An artist is essentially a medium, a conduit to express the underlying dynamics of a culture – Cynthia J. Lee
Both seem true to me. I know—deep in my core— that I am an artist. All my senses, thoughts and experiences go through this creative filter. I am extremely curious and many things resonate with me in the course of a day. It is impossible for me not to make associations between different things. Absolutely, art is a foundation and a structure which defines me. But I also think that how I interpret or define this creative impulse allows me to make art which is specifically mine. I then define ART in a uniquely personal way—in my choice of words, colors, lines, composition and other elements.
As artists, we have our fingers on the collective pulse. I want each of my paintings and poems to capture a state of mind, an idea or experience—to halt it in mid-air so that it resonates in a brief moment of connection with another person. My art becomes both the means and the end.
What was the first piece you worked on? Would you like to share any memory attached to it?
My master’s degree and work experience are in public policy. The first art piece I worked on was a collage self-portrait for a mixed media collage class I took in 2001—my very first art class ever! I created it from magazine images and text. I also wrote a poem to accompany the collage. I had been writing poetry and plays for years. But this painting was significant, for I began to recognize a deep pull to become a visual artist. After this class I went on to discover paints, brushes and canvases. Today I continue to write poetry and paint abstracts in oil mixed with cold wax. My art has been juried into numerous gallery exhibits and even included in a few books. But an entire new world opened for me with that first collage self-portrait. It still hangs in my studio.
Any of your favorite collaborations so far?
I have not collaborated on a painting with another creative soul but would love to! My “collaborations” to date have been indirect, when I’ve used a particular musician’s work to inspire me. I have done abstracts to visually interpret certain jazz musicians, and did a painting (“Attraction”) while listening to Bruno Mars. It felt like he was there in the studio with me! A few years ago, I had a poem in an exhibit, “War: Images & Words,” where art and poetry were juxtaposed in a powerful way. It felt like a collaboration after the fact.
Recently I heard about a dance choreographed in response to an artist’s paintings. The dance was performed at the gallery’s exhibit opening. That struck me as so exciting! I love collaborations across art forms. This “cross-fertilization” enriches the creative experience for both the artists and the audience.
As an artist, have you ever struggled to be expressive in your ART FORM?
There certainly are times where I struggle with a painting. I’ve learned that this usually happens when I am trying to force the painting to move in a particular direction or toward a conclusion I already have in mind. It’s important to leave the painting alone for a while until I can look at it anew. Sometimes it helps to do something radical to it so I either reconnect to the original impulse or begin to see a new path for the painting.
There also are times when I resist going into my studio and use lots of other activities to procrastinate. I might feel anxious about a new direction for my art, or uncertain how to finish a particular painting. Other times I find that procrastinating serves a purpose. Something is “percolating” just below the surface, and waiting actually helps the creative process.
Every so often a painting or poem seems to create itself, quickly and easily. I am grateful for these rare gifts from the universe!
Do you ever fear your own creative genius? What keeps you balanced in life?
I don’t fear my creativity. For me, it is a wonderful way to explore “hints from the universe,” a term which writer Amy Tan uses in her wonderful Ted Talk on creativity. Some event or feeling or experience will capture my attention and really resonate with me. A painting or poem becomes the expression of my exploration into what specifically is resonating, why, and why now. The deeper I dig, the clearer my intention becomes and the more confident I am that my art will convey this intention.
What keeps me balanced? Walks in a nearby forest, swimming, music, laughter, meditation. Being quiet, and fully in the moment, is wonderful. Experiencing the art of others—in museums, galleries, novels, poems, plays, dance— always nurtures my soul. Recently, I became a fan of gong meditations! All those sound frequencies seem to reach every cell of my body to energize and balance at the same time.
How do you choose your colors? Which one’s your favorite?
Color has its own language. Each one has particular emotions and connotations attached, in every culture. So, while I choose my colors intuitively, I understand that my subconscious is at work, and the colors reflect my mood or intention in some way. When I begin a painting, I almost never have a palette in mind. I start by making random black lines and shapes on a wood panel. I then bring in a color and its complement. At the moment, my favorites are perylene red—a rich bright red— and perylene green—a darker forest green. Both are transparent and create the most wonderful values. I think it no accident that I have stayed with these dramatic colors for a while. Given the polarized state of our national politics here in the USA, soft pastel shades just don’t seem right to me these days.
You are also a poet. How do you connect ART and Poetry?
I’ve written and published poetry over the years but it wasn’t until 2013 that I discovered how to incorporate it into my visual art. I began a painting series inspired by a trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast. I was profoundly moved by an ocean kayak experience and turned to poetry to explore the meaning behind the sense memory I had. In the days that followed, I moved back and forth between the paintings and drafts of the poems. As the poems evolved, so did the series. I found that writing helped me to find the emotional truth behind my creative impulse for both. The paintings became richer and the process more spontaneous. I could forget my left brain and just paint. I still work this way. By giving poetry an active role, I can move deeper into what I want to communicate through my art. I am enriched by a dynamic synergy between image and metaphor. Creative insights come more easily, and I find that my voice is clearer and more authentic in both art forms.
A piece you are currently working on…
I just finished a painting called “Political Circus” and another called “Information Overload.” I’m now working on a triptych—a set of three 24” x 24” wood panels which will become one painting. The palette is very different for me, with turquoise, olive green, gold and burgundy. I have lots of odd shapes and meandering lines. Only one of the three is close to being finished and I have no idea yet how to tie all three together in a meaningful way. It shall unfold in time…
I also am working on a book of poems, another book which combines my art and poetry, and a possible manual for artists on writing an artist statement.
What would this world be without artists?
I cannot imagine. Given the drawings on ancient cave walls, it seems clear that humans need to express themselves creatively in order to record their perceptions and make sense of the world around them. I truly believe that the urge to create comes soon after our basic needs for food, water, and shelter are satisfied. Artists, writers, musicians, actors and dancers help their communities to understand the truth of experiences and events in deeper ways. They bring clarity and comfort to others, in affirming that we are not alone in our thoughts and feelings. There is a wonderful quote from the film, “Genius,” which I love: “…back in the caveman days our ancestors would huddle around the fire at night and the wolves would be howling in the dark, just beyond the light. And one person would start talking and he would tell a story…so we wouldn’t be so scared in the dark.” Artists strengthen their communities and enrich the world—through stories and other creative acts—by affirming our shared humanity.
(Exclusive for Real Life Heroes – By Manvi)
3 Comments Add yours
Thank you, Manvi! The interview looks great in its final form. I so appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts on art with you and your readers.
This is a very thoughtful interview. I’m glad that Cynthia expresses the intersection between creativity, art and life experiences so eloquently.