I’ve known C. Finley since 2011. The circumstances under which we met and what sparked a wonderful friendship can be credited to her artistic talent (which her personality matches.) It is her art that brought us together.
At the time, I was an art curator at Miami Art Basel (it’s like the Glastonbury or Coachella of the art world, a big playground for artists/curators/dealers/socialites) exploring and searching for inspiring talents at the various art fairs.
When I saw – or should I say experienced – Finley’s paintings hanging at Pulse Art Fair four years ago, I was instantly drawn to them. They caught my attention (and how can they not with those seductive colors!) and lured me closer. I was fascinated by her work and not only from an intellectual curiosity, but rather from a deep feeling she provoked in me. Her paintings are joyous and full of life and tapped into something I knew to be familiar but had perhaps forgotten: a pure bliss from childhood, that we seem to spend most of our lives trying to recreate.
That very same day I looked up Finley’s contact and scheduled to interview her in New York City (for what was, at the time, my new blog ArtgypsyTales). Her response – enthusiastic and open – only confirmed that I had found a “special one.” To this day (and I have since interviewed hundreds of artists), that was one of the most inspiring (and longest!) interviews I’ve ever conducted: Finley and I spent over four hours in a cafe talking about everything – but mostly art.
She is everything you would imagine when seeing her work: bubbly, colorful, joyous, positive, loving, tolerant, open… the list could go on: needless to say I’m a fan.
I’ve since followed her career very closely and have had the chance to attend several of her openings in New York City, Rome, Miami, and more recently her first solo show in Los Angeles.
And even though I’ve always respected and admired her work as an artist, there is a clear and steady evolution that’s taken place over the years. And I may dare to say that this exhibition is her best (so far).
When I first interviewed her in 2011, Finley stated: “My message is joyful inspiration. Pleasure is very important to my art. (…) I want my audience to feel joy.”
Her trajectory has remained the same, with joy and positivity as the driving force. But her technique and focus have become more acute, more aware, and ultimately more beautiful.
And it was clear at her recent opening at Superchief Gallery in Los Angeles that the goal was accomplished: people were in love, kissing, dancing, having fun, and gazing at large paintings endlessly. Her work transcended and the crowd soaked it in.
I had the chance to recently sit down with C. Finley to discuss “Divine Distractions,” her current exhibition at Superchief.
SYS: Tell me about the show, and how this work is different.
CF: To bring beauty and joy and positivity into the world is my everything. It’s just getting more powerful I think because I’m getting stronger as an artist, and older. I’m in my 17th year of painting. After trying to put on the different hats, I finally got my own. I have a deeper knowingness on how to do it better, and how to really connect with the audience.
My work used to be much more abstract: sometimes just pure geometric forms that were vehicles to put hundreds of colors next to each other to see what happened. That experimental color phase helped train my colorist skills and now I feel like I can make a painting that’s all blue or all pink or all cream. Use the color to create the emotion that I want to convey.
And those emotions were clearly transmuted to the audience, who was clearly feeling it on the opening night (maybe it was the French 75s too!).
SYS: What were the various emotions you wanted to convey in this show with these “all blue” works or “all pastels” etc?
CF: Each one has a different effect. The pastels are ecstasy: so you have that ethereal pink light of the divine light coming down. The all-blue is the sacrifice to all that is good. The “Fingers for Days” painting is a lot more red, orange, it’s warm, and that’s rapture and passion. And then you have the multi-color giant panel and that’s the joy.
SYS: I felt the strong inspiration of Rome in your paintings. Tell me about how living there has influenced your work.
CF: It’s quality-control: it’s learning what works. Rome works. Bernini works, Michaelangelo works. If that stuff doesn’t put you in rapture, I don’t know what will.
SYS: Can you tell me about the title ‘Divine Distractions’?
CF: It actually comes from reading the book ‘Edgewise’ about Cookie Mueller. There’s a chapter in there called “Divine Distractions,” which is about Cookie Mueller’s writing. Her life is something that really interests me because she was such an original. From what I gathered from the book is that she was always like that, even as a small child: really strong, passionate and creative, and totally bohemian.
I’ve been working with divine art in Italy from Bernini, from Michaelangleo… I was looking for a way to almost integrate that into a Bohemian world, because they were also bohemians but just from a different time. They were marching to the beat of a different drum, at a different time.
SYS: What were some of the readings/seeings that inspired this show?
CF: I was reading a lot of biographies by people that I admired. It was Andy Warhol [in] “Holy Terror,” the Cookie Mueller book, the Mapplethorpe biography, reading that whole New York downtown scene. I love John Waters. So I was thinking about “my people.” I was thinking of how things can mix as I was doing this show with a punk-art crowd and gallery.
I was thinking about the work I wanted to do, which are to me talismans for joy, beauty and rapture. They are divine distractions: lay your eyes upon them for more than one second in physical reality and you will receive a divine distraction: it will happen, you will get there. They’re designed to be purchased, and placed on your wall and emanate those feelings.
The works are imbued with those feelings. The audiobooks that I listened to when I made them, the music that I listened to (meditations, extremely beautiful literature, profound conversations…) I was conscious of the details. That’s why paintings are not so easy to copy: because they’re very intimate with the maker, and you can feel it.
Those particular paintings have a lot of me in them because they took a long time.
SYS: How does it feel to show your work in L.A. for the first time? Has the response been different than in other cities you’ve exhibited?
CF: It feels good to be back in Los Angeles. Especially since this body of work started when I left here. I used to live here, and I left six years ago to move to Rome. Because I went to school here (at CSULB for an MFA), it feels good to reconnect with my friends and professors: people in my life that helped me grow & build. There’s a lot of love here. It felt a little bit like a return.
L.A. feels more free: there’s a different crowd, which is in part due to the gallery too, because they have a punk and street art following. They already knew about my wallpaper dumpsters but they weren’t too familiar with my paintings. I think everyone is really into it, and surprised. The scale is overwhelming: just to see paintings on that scale is very fun. I think it happens in L.A. for murals but not for paintings. But there’s really no other place that I could show that. L.A. has that space — and that feels really good because it’s so right.
Plus there’s the good California vibes, the sunshine, the spaciousness. I met a lot of new people during this exhibit — there seems to be a lot of freshness in the city as far as art is concerned. Feels like anything is possible, that people are making big moves and great art. There’s a community of people involved with the gallery that have helped me so much and so freely and so generously and that has been one of the best gifts of the show.
SYS: You’ve also continued your “Wallpaper Dumpster’ series while you’ve been here. Have there been any particular challenges/rewards tackling this on-going project in the City of Angels?
CF: There’s seven dumpsters on the gallery street, and my goal is to wallpaper everyone of them. We’ve done four so far. It’s something I always wanted to do: take over a street and wallpaper every dumpster.
Since 2006, I’ve done close to 50 dumpsters in about 15 cities (Paris, Dublin, Rome, NY, LA, Amsterdam, San Francisco). Anytime I travel to a place I’ve never been to, I’ll pack up some wallpaper in my bag!
SYS: What do you see as the next steps & direction?
CF: I have a show coming up at Jenn Singer Gallery in NYC May 1st, for which I am making new works. They’re going to be very small, super detailed paintings (the opposite of this show). So I’ll be building these small intricate paintings for this show entitled “Moves Moves.”
SYS: What’s the ultimate goal?
CF: I always wanted to make something that the mind and the heart can go through, in, and around, and get caught up for a moment. I want to make something that people can look longer into, because the nature of the currency of our internet, photo-driven world — which I love — is that people aren’t looking enough and they’re losing their ability to see. Now they’re only listening to “what’s hot” and they’re not actually fully becoming aesthetites. I’m really interested in further looking and training the mind, the heart, the emotion, the eye, to see further, deeper, and it also becomes meditative, which is something that I think is so important. To be able to “tune out” into Art: not drugs, not TV — tune out into high Art and let your mind and spirit go.
That’s always been a driving force and always difficult for me to talk about. It’s something that I love in a lot of artists’ work I admire: I love that about Agnes Martin, for example: something you can’t suck in for a second, but you have to actually look very deeply into those paintings. Connecting with other worldly things and bring them onto this earth.
The end game is the raising up of the human spirit.
I also see a lot of negative things and I can’t tolerate it in my work. I want to be the antithesis of that darkness. I want to go viral with amazingness: make people feel good. I want to raise consciousness. In a way, that’s how I’m a warrior. A peaceful and blissed-out warrior: Why not?
The exhibit “Divine Distractions” is currently on view at Superchief Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles until April 4th 2015.
739 Kohler St, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday from 12:00-5:00pm (or by appointment)
Contact : 646.281.3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sabrina Y. Smith is a curator, artist agent and writer. She shares her time between Venice Beach (which she now calls home) and New York City.