It's Not a Paradox: Artist Cynthia King's Black-and-White Clayboards Use Simplicity to Create ComplexityWritten by Victor Barocas
Coachella Valley artist Cynthia King keeps things simple.
Her website puts it succinctly: She “currently works in the simplest of mediums, black ink on a white ground, to create intricately detailed representational works of art. She creates fine lines and weaves them into an often familiar yet complex vision of reality. Familiar shapes are drawn, scratched off, and then reworked on clayboard numerous times until Cynthia is satisfied with the resulting image. Often parts of the image remain unanchored and unfinished, leaving the viewer to fill in the negative spaces.”
Born in Ohio, Cynthia—she is often called Cindy—grew up and was educated in the Los Angeles area, graduating from UCLA. She lived in Yucca Valley before moving to Palm Springs in 2010.
The Independent recently spoke to her about her art.
What caused you to become an artist?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Being pretty much a vocal kid, I was given, at around age 4, a set of watercolors to keep me occupied and quiet.
Getting to pen and ink on clayboard took some time. Like most visual artists, I worked in oils, acrylics and drawing. I enjoyed black-and-white etchings—a form of printmaking—but was turned off by the toxic chemicals and acids. And after trying computer art, especially black-and-whites, I came across pen and inks on clayboard. That combination remains my medium of choice, as my drawings tend to be quite intricate.
By the way, clayboard is a sturdy, hardboard with a clay and glue covering; it has a soft sheen and appears to be a bit off-white or eggshell.
Tell me about what you draw.
Here in the Coachella Valley and High Desert, I am best known for how I capture the desert life—as it is. My pieces are about a place at a point in time. They are expressions and interpretations. There are no narratives.
For me, the rocks, mountains and water, as well as native plants and botanicals, are fascinating and evolving. For example, returning to a place where I was drawing an hour earlier is a new experience: The different position of the sun creates new shadows and highlights.
My vegetarian series (is composed of) still lifes. Here, I stage individual, pairs and groups of fruits or vegetables.
My still-life drawings are far more personal than my desertscapes. There is an intimacy, as there are only a few items on the entire piece of clayboard. Also, many people find (these works) a bit lighthearted, as they are frequently titled with people’s names, like “John and Martha,” or events, like “The Prom” (above right).
Your technique seems highly controlled and exacting. Is that a fair assessment?
For many, my approach to drawing is totally compulsive and over the top. But it works for me. There are some commonalities to how I approach each drawing. For each piece, I strive for an organized complexity.
Each drawing emanates from a unique point on the clayboard. Once I begin, a mental picture of what the piece will look like emerges. The rest is execution.
From that point of origin, I begin drawing with ink. I sometimes think that each line looks like a spontaneous, individually created doodle.
My approach is iterative. From my starting point, I begin to draw, then scratch away what doesn’t work, and redraw again. That this happens several times is fine. It produces the layered effect I desire. This is another benefit of clayboard: Clayboard, unlike paper, doesn’t absorb the ink.
Once a section is completed, I move on to the next space and continue the process. … Each finished section, and ultimately the final drawing, has significant depth, texture and subtleties. The frequently overlooked layering, caused by the scratching process, enhances these qualities.
For me, lines serve two purposes: With some drawings, lines define the form. I also use lines to create negative—or open—spaces. Negative spaces are a strategic element to my drawings.
With my rock, mountain and water series, open spaces can at times seem quite large. … The viewer must pause and fill in the spaces on their own.
I employ negative spaces with my vegetarian, botanicals and natives series quite differently. Here, negative space becomes a backdrop that pushes the subject to the foreground.
Does your role as an educator add to your art?
This fall, I will be teaching a class on art at the College of the Desert. Additionally, this October, I will, for the Desert Institute, be teaching a course on clayboard in Joshua Tree. In addition to (the classes) allowing me to refine my style, the students are really an inspiration.
Here in the desert, you’ve received some recognition for your work. Can you tell me about it?
Over the past few years, I’ve had a number solo shows, like at Koffi Rancho Mirage, as well as a two-person show at (Nicole) Barosi Gallery. Additionally, Archangel Gallery in Palm Springs included me in two group shows.
Also, the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Artists Council, for the second year in a row, accepted my submission for their annual artists’ show. This year, the piece is titled “Hills of California” (below). Being selected is a great honor as there are several hundred submissions every year.
For more information, visit www.CKingart.com. Full disclosure: Victor Barocas has participated in art shows with Cynthia King.