ARTIST INTERVIEW: CYNTHIA REESER


1. How important is it to you to feel you're doing something new in your artwork?

Art for me is a continual learning process. I don’t know if that has anything to do with being self-taught, but I always try to push my technical and aesthetic limits in an attempt to develop something new and better. More important than creating something new, however, is to stay true to the images I have in my mind’s eye. I have images that I’ve carried around with me since youth, and most of them are imaginative, in contrast to places that I’ve been or seen.

2. Do you feel you've ever created anything that really captured where you were, at least for that time, fully? If so, please share any memories of the experience.

For me, photography falls into that category. There is something very personal about the way a photographer views place and setting that communicates how a person sees her surroundings. In my photo shoot at the Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama, I tried to capture the unique points of the historical surroundings and the industrial environment. That shoot was a lot of fun—I was like a kid in a candy store, snapping photos at odd angles and climbing into places marked “Prohibited” that I well knew were dangerous. I hope the images I captured reflect the fascination I felt with my surroundings, but more importantly, that they speak to the artistic qualities of that environment. The contrast of the natural world with the man-made comes through strongly in that locale; the quality of light seems to have its own presence. So I think my photography is more personal than my other pieces, to a degree—the paintings, especially, draw more from imagination than any sort of personal vision.

3. What would you say is your personal aesthetic or vision?

I think “To thine own self be true” applies here, though not in a selfish or self-centered way. It’s a matter of perception and internal focus—if an artist is not painting what he or she sees, then the result is probably an imitation of someone else’s style. I do think that it is important for artists not to operate in a vacuum. Seeing what other artists are doing broadens the perspective and offers an outlet, if not for support, then at least for the chance to locate oneself within an artistic climate. But when you come back to the canvas or drawing pad, what comes through should be authentic. For artists just beginning, finding a personal authenticity or vision can be a challenge; it just takes attending to your art. Like a writer attends to the page or the screen, coming to it and being present on a regular basis, an artist should dedicate time and attention to developing a personal aesthetic. I suppose I’m at the point where I’m still trying out different things artistically, and so maybe haven’t reached a focal point yet. I’m still experimenting and having fun.

4. What do you feel you've sacrificed for art and what is it you eventually hope to accomplish?

Can I just say everything and leave it at that? In all seriousness, pursuing art for me has been both a necessity and a sacrifice. I am a single mother of two raising children on a freelancer’s salary, so there is a lot of sacrifice involved simply due to circumstance. I have only been painting about three or four years, but when I was just beginning, I had a lot of people telling me that it was a waste of time and would never go anywhere. If I had ever listened to that instead of my own voice, I would probably be a schoolteacher or something (and miserable). I suppose the greatest sacrifice has been that of time, which is very limited. Eventually I hope to be able to secure more projects in the art field and hope that it eventually allows me to travel; I’d like to be doing shows internationally someday. Whether or not that happens is ultimately beside the point, as long as I can continue to create art and develop my technique.

5. Do you think being a woman gives you an advantage or a disadvantage as an artist?

Maybe I’m na├»ve, but I don’t see my gender as having anything to do with my art. Others might see it differently. I know that women artists weren’t given much consideration until relatively recently in human history. Some of my favorite artists are male—James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Caspar David Friedrich, Banksy, Ashley Wood—but that may be due simply to my lack of exposure to many female artists outside more traditional aesthetics. I like to think that I am fortunate to live in a society that is more accepting and less chauvinistic than that of my female predecessors, however.

6. Whether it's an advantage or not, you're an awesome artist with a lot of depth. I just have one final question if you don't mind. If you found yourself traveling the world doing show after show after show, any resource whatsoever at your disposal, rich beyond your wildest dreams, how fondly would you remember say a scrappy old interviewer from your past with a shared love of art and relatively good hygiene?

Would you like your studio on the 6th or the 7th floor of my mansion? Honestly, if I ever found myself in that position, I’d open up a space for artists, maybe on a grant program, to have time to paint and the studio space to do it in. I’d do something similar for writers, and include a mentorship program. And I would fondly remember my scrappy interviewers.