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Life and Work with Cicely Carew

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cicely Carew.

Cicely, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?

I spent the first 18 years of my life in Los Angeles, CA surrounded by artists, writers, sculptors, photographers, and teachers. My parents were artists of their own lives and always encouraged me to be courageous in my endeavors.

I have loved art from a young age. At first, it was in elementary school and summer art camps, and then it became my personal retreat after school or sports practice. I was a competitive athlete up until my first semester in college. While being an athlete gave me a sense of identity and purpose, art had claimed the other half of my heart. Although I loved the camaraderie of team sports, my art had never asked me to be anything other than who I am. My sister and I were in eighth grade when our mother, Alyce, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was around that time that I turned to make art as my way to confront and cope with the stark reality of the uncertainty of life. There were times that I struggled socially and academically and it was art that brought me back to my truth, my potential, and my gifts. It was something that I could love about myself especially when I felt unworthy and unlovable.

My mother’s dream for me was to be an Artist. She passed away a year after my high school graduation and I decided to leave home to reset my life. I attended the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston where I earned my BFA in painting. After graduation, I had to figure out how to support myself as a painter. I ditched Boston for NYC which was the slightly messy road that led me to teach yoga, also a lifelong practice my mother had introduced me to at a young age. I did my 200 hr. certification at Sonic Yoga in 2006 and then a 600 hr. Pilates certification in 2009. Both of these practices were ways for me to make art during work hours, even without a brush in my hand. When I was not teaching, I was creating in my bedroom late at night. I kept up my teach/paint routine through life in NYC, back in LA, and then onto Mexico City.

In 2013, I married my partner and started a family. It was around my pregnancy that everything shifted. The birth of my son brought the entirety of what was no longer working to light. I was in an abusive marriage. As a full-time mom, I was mostly financially dependent, but I had to walk away. Just after my son’s first birthday, I embarked on a journey into the unknown, a full circle, back to Boston to be close to family and begin again. I saw this juncture as a critical opportunity to co-create the life that I truly wanted for myself. I had made a commitment to consciously parent my child and that required me to consciously mother myself and eliminate excuses. I asked myself what wholeness and happiness might look like; who would I need to become? “ART!” was the answer that came back in an undeniably loud way.

I found Maud Morgan Arts, a local boutique art center, and enrolled in my first monotype printmaking class since college. I studied under Ann Forbush, also MassArt alumni, and life began to unfold. She saw me and understood that this was my “hail mary” attempt to take my art seriously, to take myself seriously as an artist. She taught me so much and fully supported my dedication to the vision of my practice. A year later in 2016, I decided that I was ready to let me work be seen. I created an Instagram account dedicated to my art and updated my website with all of my monotypes. Those interwebs are a scary place! Fortunately, I found that I was met with a lot of support and encouragement to keep going.

It was around the election that things changed again. As a personal act of resistance to the violence, injustice, and hate that was rapidly escalating, I was determined to be prolific in my art making. I refused to let anyone place limitations on who I was allowed to be in society. I made a commitment to say YES to opportunities to apply for grants and exhibitions to find my niche. I was invited to participate in The Beacon Hill Art Walk and SoWA Open Market.

The following February, I came across a call for public art at Northeastern University. I had never considered public art before, but this was my year of YES. Soon after, a client encouraged me to apply to the Cambridge Arts Council’s Community Supported Art (CSArt) program. I continued submitting to various juried calls for art with rejection after rejection. In a moment of darkness, I received a surprising email notifying me of my acceptance to the CSArt 2017 cohort. The CSArt program professional development and commissioned me to 50 small works. The positivity continued when a month later, I was contacted by the curator of Northeastern University, Bruce Ployer, to have a studio visit to discuss Public Art opportunities on campus. I am forever grateful to Bruce for the chance to work together. These two unexpected opportunities completely and profoundly validated the choices that I had made to pursue my art.

Northeastern was my first solo exhibition on a giant scale; my work was featured in two different locations on campus – a window mural installation located on Parker St. across from the MFA, and an exhibition of 12 new works at Northeastern Crossing on Columbus Avenue. In addition to the exhibition, I was thrilled to be invited to lead a community workshop and an artist talk on campus. During the Q&A portion of my artist talk, the Northeastern University Crossing director, Derek Lumpkins, asked me what was next. In my mind, I had peaked… I was soaring high; My dreams had been answered, what more could I ask or hope for?

That question prompted me to open my mind to the possibility that perhaps this was just the beginning.

That October, after years of procrastination, a newfound sense of urgency and purpose led me to apply to the low-residency MFA at Lesley Art and Design. I was accepted and began this past January. I’m so glad I did! As it is a self-directed program, all the signs pointed to the opportunity to practice my art full-time. I took out a loan in order to finance the next level of education, which was unsettling, but the cost of not investing in myself was greater. And here I am: thankful, whole, present with my son, closer to my family, and open to the infinite possibilities of my life.

I want my son to know that he can do anything that he believes he can do and for him to have the courage to attack whatever that is with all his heart. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I do know that there’s magic everywhere. I’m supported and loved. I create to connect with others, to conceive a new paradigm, to raise vibrations, and to spread love through beauty.

Art has always allowed me to be present, to access a higher level of consciousness in order process all the seasons of my life. I do not take it for granted. It is a gift.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

The road has not always been smooth. It took 10 years, childbirth, divorce, a major relocation with my son, and hitting spiritual rock bottom to bring me back to serious art making again. When I decided to love myself no matter what and create work without judgment and acknowledge my progress along the way life began to shift. A year later, I set an intention to let my work be seen and opportunities began to emerge.

Please tell us about your business. What sets you apart from others?

I have specialized in printmaking for the last three years. I am now finding ways to incorporate other media (practices) such as painting, collage, and installation into my work. I would say, I am known for my use of color, swirling circular motifs, and energy. I am most proud of my first double solo Public Art exhibitions on Northeastern University’s campus; one on the West Village H building exterior across from the MFA and at Northeastern Crossing facing Columbus Ave. The responses I have received that my work feels distinctly ME and brightens up up someone’s commute to work fills me with gratitude to get to live my passion.

What sets me apart from others? I think I am more interested in what connects us and using my art as a tool for connection and togetherness.

What advice would you give to someone at the start of her career?

Believe in the person that you are becoming!!!

I believe it is important to define your personal metric of success, exercise the process, and not judge how things look or how your journey unfolds. How are you willing to show up? Decide to invest in yourself as an artist if you expect anyone else to. Identify your resources and ask for help. There is enough success to go around despite what we are conditioned to believe, so be willing to share your knowledge. When we lift each other up we rise together. Nurture your practice like anyone or thing you would want to see thrive. Lean into fear and doubt; your dreams are worth it. Fail productively: this is an opportunity to grow. You are uniquely you. Stay open to the process and create with Stubborn Gladness. You are ENOUGH as you are RIGHT NOW!

“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” – Jack Gilbert

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

Please tell us about your business.
I have specialized in printmaking for the last three years. I am now finding ways to incorporate other media (practices) such as painting, collage, and installation into my work. I would say, I am known for my use of color, swirling circular motifs, and energy. I am most proud of my first double solo Public Art exhibitions on Northeastern University’s campus; one on the West Village H building exterior across from the MFA and at Northeastern Crossing facing Columbus Ave. The responses I have received that my work feels distinctly ME and brightens up up someone’s commute to work fills me with gratitude to get to live my passion.

What sets me apart from others? I think I am more interested in what connects us and using my art as a tool for connection and togetherness.

What advice would you give to someone at the start of her career?
Believe in the person that you are becoming!!!

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2 Comments

  1. Dr. P

    June 11, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    Ms. Carew is such an inspiration! She reminds us that we all need to create, to do the work we must do to remain alive, present, and free. Kudos. What a gift that she is in Boston! I’m excited to see what she creates next.

    • Cicely Carew

      June 25, 2018 at 1:45 pm

      Thank you so much, Dr. P!! This fills me with joy.

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