Artist Profile: Kayla Cloonan

Kayla Cloonan; Photo Courtesy the Artist

Kayla Cloonan: Experiments in Creation

Written by Genie Davis
Driven to create art since she was a child, Florida-born, Los Angeles-based artist Kayla Cloonan describes her work as “an interdisciplinary experimentation of materials; a deeply personal exploration of memory through a physical interaction with surface. I work within the realm of abstraction, portraying emotion through color, shape, line, and mark-making.”

For the viewer, experiencing Cloonan’s art means entering a varied, tactile, exciting space. One can examine the blossoming texture of a large-scale painting, such as her “Death Feels Merely like a Passing Dream” – an acrylic and latex work on paper both fragile and dimensional; or experience her multi-textured performance art, as in “Foreign Part of Me,” using both water and paint. In these and other works, she is going all out, grabbing the viewer with color, contrast, and texture.

“The visceral process of material, without the concern for representation, allows me a full range of play and chance,” she says, explaining that her creation of open-ended narratives and non-linear stories allows viewers to feel or interpret “whatever comes naturally to them and …relates to their life and experiences. Through my expression, I hope to connect with others and their personal struggles.”

by Kristine (7)
Kayla Cloonan; Photo credit Kristine Schomaker

Her residency last month at Shoebox Projects served as continuation of the “cyclical process” she works in, in which her initial elements of expression are used as the basis for a continuation of her artistic decisions, in terms of both her aesthetic and the works’ emotional components.

Cloonan says “I draw from a constant incoming of sensory information from daily life, which shapes naturally, repeating and transforming from piece to piece.” According to the artist, her residency provided the space to develop, arrange and understand her work as a whole, and the ways in which each piece relates to another to communicate a full story. “The residency allowed me to explore previously unattainable ideas, like using found furniture and creating larger more sculptural structures,” she notes, as she was provided the space which her current studio limits.

Regardless of space or form, Cloonan calls creating “a need…an internal drive to make things.” She says that throughout her life, she’s found whatever way was available to create art, whether through music, narrative fiction, or photographic processes, which for Cloonan involved using herself as a surface for expression “much like Cindy Sherman.” Sherman was an inspiration in her high school years; by college she was majoring in painting, drawn to the freedom allowed her in terms of material experimentation and the creation of abstract paintings, alternative video/sound, installation, and performance.

Cloonan describes her work as consisting of two phases: happenstance and refinement. “When I start with a new surface or material of any kind, I essentially create a mess. I do set up parameters as far deciding a group of colors and often a set of particular brushes, but I allow for full experimentation and play, working with chance and pure feeling, letting the materials speak freely.” Later, a second session takes place, in which she examines her initial marks and begins to see the shapes and lines and isolate them. She paints over them and adds layers.

“I always have many different projects/pieces going on at once. I enjoy the visual interaction between the peripheral and the intended. I am fascinated by the minutia of expressive human interaction with a surface; and in my performance art, I explore questions of expected perfection of self.”

Cloonan works in virtually every material with the exception of oil paints. Although she was classically trained in oil painting and describes herself as “nostalgic for the smell of an oil palette,” the medium does not fit her working techniques.

“Non-oil mediums are essential to the way I work. I paint on wood, plastic, foam, raw fabric, (using) anything that creates a mark but won’t chemically destroy the material, unless that’s part of the experiment,” she says.

It isn’t just her medium and palette that is varied. The artist utilizes her personal memories and experiences, with each medium allowing for a different way to explore and present her ideas.

Kayla Cloonan, Foreign Part of Me, East Jesus, Slab City; Photo Credit Phil Warren

“For me, performance is a way for me to present intense subjects in a new and direct way to the audience. There is still a great deal of abstraction to my performance art, and props and physical actions can portray a cyclical narrative similarly to the way I create my painting/mixed media work.” According to Cloonan, her performances are voyeuristic – the audience is allowed to look at a highly personal presentation in which they are actively present.

That active presence is something she seeks with her painting and mixed media work as well; she says her goal with these works is to “encourage the viewer to take a moment to look closer.”

Take Cloonan’s work “Counterintuitive.” It vibrates with sweeping, bold shapes and glowing colors. Created from graphite, acrylic, paint, and charcoal, its dimensionality holds the viewers gaze, while suggesting a variety of meanings. It is umbrella, mushroom, hat, mushroom cloud, thunderhead. It is the cover to a faceless face, it is the carrier of rain and lightning and swirling sub-clouds, it is a storm with multiple meanings. Looking closer gives the viewer different contexts with which to consider the work.

Her mixed media “Elongated Fragments” uses yarn, sumi ink, acrylic, marker, and charcoal to create a collage-like piece with elements that reminds the viewer of curled, conversational kites. Behind these materials are painted images that are like pieces of sunset, or flower petals and light on water, the colors are mysterious and lovely, purple, white, red, and yellow. Her use of white is intriguing, it is a true color here, textured, like bits of cloud and cotton. The use of color and line is more formed in “Death Feels Merely Like a Passing Dream,” but it is similar in its evocative patterning. Here floral references, stained glass, and gem stones all come to mind.

Regardless of the image, or the medium in which she transmits it, Cloonan can be assured that she reaches her goal of viewers pausing in their contemplation. To take in the full depth of her work and join the artist in her personal world – and reference one’s own – the viewer must consider the work’s elements and references. In short, the medium she uses is both message and messenger, the elliptical nature of her work is beautifully served by the textures and sensations her materials invoke.

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