In a paint-spattered studio in a garage behind a yellow Victorian Sylvan Park house is where you’ll most likely find Cindy Wunsch, busily doing what she does best: creating canvases full of whimsy, poetry, and emotion. Entering her world is like being pulled into a prism of color. It is impossible to be sad around her or her work. That’s not to say that she is frivolous or lightweight—far from it. Some of her themes dig deep, putting our sensitivities on overload.
Standing at a worktable in the corner of her studio, Wunsch, who seems to have an inexhaustible supply of enthusiasm and passion, explains that she includes “good energy” in each of her creations. Wunsch’s paintings are done in lots of layers to eliminate what she calls “the fear of a blank canvas.” She starts with an image using oil pastel or charcoal and then applies color. As she talks, she squeezes paint from a tube onto the canvas, using the edge of a paint chip to spread the paint. “You get a different texture using thick paper than you get from paint brushes,” she explains. She also incorporates lots of fabric into her paintings, each piece creating another story on the canvas.
Many of Wunsch’s paintings include poetry that she often writes late at night. In her mind, she says, each painting has a mood, a feeling, one that changes as the painting’s layers change. Wunsch isn’t a typical journal writer but does jot down random thoughts and store them in a folder. Before her career change from the music industry, she “had all these thoughts, but I didn’t get to hear them.” Wunsch wonders how non-artistic people process the happy and hard times of life. “I can sit here and paint or write this poetry that mirrors my soul. And then it’s done. It’s therapeutic,” she says.
Sometimes Wunsch’s paintings are vision boards of how she wants her life to look or of dreams she has for herself and for other people. “I feel kind of selfish,” she says, “because most of the paintings I do are for me, but hopefully they end up translating into something for other people.” Many of her paintings become a version of a self-portrait. “The faces that I paint are more about me and how I feel on the inside and what I wish women felt more often. I find that women buy the face that looks the most like them.”
Experiencing Wunsch’s work, one quickly sees that women’s faces and birds are recurring themes in her work, though she didn’t start out painting a lot of either. “I love birds,” she explains. “I feel like they represent a lot of light and airy stuff.” For Wunsch, birds, which can see things for miles around them, also represent a perspective ground-bound humans don’t always get. Though some of Wunsch’s painted faces may appear sad or pensive, she tries “to make the faces look open and vulnerable, as in not afraid and open to good things.”
As much as her art comes from her own story, it’s clearly about helping express other people’s stories too. She describes her I Wonder if He Knows How Much I Miss Him painting and all the different ways it resonated with its viewers. For one woman it spoke of her deceased husband, for another a son who had committed suicide, for another a husband serving in Iraq.
Similarly, Wunsch loves watching what happens to people who participate in her workshops when they “become unweighted” as they pour out their story on canvas. “I love it,” she says simply, her eyes widening to emphasize her delight.
Wunsch says, “Now that I’m truly doing what my heart tells me to do, it’s not like I have a whole lot of security, but it all works out. And now I feel the most whole.” The uncertainty inherent in earning a living as an artist “is scary, but I think it’s more scary if you never discover who you are or what your heart is trying to tell you. I’ve finally figured out that this is what I do well.”
Now that she’s found that place, there’s no longer any internal struggle, a possibility she previously didn’t know existed. Now she goes through every day wondering how she deserved this good fortune.
Cindy Wunsch shows at A Thousand Faces, Art & Invention Gallery, and Bennett Galleries. www.cindywunsch.com.
by Kami L. Rice | photography by Brad Jones