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Artist of the Month - September 2003

Cynthia Aldrich: Close to Home
by Sydney Francis

Autumn Archway
I have been wanting to interview Cynthia Aldrich for years. Having seen her work at various galleries around town, I have always been attracted to her masterful use of vibrant color and her painterly, but controlled, brushstrokes. In July and August, Aldrich exhibited her most recent oil on linen paintings in the Castle Valley artist’s show at the MARC. Again, in viewing this show, I was compelled to her local landscapes and the interplay of complimentary colors on her canvases.

Aldrich’s recent works, done in 2002 and 2003, show scenes from her immediate environment: fall foliaged trees obscuring Castle Valley vistas; gigantic rose bushes exploding into the hot, dry desert; and intimate flower portraits set in the lust greenness of her garden. My first impression of these paintings, before talking to Aldrich, was the predominance of green imagery set in the familiar local landscape. I was both soothed and baffled by these images, because I could not imagine such a lush oasis among the scorching heat and dryness of this high desert terrain. However, upon entering Aldrich’s property in Castle Valley it became clear to me the source of her inspiration and imagery for these paintings. Her yard is tall, green, and fertile with brightly colored flowers and densely verdant foliage. And the green is strikingly set off by the surrounding red canyon rims and rock formations.

Calm before the Storm

Aldrich, a full-time professional painter, spends much of her free time in the garden cultivating a sense of balance in her life. The fast rush of effulgence inspiring her paintings requires a stabilizing, rejuvenating counterpart, which Aldrich finds in gardening (of which she is also very gifted). Her creative practice is intrinsically bound to her personal and spiritual growth, and therefore through the active balance between gardening and painting she creates an environment, which is conducive to her personal, as well as artistic, growth.

Aldrich’s garden, like her paintings, express a dynamic relationship between the wild and the tame, the volatile and the controlled. For example, in her painting entitled “The Wealth of Autumn” she uses pure, unrestrained color to show fall foliage reflecting from the bank of a body of water. Her composition and painting techniques are refined and controlled, but the finished painting still maintains the rampant spontaneity and freshness of the scene.

Curious about what motivated Aldrich’s use of color, I probed her about her background and training. She replied that her use and treatment of color in her paintings is intuitive to her and that she has never had a teacher who emphasized color harmony and/or color techniques. One of her current paintings that best expresses her command of color is “Autumn Archway”, which represents some cottonwood trees right off the back of her property. “Autumn Archway” glows with her use of complimentary colors: the golden yellow-orange of the leaves is set-off by its opposite, blue-violet, painted into the sky. Similarly, the green-yellows in the trees’ canopy is balanced by its compliment—the reds and red-violets found in the tree trunks and shadows of the cottonwoods. The image is further activated by the strong diagonal lines created by the placement of the branches.

In the Garden

Aldrich admitted that she has always been drawn to bright color and that she has always known that her path was as an artist. In grade school, she remembered that she would do drawings to accompany her book reports. One, in particular, was of a green turtle with a bright red cap and colorful markings on its shell. Her second grade teacher Gracie Curtis asserted to Aldrich at 7 years old, “ you’re an artist,” in response to an imaginative portrait she drew for her schoolwork.

Her family, accepting her art talent encouraged her to seek a creative career in a more practical field, such as fashion or interior design. But having entered architecture school, and later graphic design, at the University of Washington, Aldrich quickly realized that she was a fine artist and not a designer, and thus she finished her degree as a painter.

In addition to her oil paintings, Aldrich has illustrated several acclaimed children’s books, like Fun is a Feeling and All I See Is Part of Me. Fun is a Feeling shows illustrations in watercolor and colored pencil, which display fantastical and enchanting pictures portraying fun as a feeling. All I See, in contrast, shows soft dreamlike imagery done in colored pencil on watercolor paper.

Aldrich’s current goal with her painting practice is to combine the creative imagination, like that which she incorporates in her children’s book imagery, with the crisp freshness and inspiration she draws from her landscape painting. In other words, the real landscape would provide a point of departure for paintings more invested with her imagination. This current goal, furthermore, symbolizes the next frontier of intimacy and inter-relationship between the fertile aspects of her self, exemplified by the lush and vibrant details of the landscape and the fecund creativity of the imaginative terrain.

In September, Aldrich’s local landscapes will be on display at the Overlook Gallery on Center Street.
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