Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cynthia Chartiér: Art Has Always Been First For Me

In the past, I believed it is just a small world. Now I know the Law of Attraction miraculously arranges ‘serendipities,’ ‘coincidences’, and other ‘surprises’ in our lives.  One of my biggest revelations about life is that you don’t have to know how you get where you want to be as long as you are actively pursuing your goal. As long as you know your final destination, the events, people and experiences will come to you flawlessly as you release resistance.

Here is an example. When I lived in Dallas last summer, I met Todd Guttmann while I worked at an advertising agency. Even though Todd and I are visual artists, neither me, nor him were doing creative work there.  Todd told me about a few of his fellow artists who are well-known in the Dallas art scene. One of them was Susan Sales (you can read my interview with Susan here), and the other person was Cynthia Chartiér.

In September, life brought me back to Austin where I planned to stay happily ever after. However, before I left Dallas, I scouted a gallery district on Dragon Street, looked at the exhibits, and talked to some gallery owners. I especially remembered Samuel Lynne Gallery, a supreme and spacious gallery with beautiful artwork and sculptures. I didn’t have a chance to talk to the owners that day and I left to Austin shortly after. However, the name ‘Cynthia Chartiér appeared again – she was one of exhibiting artists in that gallery.
Don’t ask me why I ended up here, but I am in Dallas again. We were having dinner with my friends, and one of them starts telling me about “this artist, Cynthia Chartiér… who is well-known in Dallas. She also teaches art classes that help ‘non-artists’ to discover their creative genius.” Well, three’s a charm, and I contacted Cynthia right after the dinner.

We met with Cynthia in a coffee-shop in downtown Dallas. She has a calm voice and a beautiful smile. She is very charming in her shyness. I asked Cynthia how she developed her painting style. She said the best way to acquire drawing skills and to develop your style is to start imitating artists you like. When  she was starting out,  she attended various museums and tried to replicate great masters’ techniques.

She had an art teacher at age eight, Sister Vincent de Paul at Notre Dame Art School and she studied with her all the way through high school. Cynthia still remembers her first lesson with trepidation.   “I would never forget my first lesson…She [the teacher] gave me a paper and paints and asked to cover the paper with a paint. I chose this little tiny brush and began to do my little tiny thing in the corner. I was very shy as a child. She took the brush out of my hand and threw it away in a trash basket. She looked at me and said: “My dear, that is not a brush! That is a mouse’s eyebrow. I want you to take this brush and I want you to fill the entire page and I see what you can do.”

I asked Cynthia how she decided to become a visual artist. “I always knew that the only thing I am going to do is becoming an artist. I am very versatile and whatever I can find that is creative I am going to do it at present moment… Until my paintings started selling, I would just get freelance work: I worked in the theater, I painted murals, I freelanced in advertising, I worked in  films, I designed flowers... At one point I delivered newspapers: I got up at 3 o’clock in the morning so I can live on the beach and paint during the day… I never worried about that. I always knew it is something I wanna be doing and eventually I will become successful, I just need to move forward and I kept developing my skill, my art and my talent.”

She also shared an intriguing story from her past. A while ago she struggled with smoking: she wanted to quit this worrisome habit but couldn’t. She saw an ad of a hypnotherapist who helped people to overcome addictions. The hypnotherapist helped her to get rid of smoking and soon they became friends. When he heard that Cynthia is a visual artist, they soon made a deal. He would hypnotize her to paint incessantly and would support her financially for one year with an agreement that he will own half of all paintings made that year. The plan worked well: Cynthia recalls that she painted obsessively - she slept three or four hours at night, could skip meals and do nothing but paint. That’s when she honed her artistic style.
Another great story Cynthia shared with me is how to overcome your fear and what to do if you think ‘you made a mistake.’ Thus, when Cynthia was very young she happened to have a memorable and inspirational encounter with Martin Sheen, a famous American actor. Cynthia said, “When I met him he was in the beginning of his career, nobody knew him. I worked as a waitress, my first night and I was terrible at it. I hated it. But I was doing it anyway. I was in between my theater jobs and  I met him when he was with his girlfriend. I had two tables that night. The Couple next to them was dressed so beautifully and when I was delivering their plates, my plates crashed on the floor. I was standing there in tears. I was talking to Martin Sheen before that happened. So Martin said, “Cynthia, come here.  You know what? You probably made those people feel something good in their lives. You did a good thing.” I always remembered that statement.” Interestingly enough, the story repeated a year later. This time, a friend of Cynthia who performed on the stage with Martin Sheen at the theater where Cynthia worked as scenic artist, accidentally stepped back and fell over. Cynthia repeated the same words that Martin said to her when she worked as a waitress not realizing that he stood behind her. It gave them a good laugh.

Since then, Cynthia adopted a perspective that “there is no such thing as mistake. As long as you try, and as long as you’ve learned from whatever you do, you are going to move forward and it is going to turn out to be better. And you won’t be at the point where you are now unless you made that what you call a ‘mistake.’” Cynthia quoted Thomas Edison, who “never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process” and “we now know one thousand 999 ways not to build a light bulb.”

Right now Cynthia is represented by three galleries: Samuel Lynne Galleries (Dallas, TX), Art on 5th, (Austin, TX), and Connor/Summers Gallery (Newburyport, MA).  She is the founder/Artistic Director of Art Class Dallas.     Her painting workshops are held at E Gallery Studios and are designed to help people to tap into their creative potential. She says that Reflection Fine Art Gallery, and after that Samuel Lynne Galleries escalated her success, yet “up until that moment it was trial and error, to see what will work.” However, “if you follow your instincts and trust yourself, you will become successful.

Cynthia believes there were quite a few people who inspired her and helped her to become a professional artist. Thus, she mentioned her sister, Nancy Chartiér who is an actress and acting coach,  JD Miller, a good friend, talented artist, and  co-founder of Samuel Lynne Galleries,  Joe Sigel, Owner of Art on 5th Street Fine Art Contemporary Gallery and Jody Fernandez his Gallery Director,  Cym Lowell, a talented writer;  Charlene Russell a good friend,  and of course her art teacher Vincent de Paul among others.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Richard Gorn: A Burst of Creativity

Hello, my fellow artists.
I am very excited to share this interview with you!
This time we had an insightful conversation with Richard Gorn, a versatile artist and a founder of Pop-Gorn ballet.

Richard is based in Kiev, Ukraine. I found one of Richard’s videos on Facebook, checked out his work and became very interested in what he is doing. I found his work refreshing and provocative so I contacted Richard and we scheduled a Skype talk. We covered a lot of topics, from Richard’s childhood ideas and aspirations to his current accomplishments and life philosophy to his future plans. 

It is hard to describe everything that Richard does with one word. He is a performer, a dancer, a costume designer, a visual artist and a painter, a showman, a director… This list can go on and on. We agreed that I’ll call him an “artist.” What is the most important is that he is the one who gives a birth to ideas and then brings them to life as they come along.
Richard said, “An idea is a string, and everything else is beads that you put on that string. Every project will come together as long as you have an idea, no matter if you have or have not money or other resources at that point of time.” For example, he told me a story of how a video “Poisoning by constructor” was born. He had an idea in mind. He planned to rent a professional studio, set the lights, acquire expensive video equipment and edit the video using the best available software to implement that idea. However, he suddenly found himself completely broke at that point of time – the money he was making with his performances stopped coming. That day, he even didn’t have food to eat. All Richard had was 400 grivnas (Ukrainian currency, also called “hryvnia”; 400 grivnas is about 50 USD) that he spent on Lego constructor and other necessary expenses for that project. He invited his friends to assist him, set the table in his kitchen, laid a piece of white paper, put a reading lamp as a lighting equipment, and used his old point-and-shoot camera to take snapshots of him consuming Lego pieces. Then, he edited a video on his old laptop using a basic Windows Movie Maker program.
Often, childhood experience has a profound effect on our later life. Richard was a quiet child and has always been painting, cutting paper, and playing with plasticine (similar to an American Play-Doh). He was a shy kid and would rather play by himself on the loft than socializing with other kids. He wasn’t satisfied with the toys he was given in childhood. He couldn’t understand why Soviet toys are so disproportionate. Thus, why a tank toy is smaller than a staffed goat, and why dolls and staffed animals have such big heads? I can relate to his frustration – most Soviet toys indeed were very unattractive (if not creepy), and I didn’t like them either.  Therefore, little Richard began to make his own toys. He made an entire paper village with houses and horses. He also became obsessed with making a “notepad animation.” He spent his pocket money on the notepads that had 44 sheets and therefore, 44 frames. Later in his life, he began to experiment with the still frame animation on the computer. He recently realized that his childhood handmade toys, sketches and animated images are now manifested in his creative work.

One of Richard’s aspirations is financial success. He grew up in a relatively well-off family. They had a two-story house and Richard had his own room as a child. In Soviet time it was a luxury (just FYI, what is a norm for an average American kid is still a luxury for an average Russian or Ukrainian child). He got used to nice things and comfortable lifestyle from early on, and it kept him motivated to provide well for himself. Thank God he doesn’t have the non-supportive mentality common for many folks from the former USSR that “a true artist is doomed to be broke.” Richard appreciates beautiful things, good food and comfortable living.

I know many “well-intended” parents define a career path for their kids trying to convert them to lawyers, doctors and engineers. Luckily, Richard’s parents didn’t intervene with his artistic ideas. When he turned 17, he left his parents home and began to provide for himself as a dancer. He was making his own eccentric consumes but he never envisioned costume design as a business that can bring any reasonable income. Then, a few years later, he had a serious health challenge. While he was on tour in Turkey, he had a severe poisoning and was rushed to a hospital in Kiev on the plane. He spent 1.5 months at the hospital and was prohibited to dance for two years. Richard realized that he needs an alternative source of income and ventured a costume atelier. As money began to pour in, he learned that you can make money virtually with anything, as long you love it. He also became a night club director later on and directed numerous show programs in Kiev night clubs. Nevertheless, he has always been attracted to performing, and he eventually founded his own contemporary ballet, Pop-Gorn where he stars as a lead dancer.
I’d been reminded in our conversation that it is extremely beneficial to invest in yourself and to follow your own path. Here is an example from Richard’s life: a few years ago, he sketched a lot of costumes that, surprisingly, nobody wanted to buy. When he’d accumulated a pile of these sketches, Richard decided to make them for his own ballet. These costumes and images became a big hit in a flash. The lesson: if you knock on the door and nobody answers, maybe, it makes sense to build your own house.
Richard believes that people who don’t pursue their passion are simply making excuses.  There is always a way to realize what you want if you are motivated. His own story is great evidence to it. Richard is now a very popular figure in Ukraine and is coming to a Russian market and collaborates with many celebrities in Eastern Europe. I wish him and the Pop-Gorn ballet a tremendous expansion and world-wide recognition. I admire his determination and versatile skills, and I am sure he is on the way to a grand success.