7 Questions for Cindy Motley, a Self-Taught Artist to Watch in 2023, Who Seeks to Inspire Joy Through Her Practice

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California-based artist Cindy Motley has garnered a reputation for her distinctive synthesis of outsider art aesthetics and imaginative, even fantastical compositions. Using acrylic paints that allow for quick transitions between layers and elements, Motley frequently incorporates a rage of symbolism and art-historical references in her work—from the Impressionists to Surrealists. Drawn entirely from her mind’s eye, each work is a revelation for both viewer and artist that illustrates a proprietary balance between formal painting techniques and creative intuition. Her artistic practice is multidisciplinary too, and her experience with sewing, for instance, can be discerned in her work through the common use of patchwork motifs that are reminiscent of quilting traditions.

We recently reached out to Motley to learn more about her process and inspirations and what she’s looking forward to this coming year.

Cindy Motley, The Light Keeper (TK). Courtesy of the artist.

Cindy Motley, (2022). Courtesy of the artist.

I understand you are largely self-taught as an artist. Tell us a bit about your background—what inspired you specifically to start painting?

Yes, I am basically a self-taught artist, however, I have taken a few classes from teachers whose works I admire.

I have always been interested in the arts, probably because I come from a family of artists. It’s been around me all my life, though I didn’t really start painting until my early 30s when my mom bought me some canvases for my birthday. There is nothing like a blank canvas staring at me that makes me feel instantly inspired.

Can you talk about your artistic process—where do you start? Do you plan everything out, or is it more instinctive?

A little of both. I definitely start with an idea of what I want to paint and where I want the figures to be placed. Once I have that established in my mind, I will mark them onto the canvas. Then, I always start painting the faces in first. I never know who’s going to show up, and I’ve learned to just go with it—and typically, it’s a pleasant surprise. Once the faces have personalities, I get a better sense of the painting’s direction, and this is where I begin to put my twist on it: embellish, add some mystery, perhaps a story, whatever the painting is calling for.

Where do you typically draw inspiration from? Who are the artists, historic or contemporary, that have influenced your work the most?

I get inspiration from people doing ordinary things. There are many joyful moments in one’s day that I think go unnoticed, and I try to capture those moments in my paintings. My painting style was influenced by many different things. Definitely the Old Masters, Paul Gauguin, Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse, and Gustav Klimt, to name a few. But also my love of textiles, sewing, and writing.

How does symbolism play a part in your work?

The symbols in my paintings add a very bold and unique aesthetic statement to my work, along with some mystery. They add, if you will, to the story within the paintings. The symbols represent things such as joy, love, and abundance, which is all around us—and this is the very essence of my paintings.

What do you want people to get from your paintings? 

Joy.

Do you have any advice for self-taught artist just starting out?

Do whatever inspires you to keep painting. Be true to yourself and have fun with the ever-evolving process.

Can you tell us what are you working on now? Is there anything upcoming that is exciting for you?

I’m very excited to have been juried into the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach, California, this coming summer. I’m working on a body of work for this venue called “The Gifts.”

Preliminary installation view for the Arts Show Laguna Beach (2023). Courtesy of the artist.

Cindy Motley, preliminary installation view for the Festival of Arts Fine Art Show, Laguna Beach (2023). Courtesy of the artist.

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