genetics to begin a journey that would eventually cause her to leave Emory University altogether. Tesla began exhibiting her paintings and things quickly took off. Defying popular stereotypes about right-brained and left-brained people, she had to juggle seeing patients in genetics clinic during the day, while painting in the evenings to get ready for shows.
In 2002 Tesla planned to leave Emory but everything changed when her husband was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at the age of 41. “Getting the news of your young husband’s cancer diagnosis was like being clobbered with a baseball bat”, Cat recalls. Our lives turned upside-down and plans to be a full-time artist were put on hold. Cat’s husband, Simo, has since fully recovered and is her art business partner and studio assistant.
Tesla’s creative-side brought a new dimension to the workings of the Department of Human Genetics at Emory and they didn’t want her to leave. The Department found ways to work around Cat’s art schedule so that she could continue to work in both ‘worlds’. Although she quit for the third time in 2006, she wrote a research grant that year that was funded and agreed to finish the research project by working one day a week through 2009. Tesla published her research as the lead article in the journal Genetics in Medicine, where they also put one of her paintings on the cover.
Early in Tesla’s genetics career she began her practice of yoga, hiking, and mindful meditation. “My brain found peace and calm in nature, while mindful meditation allowed me to traverse more easily between the worlds of art and science”, said Cat. Scientists hypothesize that being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s command center, to dial down and rest, like an overused muscle. In fact, after just a 3 day camping trip, you can increase your problem solving by 50 percent.
It was inevitable that Mother Nature would become Tesla’s muse. Her “Chrysalis Series” is an abstraction of nature, where her goal is to convey what it feels like being in it. Cat explains: “In my paintings I like to combine the opposing forces that exist in nature: birth, growth, death, decay, and rebirth. Hard edges, soft edges, dark against light. The visual relationships in my work speak of the polarities of the organization of sunflower petals (unity) against the scattering of leaves in a storm (discord), for example.”
Aside from Cat’s degree in graphic design, she has done multiple residencies with Steven Aimone, author of “Expressive Drawing”, studies with artist Nicholas Wilton, in addition to two international art residencies in France. In 2019 Tesla began teaching workshops on abstract painting in Santa Fe with fellow artist Julie Schumer.
Cat’s husband Simo is a classically-trained accordionist who plays with the Atlanta Balalaika Orchestra, a Swedish ensemble and a Balkan music ensemble. He is also an avid photographer and paints small surrealistic works in his spare time. Together the Tesla’s travel extensively around the country to meet with collectors at art shows.
Cat and Simo live in a quiet suburb of Atlanta with a family of bluebirds who have taken up residence in their backyard.