From rudimentary shapes painted on wood or baking paper to paintings that re-imagine old movie cameras as cubist jumbles of Fred Flintstone-like cogs and wheels, everything is stripped back to basics, and all the more compelling for it. Indeed, each one has a story to suggest. Here, spindly electricity pylons translate into stocky, horned geometries that suggest wandering prairie cattle. There, what could be spools of film in a movie camera double as cartoon-mouse ears. The results are witty and intriguing.

When you started your MA you were making quite traditional paintings. What brought about the change in your work?

“I spent Christmas 2008 in the Grand Canyon, and I turned 40 at the bottom of this giant crack in the earth. There were great snowstorms and the power, water and heating were cut off, so it was very cold and quiet – profoundly beautiful and mysterious. I did what I’d always wanted to do – came out by helicopter, got a bus to Flagstaff and drove to Monument Valley. I spent New Year there on my own and something happened that I don’t quite understand, but I came back to the Royal Academy and changed my work. I started referencing all the subjects I love, especially my lifelong obsession with old films.”

Movie cameras are a big feature of your 2010 Cinema paintings.

“Cinema was mainly about the experience of watching Chaplin films and becoming obsessed with his 1931 film City Lights. And also the thought that cinema and cubism were around at the same time on opposite sides of the world. They were both about vision and imagination, but one seemed to be about the expansion of two dimensions into three, and the other about the reduction of three dimensions into two.”

You’ve used some unusual materials for paintings – baking paper as well as mixing paint with sawdust.

“I just use materials that somehow subconsciously fit with what I’m feeling and trying to say. The baking paper had something to do with heat – I’d just been to the desert – the women around my childhood and it felt like some kind of skin covering the wall. It shone like gold in the sun.”

What kind of stories are you thinking about at the moment?

“This March I went to see William Faulkner’s house in Mississippi. I’ve no idea if it will feed into my work but it felt important to go there. He wrote some great film scripts, but I think his novels are like reading a painting – often you don’t quite know what’s going on, but somehow you do on a subconscious level. It’s what happens at the end of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, which also feels very important right now. As James Woods has said of the mysterious, terrifying ending, ‘We know but we don’t know, but we know.’ That’s a great quote.”

Catherine Story’s next solo exhibition will be in Nov; Carl Freedman Gallery, 44a Charlotte Road, EC2

by Skye Sherwin