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Art & Life with Cynthia Grilli

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Grilli.

Cynthia, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I’m not sure my story is that unique, I just drew stuff all the time as a kid. My mom always had art supplies around, and I spent a lot of time by myself making things. My family moved around a bit when I was growing up, and art class was a place that always felt like home. When I went to college at RISD, I realized that I wanted to paint the figure, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. I graduated with a degree in Illustration then went to get my masters at the New York Academy of Art in painting immediately after. That was a pivotal moment in my trajectory; I immersed myself in the contemporary art world while studying classical painting and anatomy. It was a great blend that helped me begin to sort out who I am as a painter. Three months after graduation I got a job teaching at St. John’s University and my second career began. I lived in NYC for eight years until I moved to southern California in 2001. Currently, I teach at Cal State Long Beach, Saddleback College, and from my studio in Costa Mesa.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
This is a hard question to answer succinctly because the process of making paintings is mysterious, even to people who make them. I suppose I am always working toward a relationship with the viewer which is why I work with the figure primarily; to me, it offers the greatest possibility for an emotional connection. The subject matter, surfaces, and materials I use are chosen specifically to support this interaction. The space that the figures inhabit is contemporary: symbolic landscapes or interiors that allude to internal states. Inspired by dreams and memories, my paintings depict human, and animal interactions both real and imagined. The individual characteristics of the people that I paint are not as important to me as the archetypal spirit that they embody. It is a state of being, not a particular being that I am most interested in trying to capture. My subjects are representatives of shared emotion and universal experience.

My initial impulse toward an image is a vague feeling of rightness, of possibility. As I work, the process of painting (i.e., problem-solving) reveals multiple levels of meaning that in turn further inform the way I paint. A psychological element will assert itself, the deeper meaning behind my initial interest clarifies, and then every decision from then on gains greater relevance. To sum up, I am looking to engage the viewer viscerally, emotionally, and intellectually so they have a meaningful experience when looking at the work.

Any advice for aspiring or new artists?
Yes! I wish I had worried less about who I would become as an artist. I tortured myself for a long time trying to “crack the code” that would get my work recognized. In my thirties, I was constantly in a state of anxiety about my progress, and it was unnecessary. I had to do a lot of work to get my ego and finances in check so I could be free to paint authentically. There is some pain in painting, literally and figuratively! However, much of the pain is due to expectation. Every artist wants their work to be great, but great work only comes from a lot of bad work. The bad work is just as important. Bottom line, make work that is authentic to who you are and get another job to pay the bills. That way you take the pressure off of the work to support you and instead you can support it.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
I post exhibition notices on my website under news, on Facebook, and on Instagram, so those are the best places to check. People can support my work by buying it! However, following me on social media and sharing the work with others is also very nice. Most artists I know hate promoting their work, for me, it is actually painful. When people take the time to share images or make an introduction, it is lovely and much appreciated.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Brad Hunter

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  1. Clare Boisineau

    October 24, 2018 at 19:27

    Great article, Cynthia. Hope you get some new commissions and recognition from it.

  2. Sean Moran

    October 26, 2018 at 10:44

    Cynthia’s ability to weave whimsy, deep emotion and her use of texture and color is so unique. Such a talent. Proud to own a few of her works.

  3. Michael Bernier

    December 10, 2018 at 11:06

    Great article and AMAZING work, Cynthia!!
    I will see your paintings in person someday soon.

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