As Cat Palmer breezed in through the door of the restaurant, a flurry of fiery red hair with a personality to match, she was greeted with hugs and hellos by the staff and customers, which was reminiscent of a scene straight out of the television show “Cheers.” Everyone in fact knew Cat Palmer’s name, whether they knew her personally or by her reputation. She is a force to be reckoned with, much like her laugh that she describes as a force of nature, which most people recognize.
From her art to her activism, Cat Palmer has created controversy and sparked dialogue everywhere she goes. She is a full time photographer, single mom, and business woman extraordinaire. Photographs with subjects wearing gas masks, women with shaved heads, and naked bodies with messages written on them to “stay out of my vagina” seem to be her forte. She has been a regular staple among the artist community, is a phenomenon among Salt Lake Facebookers and at one point, her name was listed among the U’s undergraduate attendees and she was the featured artist at the U’s Women’s Week in 2008.
Cat was born in Long Beach, California but spent her childhood in San Clemente. As a teenager she spent some time in a little town called Hemet, California in Riverside County. The town is, as she puts it, “the armpit of America, where kids were having babies at age twelve, snorting speed and cocaine, parents were buying drugs and alcohol for the junior high school kids.” As she explains “it was in the middle of nowhere, where there’s nothing to do.”
When Cat was born, her mother was young. In order to escape a bad situation at home, she married Cat’s father at the age of sixteen in the Manti, Utah LDS temple. She gave birth to Cat just before she herself turned eighteen. “The first time my mom had sex, she got knocked up with me,” Cat remarked.
Cat has no animosity towards her mother for what was a difficult childhood, “my mom did a better job than I could have done. I forgave her a long time ago. I was twenty-nine when I started having kids, which is old in the Mormon culture. I was married ten years before my first son was born and I could not have been a young mother. I commend those women that can have babies at eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. I am not that mom.”
Cat’s mother had four children before she was twenty-six, some with different fathers. Cat didn’t talk much about her father, just that he didn’t come around very often and has never really been a part of her life. She described her mother’s second husband as being a “horrible person” with a few other expletives and exclamations to drive home the point that he was not a good man, let alone step-father. “He was very abusive and very scary.” They had to leave in the middle of the night to escape that situation. She was only in first grade at the time. “There was a time where he had struck me on the head with a hammer,” she said. “What’s crazy was, I was a really good kid,” seemly surprised that she was physically hurt by this man for no apparent reason.
“I was born a strong spirit, so I feel like that’s why I’m ok,” said Cat. “My mom said I was always a stronger child than she was ever as an adult. I believe that to be true. There is just so much I’ve gone through that I just think, ‘How am I ok? How am I alright?’”
This could explain some of her activism and different projects she has been involved in over the years. She has taken part in an art and poetry exhibits on domestic violence and abuse. She volunteered her time and photography showcasing the different lives, stories, experiences of those who have been affected by domestic violence in some way.
Cat was kicked out of her house when she didn’t get along with her mother’s fourth husband. She was told that she could go live with her father, who was a stranger to her, or live with his parents, her paternal grandparents. They had always been a big part of her life and were very kind to her, her mother and her siblings. She chose her grandparents and at the age of thirteen, left all that she knew behind, her friends and family, and moved to Orange County, California. “At the time I was so bitter and unhappy about it, but looking back that saved my life.”
Her grandparents were her saving grace. Her grandmother was a business woman and a Relief Society president in the LDS faith. When people would complain to her grandmother about Cat, she would defend Cat and say that she was a good kid. “[My Grandparents] gave me a lot of freedom to just be me. I think that is very therapeutic for teenagers. When you try to constrain them and say that ‘you need to fit in this box and think this way,’ that does so much damage. I feel like I was able to grow into who I was because of them. Because they were so loving and so encouraging of me to be me.”
She is not currently very close to any of her extended family now, as both of her grandparents recently passed away. She says she has created her own little family among her close friends, who have gained some celebrity and notoriety on her Facebook page.
“I have known Catherine for gobs of years, long before she was Cat Palmer. Back when we shared a purple office with our Beta fish, Reynaldo,” said Rob Luckau, one of her closest friends. “I always thought of Catherine as a machine; smart, efficient and tireless, but she could be quite reserved. I think it took the advent of Cat Palmer for the machine to show the world how human she really is; brilliant, bold, thoughtful, fearless, but vulnerable, bashful and with a heart on her sleeve that is not afraid to feel anything. Cat’s loyalty as a friend is the one feature I’ve come to value most about her. If Cat counts you as a close friend, she will always be on your side. She will be with you if you’re right and if you’re wrong, she’ll be wrong with you.”
Cat’s friends are infamous in their own way. She often will post videos, photos, and comments of them, which makes them recognizable on the street. “[Rob] feels like he’s just a side character. He sees my life as like a TV show or something. He says, ‘I’m just like the side character in your TV show, that’s all I am,’” Cat said of her friend Rob Luckau.
Another one of her friends, Greg, who is often portrayed as a Jesus-like character in many of her images such as her recent photograph of Jesus and the Last Supper, texted her and said, “I’m the Nicole Richie to your Paris Hilton. I get recognized wherever I go just for being your friend. I have people coming up to me all the time saying, ‘I’ve always wanted to meet you.’”
“I only get really close with those that have the best souls,” Cat said of her friends.
When asked about her haters, of whom she has many, she said, “Oh, I love them. I love ruffling feathers. I’m addicted to the feeling it gives me to get under people’s skin.”
She has gotten under people’s skin alright. She is regularly reported on Facebook for inappropriate images, she has a blog which has received multiple comments about her going to hell, and even Utah’s Gov. Herbert has blocked her from his Facebook page. “You know you’ve f—ing made it when the governor has blocked you on social media,” Cat said proudly.
“I feel like the more people talk about taboo subjects, I feel like the healthier that we all become,” said Cat.
Even though she has some haters, be it due to her art, activism, or Facebook posts, she will continue to do what she does best and create controversy with style.
“It makes me feel like I’m doing something right, because I don’t want to create art that doesn’t get people talking. I don’t want to create things that people are like, ‘huh, that’s fine’ or ‘yeah, whatever, it’s uninteresting.’ Because the fact is if it wasn’t interesting people wouldn’t be talking about it. I love creating dialogue and I feel like the only way to create dialogue is if you ruffle feathers. If you don’t ruffle feathers then you just talk about boring shit like the weather,” said Cat.
And much like the weather in Utah, Cat Palmer is anything but boring or predictable; she is a force to be reckoned with. Visit her website at www.catpalmer.com or her blog catpalmerphoto.blogspot.com.
Photos courtesy of Cat Palmer, Steve Conlin, Rick Egan, Chris Forbes