Angela Craven will be in the Paint Studio demonstrating painting related to empathy, noon–3 pm July 13-14 and July 20-21, 2019. The Paint Studio is included with general admission, which is free for members and youth 18 and under.
Angela Craven is a Denver-based abstract expressionist painter with a studio in the RiNo Art District. She studied in Siena, Italy with abstract painter and video artist Franca Marina and holds a BFA in painting from Colorado State University. Angela has shown her work at TAXI, GRACe Studios’ Gallery, and with Manhattan Arts International and has been a featured artist at RiNo Made. View more of her work on Instagram.
My experience has shown there are many branches on the path to coping with loss and that art has a powerful place in that process.
Laura Thompson: What will your demo at the DAM look like? What can visitors expect?
Angela Craven: For my demo, I’ll be working on an ongoing series which explores the universality of grief and related topics of empathy and transformation. The paintings in this series reflect the personal stories of people who’ve been touched by loss. The resulting work is nonrepresentational, large, and colorful.
I’ll be sharing the research and process behind each piece, which is an essential part of the series and pulls from my background in design research. Part of what I’ll be sharing will also include the personal stories behind the work. These stories are gathered and understood through multiple one-on-one conversations and take place in the painting subject’s home and in the context of their current life and ongoing experiences. The content of the interview is then woven into each painting with text and color.
LT: As an abstract expressionist painter, how do you see your artwork as continuing and breaking with the mainstays of this art movement?
AC: I very much relate to the gestural mark-making and nonrepresentational imagery that were characterized as abstract expressionism in the 1940s and ‘50s. I love the quick, uninhibited physical expression related to this movement. I thrive on translating human experience into a visual and non-literal language.
In the same breath, I also wouldn’t consider my work to mimic purely improvisational action painting like Joan Mitchell’s or Jackson Pollack’s works. Nor would I relate it to the color field paintings grounded in myth and religion that are tied to many abstract expressionists. I’d say my work also pulls from process and conceptual art.
One major way that I break from the mainstays of abstract expressionism is by incorporating layers of text. I do this for both conceptual and visual effects. I use many tools and materials, including pastry bags or condiment bottles full of paint and collaged pieces from my own writing. I look at the text as part of the composition. I also view it as a conversation between the painting and myself. I love the process of playing with whatever emerges as I add each word and layer.
I’m interested in a painting’s ability to function as a tool for communication and reflection for those who interact with my art. The idea that a completed painting communicates itself with the viewer in layers just as the meaning of a conversation evolves as it occurs is endlessly interesting to me. This interaction constantly evolves with its audience allowing the viewer to explore and discover new perspective over time.
Through my process and my paintings, I seek to encourage empathy, facilitate connection, and inspire dialog both with collectors and among viewers. This is my personal mark of art that I view as peripheral to the abstract expressionist movement.
LT: You have mentioned that your paintings are records of significant events in your own life as well as the lives of others as a means to foster reflection, strength, and connection. Could you give some insight into this process?
AC: This work grew from my own path of trying to have children, which began several years ago and had a profound impact on my life. During this time, I lost multiple pregnancies and was diagnosed with infertility. We weathered the ongoing disappointment, uncertainty, and frustration that come with the rollercoaster of infertility and also the grief that comes from loss.
Loss, grief, and infertility can all be strange and difficult things to talk about. There is stigma that comes with speaking about these experiences, even though many people have been affected by them.
Expressing my experience with loss and infertility through art led me to begin speaking to family and close friends about these issues. It was only through that process that I realized I was experiencing grief. I needed a non-solutioning space to feel heard in order to navigate the pain. I have learned that this is important for others as well—to know that they aren't alone and that they can find healing and transformation through that kind of communication and connection.
These realizations also stemmed from a previous body of work. I created small work daily for 365 consecutive days and shared my work online each day. Some pieces reflected events or my thoughts from the day, and some were more generally inspired by color, texture, and the light in my studio.
During this reflection, the 365-day pieces became more than a record of days. I could see at the time, my work strengthened connections and created conversations with friends and family and even led to new relationships and experiences.
Looking back, I realized events that seemed mundane were actually part of a larger transformation. Even the hardest challenges, which seemed overwhelming in the moment, never lasted as long as they felt. Positive events were never too far in the future but it took this body of work for me to realize that.
It’s easy to move through the years and fail to acknowledge celebratory moments, successes, challenges, and growth. This project taught me the value of taking time to reflect and celebrate the ability to grow and achieve my goals.
This became even more important through my own experiences with infertility, loss, and grief. As an artist, painting was more than a powerful source of expression for me during my own journey. Painting became a conduit to strength and healing.
My experience has shown there are many branches on the path to coping with loss and that art has a powerful place in that process. I love the idea of offering another opportunity to explore healing through a collaborative and creative process. This isn’t art therapy but may have a therapeutic effect through the act of being heard and honoring a part of an intangible experience through something as tangible as art.
LT: Your paintings are highly emotive. What is the role of color and line in communicating feeling? What are you thinking about when you begin a new painting? Do you decide on a specific experience or feeling to communicate or do your compositions take form more organically?
AC: My work begins with words from conversations, something I’ve read or a passing thought. Words inspire my work and inform the shapes, textures and colors on my canvas.
The text that I start with also comes from books, a poem, a song, or maybe something I’ve scribbled on a small scrap of paper… all of these things create the foundation that I build upon. I use an old trunk as a type of sketchbook to collect these text souvenirs and use them when the time or painting presents itself. I write, collage, and create underpaintings with them, using oil sticks, pastels, charcoal, paint markers, and various types of bottles and pastry bags that help me write with paint.
Once I have that foundation, I start responding to a painting more intuitively with gestural strokes of color, lines, and repeating forms, layering more text and color as I go. Sometimes the text gets lost. It can grow illegible and become a conceptual part of the painting. It can be private to me or the person I’m painting a commission for.
Photo at top: Angela Craven in her studio. Courtesy Rebecca Tillett.