An interview with artist Cindy Christian Rogers
The young man had visited Cindy Christian Rogers' booth earlier in the day and spent quite some time looking at one painting in particular.
When I showed up to spell her, she told me about how much she had enjoyed watching his encounter with the painting. Clearly, it spoke to him, but he wasn't quite able to articulate why.
Within an hour, though, he was back, his mother in tow. They'd struck a deal. He would pay half for the painting and his mother would pay the other half. Cindy queried him about his interest and found out that he was a high school student who loved to paint, and this piece had captured the essence of his own call to art. Cindy admitted to him that what he was purchasing was, in fact, her favorite piece.
So I snapped a picture of the two for posterity and went about my job of wrapping the painting for safe travels. Off went the young man, and I turned to Cindy to resume our visit.
But she wasn't quite ready to banter. Her eyes were filled with tears, and something about the transaction had left her overcome with emotion. She'd just sent forth into the world her favorite creation, and its new young caretaker understood just as she did how powerful art can be when it touches your soul.
Cindy's art is like that. For some, like her new young patron and the elderly lady from Scotland who remembered her childhood when she gazed at the paintings, Cindy's depictions of the northern lights are like a luminous path to one's heart and soul.
So now that I've prattled on for 3 posts, I think it's time we hear directly from Cindy. Here's how she answered my interview questions. Enjoy!
Did seeing the Northern Lights inspire you to paint them?
I have seen the aurora only once-in my own backyard in suburban Minneapolis. One summer night about 20 years ago, my husband and I decided to sleep on our pontoon boat. (We live on one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes). We carried a television to the boat and plugged it into a long extension cord so we could watch Johnny Carson. Suddenly we noticed the sky pulsed with strands of silver. Needless to say, we turned off the TV and watched the astronomical show instead.
Years later, when I started painting after a corneal transplant, my father sent me one of those Internet e-mails that makes the rounds, but this one was worth opening: It contained dramatic photos of the northern lights, some a bright white like the ones I'd seen in person, but most alive with assorted and vivid colors. I painted one as a Christmas gift for him and realized the aurora provided a subject well suited to my style.
It also tapped into my lifelong interest in the intersecting points between science and art. I had painted in college, even taking a class in the physics of light and color, so I guess you could say I finally found my muse. Besides, after you recover from two years of poor vision, you have a renewed appreciation for such seemingly everyday occurrences as light and color!
What gave you confidence to find your "voice" in painting, as you've found it in writing?
Discipline is the best confidence builder. After my transplant, I couldn't easily read, drive, or work. I started writing and painting to reclaim my vision, literally and creatively. I found that the regular pursuit of creative work itself generates inspiration, even during those
times I feel most ill-equipped or isolated. Recent neurological research suggests a person must labor for 10,000 hours to expertly master any skill. So it turns out my mother was right (drats) when I took piano lessons as a child: Practice does makes perfect.
What inspires you to paint? What inspires you to write? What inspires you?
I've wanted to write since I was 4 years old. I have no idea why. As a child I wrote stories and poems, most of them silly ditties. As an adult, I worked as a medical journalist and magazine editor and product developer, but it wasn't until my vision worsened that I focused (no pun intended) on my ambition to write fiction. My husband kept saying, “You've always said you wanted to tell stories. Now's your chance.” I find that painting complements my writing, and I seem to be exploring the same theme in both: that by valuing the mysteries of our lives without constantly seeking to understand what they mean, we find wonders and joys we could never have imagined otherwise. That's certainly the attitude that most inspires me.
A friend recently named you the "Most Present at Any Moment Person" she knows. How and why did you earn such distinction? How does that quality affect your artistry?
I am honored by that distinction, though I must confess it isn't true every minute of every day. But I do work at it, perhaps harder even than at my artistic endeavors. I try to relate what I've learned in my creative work to my relationships and to the vicissitudes of daily life.
What I've learned is that the creative experience has to be present-minded. I find it important to quell the editor, the critic, the voice in my head that tells me I ought to be doing something productive like. . . laundry. I have to abandon myself to the moment or I won't benefit from the energizing surprises that bubble up from my subconscious. I find the same phenomenon to be true when spending time with friends, family, or colleagues: I hope to give them my full and open-minded attention without thinking about my "to do" list. I hear some pretty intriguing stories that way!
Painting for me is like writing a first draft: I work rapidly and spontaneously, eager to see what serendipitous discoveries emerge on the canvas. That's another reason the northern lights are a good subject for me-after all, they are themselves fleeting and magical.
Would you call your work spiritual?
When I exhibited at my first art fair a couple of summers ago, I was delighted by the number of passers-by who responded to what they saw as spiritual elements in my work. I like to think my art celebrates what I call the joy of embracing mystery. Teenagers and college students especially seem to glimpse that aspect of my work. I chalk it up to reading Harry Potter!
Happiness derives from not worrying about being happy and instead staying open to unexpected and unpredictable moments of laughter, connectedness, and peace.
Come meet Cindy and see her paintings and greeting cards at the Edina Art Fair at the corner of 50th Street West and France Avenue South this weekend. She'll be in booth 173 Friday to Sunday, embracing new mysteries and meeting new friends!
Image: "Spellbound" by Cindy Christian Rogers, oil on canvas