The art of Carolynn Wood — a delicate balance

Staff Writer

Photo courtesy Michael Coffee
Allison artist Carolynn Wood is seen here with “Mike Crow,” one of two pieces included in The ART of it All, at SHY RABBIT Contemporary Arts. The work, fashioned of willow and paper, illustrates elements important in Wood’s art — the vital intersection of found, natural materials with the effort of human design.

“There’s so many things that are okay and good that sometimes it makes you crumple over with being alive. We are allowed such an insane depth of beauty and enjoyment in this lifetime.” — Joanna Newsom, contemporary harpist and singer.

Balance. That is key to Carolynn Wood, both to her life and to her art. Balance.

“I’m working with structures now, bridges and talking about spans, which is important to me. But it’s the achieving balance in the piece. Once the balance is achieved, I know, now, I’m done,” Wood says.

To achieve that balance, Wood says that the a piece will have a strong core and that, oftentimes, this core and the balance that follows is achieved on its own.

Wood designed and built her own home outside of Allison 16 years ago, but she and her family have long been part of the Colorado landscape. Her family moved to Denver three generations ago. Her great-grandfather was a house painter, her grandfather was a painter, her father was a painter and, now, she even has a nephew in Denver who works as a painter.

“In addition to being painters, my great grandfather and grandfather were also master stencilers and would paint murals in old mansions,” Wood says.

Her father, though, painted more than just houses. Later in his life, Wood’s father picked up a paint brush and started doing smaller paintings.

“He was a working man, but he was always thinking about art,” Wood says. She recalls her father bringing home different materials and scraps of plywood and splintered wood and experimenting with what shapes could be made, what could be created from these scraps.

“That’s something that rubbed off on me,” Wood says.

“I work with really delicate pieces,” Wood explains. She is a “found object” artist, a mixed media sculptor who works with the objects  she finds in nature, that communicate with her.

But, before she had time to really devote herself to art, she was an architect.

“I was trained in architectural design,” Wood says. She took a class in high school and also worked as an apprentice at an architectural firm; then, she says, she went out in the world, and always had architecture as her fall-back profession.

“I could work out of home, do a few sets of drawings a year and then have other time to work on art,” Wood says.

When Wood first moved to her home in Allison, she was making more of a go at it in the art world. She had an agent, and she was making the gallery rounds. Wood was  making pots, very large pots, pots that were 100 pounds or more in weight. However, there was a problem with the big pots.

“My family and friends were begging me to quit making the pots because it was really hard on me, physically,” Wood says.

She made huge pots out of mesh, then filled them with plaster. The pots were large and heavy enough to support plate glass.

“When I started to make big pots and paint on them, and started to build bowls, I realized that bowls are incredibly powerful. You pound on the outside and put your head inside, and hear a sound, like beautiful Tibetan bells,” Wood says, adding, “and that got me excited.”

She remembers that this, this instance, was a very important experience in her life. It became an event in her artistic journey. Wood has always been artistic, in the way she approached the world and perceived life around her. She was led forward in artistic curiosity. She had, like her father, dabbled in painting and enjoyed it. Actually, Wood says that there has never been an artistic medium she didn’t like.

“I like them all. Picking my favorite is liking picking a favorite child,” Wood says. She never had to find her medium. There was not a searching for the right means of personal expression, but she understands it. “It’s wonderful to find that medium, but really it finds you,” Wood says.

However, she doesn’t think she could be a master painter or printmaker by merely dabbling in it. But, when she started making pots, when she discovered bowls and making them, that was when something clicked; her art became a little more serious, something she pursued with a little more earnestness.

However, she did have to quit that.

“I love big, and that was becoming impossible. For physical reasons I had to quit that medium,” Wood says, and she was okay with that. She was working on building her house and she was tired, and her body was tired. Her house was almost complete, and she was lugging huge, 100-pound pots all around — to Telluride, to Aspen, to Taos and Santa Fe. She knew it was time she stopped.

It was after she put down the big pots that her work became more delicate. She begin to work with found objects.

“I work with paper and willow and dried leaves. Very light materials. No more of the heavy stuff,” Wood says, adding, “There is more of a delicate balance.”

Yet, Wood still thinks big.

“I look at these as scale models. These are delicate models for big ideas.” Wood laughs and continues, “I think it’d be exciting work to see large-scale sculptures in metal.”

With the found objects, though, it is the material that speaks to Wood and guides the outcome of the work.

“I like working with natural objects and I am interested in what they can do,” Wood says. “My work is especially interested in the juxtaposition of the natural materials and how humans bend the material to their own purposes.”

Wood describes her art as the crossroads of the natural material and human designs.

“The original materials still shine through in my art work,” Wood says.

What Wood currently has on display in the juried, national The ART of it ALL exhibition at SHY RABBIT Contemporary Art Gallery, are two pieces like this.

“Some of my favorite pieces are bridges,” Wood says. These she describes as a search for the relationship between natural phenomena and human constructs.

“The use of organic materials, such as willow branches, petrified wood or an egg in sculptures of some structural sophistication defines the dichotomy between living in a natural world and one informed by the impact of the human mind at work,” Wood says, adding, “Humans don’t necessarily leave things alone. But in my art, I try to find that place where the material’s natural beauty still remains.”

Now, Wood has put her architectural design behind her. In the last six years, Wood realized she had come to a point in her life where she could devote herself to her art work.

“Going into art this last time, I have absolutely refused to worry about finances. I have given away that expectation or that equation of success that I’m successful because I sell,” Wood says, “I’m successful because I do. That has taken a lot of pressure off of me, but also it has taken pressure off of the galleries where I show. They don’t have to feel bad if they don’t sell.”

In addition to this newfound freedom, both for her self and her art, Wood’s art then has none of that stress in it and the balance that is essential to the art can be found.

“None of my work is motivated by angst. There is an abundance of beauty that might have to spill out, but not angst in my artwork. And since I don’t have it in my artwork, I don’t want to have it in my art business,” Wood says.

So now, she doesn’t.

However, things are changing for her life and her art.

“I see it (artwork) exploding for me,” Wood says. “I’ve always worked in solitude, and I see that changing. I see myself being round more artists. It’s time for me to join my tribe full time.”

Two of her sculptures can be seen in The ART of it ALL exhibit from now until Jan. 13. SHY RABBIT is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at no charge, at 333 Bastille Drive, two blocks north of U.S. 160, off North Pagosa Boulevard.

This story was posted on January 3, 2013.